How to Open a Presentation with a Story


Communication Coach Alex Lyon


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- Everybody loves a good story, and stories are a great way to open a presentation. That attention-grabber is a key moment in every presentation. A lot of people tell me though I'm just not a good storyteller. Well I'm going to show you a very simple recipe that'll help you improve. (soft music) Hello, I'm Alex Lyon, and this is Communication Coach. We're here to help you increase your impact to lead your teams to higher levels of excellence, and presentations are a really important part of your leadership, and the attention-grabber, that first part of the open of your presentation is critical to gain your audience's interest, and stories are a great way to do that, so let's unpack this a little bit. First, your stories have to be concise. That means about 60 seconds, maybe even 30 seconds, for a shorter presentation. You don't want to get long-winded the first thing out of your mouth in a presentation. So keep it tight, and that may take a few repetitions through the story as you're practicing to pare it down to the bare essentials. To next tip is to make sure you follow the classic story format. There's like a little template that you can follow to make sure you're telling what sounds like a story. Every story has for example a beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning is really simple. You can do it in about once sentence, and that's where you establish the time, the people, and the place or setting. So it sounds a little bit like this. Several years ago my brother was hanging out in the garage with his young son working on their motorcycles. So that just told you the time, several years ago, the people, my brother and his son, and the context or the place, the garage. Next, you move to the body of the presentation, and that's where all the action takes place. That's where you build up to a climactic event. Here's an example. They were hanging out in the garage working on their motorcycles, handing tools back and forth, and at one moment his young son turned to my brother and said, dad, am I small for seven? My brother turned to him and said, buddy, why would you say that? He said, because the kids at school were calling me a shrimp. By the time you get to that line, the kids at school are calling me a shrimp, you have reached the climactic moment of that story, the high emotional point. The whole reason you're telling the story is to get to that moment, so you have to figure out what your climactic event is in the story and get there within a couple of moves. The next part is the ending, or the resolution. This is where you have to bring everything to a close 'cause you left them on the cliff there with the climactic event. It sounds a little bit like this for this story. My brother leaned in and looked him in the eye and said, buddy, you are just perfect for seven. The doctor said so himself at our last visit, and I know that you're gonna continue to grow into a strong and healthy young man. Period. That's the resolution, the ending to the story. Beginning, middle, and end, and if we squashed it all together, the story would be between 30 and 60 seconds. Now there's a hidden fourth point in every story. It's the moral to the story, the lesson learned. The whole reason you're telling the story is to drive to the heart of the message of your presentation. That's why we tell a story, to draw their interest into the heart of the message. You don't want to tell some unrelated story just 'cause it's funny or it's a nice story. It has to go to the central idea that you're gonna express in the presentation. You can express this moral directly or it can come out in the flow of the introduction. That's up to you. I personally like to come at the moral to the story in a little bit of a subtle way. I don't like to state it directly. It sounds a little bit like I'm trying to teach them the lesson learned too soon. It'll come out in the rest of the presentation. One of the great techniques when you're sharing an attention-grabber though is leave a little bit, for example the resolution of the story, for the ending of the presentation, your closing, your clencher, the very last thing you do. This is very satisfying. I talk about this in another video called How To Open and Close a Presentation, and it's where you tell most of the story here, and then you tell your whole presentation, and then you remind us of what you're saying earlier and finish it off. So I'll give you an example here where I tell most of it and then I break it right after the climactic event. Many years ago I was hanging out on campus and I saw this beautiful woman standing there. Over the next few weeks I tried to get to know her and made some small talk, and finally got up the guts to ask her out. She looked me straight in the eye and with a huge smile said, no thanks, I'm not interested. And then she zipped her mouth. I was devastated. See, that's the climactic event there. She's rejected me and then that's all. She gave me no wiggle room whatsoever. So let's say now I'm telling a story, I'm telling a presentation about perseverance or relationships or rejection or taking risks, whatever the topic is for that particular presentation. I tell my whole introduction, all the body points, I say in conclusion, and I wrap things up, and there's this one final moment called the closing or the clencher. And I can bring the story back around, reminding people that I shared it earlier, and then give them the resolution. It's a very satisfying prize. They love it. So it sounded a little bit like this. Well even though I was rejected by that beautiful woman in the student union many years ago, she finally did go on a date with me, and 15 years later I am still proud to call her my wife. That by the way is a true story, and I love it because it has this natural element where you feel like you've got most of the story, but then there's a little bit more to it. So if you have a story like that but you can break in a nice spot and bring it back around, it's very satisfying. As you can tell, the stories should come from some relatively predictable sources. Your own life. The people in the lives around you, with permission. You don't want to just tell stories without asking permission. You may read biographies and things like that and gain stories from that. One of the things I recommend against however is taking stories from other speakers that they're already telling, or other authors that they're already telling. You want your stories to be fresh and original. It's gonna be way more impactful. So question of the day, what are your tips for telling great stories? I would love to hear your comments in that section below. So thanks, God bless, and I hope you tell a great story in your next presentation.