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Tell Me a Story: Material that will Make Your Presentation Come Alive!

We have all been at presentations where the information being delivered is dry, boring, tedious. We sit there and daydream, wishing for the end, or for the courage to get up and leave before the end. Our original reason for going was to get information that is, perhaps, vital to doing our job or growing our business. If we’re lucky during these types of presentations, we pick up a few pointers and do our best to incorporate them while wondering why it had to be such a chore.

Well, guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way. The best presenters tell stories and use sayings and quotes during their presentations. They know that weaving this material into their presentations makes things real for their audiences, illustrates points, and lets listeners know you, the presenter, are very much like them with similar experiences.

Where do you find material you can use? The answer is just about everywhere. In fact, most of us are storytellers already; we just haven’t made the connection with using them for our presentations and speeches. The first place to look is your own life. Chances are excellent that if you sit down and brainstorm about personal stories, you will come up with several very good, usable ones. Personal stories by their nature are genuine and audiences pick up on that. Audiences want to attain a type of intimacy with speakers and these types of anecdotes are a terrific way to create this rapport. The stories can be about your business or personal life and should relate in some way to the point being made. For example, as an opening to a presentation on business strategy to a company that had gotten behind the curve in their internet strategy, the speaker made the comparison of “not having a phone in the house.” This was a perfect and dramatic verbal illustration of just how serious the situation was. It grabbed the audience and they listened raptly for the rest of the presentation.

Another speaker told a story about how difficult it had been for him to delegate work to employees, relating his own fears about giving up control. Once he did learn to delegate, his profits soared and he was able to communicate to his audience, step-by-step, just how he did it.

Still someone else, in a presentation on growing a business, told the story of facing tough times in what was then her $1 Million dollar business, going to a business development workshop and hearing the words “straight commission” as a transforming moment. Her business now grosses $30 Million!

There are also quotes, quips and stories available in books and internet collections. One of the best books of quotes is “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” This book is a treasure trove of quotes from famous speakers dating back to the Romans and Greeks. It is cross-indexed by both quote and speaker so if you don’t remember a quote exactly, but have some of the words or know the theme, it’ll be easy to find. An updated edition is in the works and should be available soon.

There are many other books available in the stores. They are often called “treasuries” because they contain so much useful material. The best way to find one that you like is to go and browse. This is one time when online booksellers fall short. You really have to flip through the pages to get a feel for whether the material is suitable.

A favorite resource for me is “How to be the Life of the Podium” by Sylvia Simmons. Ms. Simmons is a skilled and veteran speechwriter who not only provides lots of good original material and quotes, but also suggests ways to use them via transitions to your material. She also gives advice on speaking skills, rehearsing and other crucial speaker information.

But even with all the material available to the public, the best resource for good fodder is still you. Begin now collecting stories, newspaper and magazine articles that you feel may be relevant. Open a computer and paper file and watch them grow. And remember: for stories to come off well, you must practice (see last month’s article).

Also keep in mind that a story can be molded to fit the occasion. You don’t have to be completely accurate. For example, if a relevant story or quip happened last year, but fits within the current presentation and would have more impact if it happened yesterday, then say it happened yesterday. The idea is to get the most impact with material you’ve got.

Telling stories and using quotes and quips to spice up your presentation are wonderful ways to plug into your audience. Do it right and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.
Copyright 2001 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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