The Stories We Tell. The 5 Simple Ingredients of a Powerful Presentation.

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

Ah, the stories we tell. They might be about our challenges, our hopes or our discoveries. We all love a good story. They bring us closer together as friends, loved ones and community, and help us to understand our lives in powerful ways. They are vital to the way we grow as people and as a culture. And they allow us to connect in powerful, inspiring ways. When I work with people who want to present with greater impact, I find that all too often they get so consumed with being seen as “knowledgeable” that they focus on the cognitive (facts and figures) rather than engaging their listeners full sense of being.

Think about a few of the stories you like to share about your life. What draws you to those stories? What parts do you most enjoy sharing? My guess is that they are filled with images, emotional highs and lows, and words that draw you in. They might even get your skin tingling or bring tears to your eyes.

The same is true when you speak.

Yes, people come to talks to learn new information but what will inspire them is to engage all their learning senses, not just their minds. As you plan your talk, incorporate each of the following:

  1. Cognitive information. When you speak it’s important to use powerful, relevant facts and figures, and examples that illustrate their value to your audience. Unfortunately, far too many presenters create presentations that are overly cognitively based. This can rapidly lead to information overload. Recently I was at a conference where a presenter read statistics from a study for 90 minutes. It was excruciating. Every cell in my body wanted to yell out, “Please get away from your computer and connect with us.” By mid way through, over half of the attendees left. By incorporating some of the following elements, suddenly your dry presentation will be filled with life. 
  2. Emotional interest. This applies whether you are talking about money, law, or health and healing. It might be a story, a question or a quote that evokes an emotional experience. Share a story about yourself or a story of a client’s struggle or success. And, yes, humor is an emotion. Adding humor to a talk is a powerful way to engage others. When I first starting speaking I would often hear that you should tell jokes. I can’t remember a joke to save my life, so instead I use stories that help us laugh at life. What’s important is that you let your enjoyment of life shine through. And that you couple that enjoyment with an appreciation for the challenges others face. 
  3. Visual elements. Most people need visual references to keep them engaged in a presentation. We have some typical ways we use visuals – for example, graphs, pie charts and pictures. But you might also think about props. Perhaps because it’s such a novelty to encounter them in talks, people seem to find 3-D things intriguing. You might also use pictures that have a twist to them. And don’t forget, having people visualize allows them to create their own visual experience. 
  4. Hands-on opportunities. When you speak, provide people with an opportunity to physically engage with you and the material. This can be as simple as giving them a workbook to write in. You might also do a demonstration. Interestingly, when people watch someone else be a guinea pig, they often imagine themselves in that experience. Even if (or rather, especially if) you are speaking about a seemingly dry topic – say, finances – create a puzzler that people can solve in the moment. It’s truly amazing how quickly a simple hands-on experience can motivate a room of people. 
  5. Powerful language. After you’ve prepared your presentation, go back through to see where you might include some evocative language or perhaps some personal “ism.” What’s an ism? An ism is an idiosyncratic way that you use language. I had a teacher who used to say, “Have you synchrotized your mind’s eye yet?” Because of the context of his talk we knew exactly what this meant. And to this day, I still think about synchrotizing my mind’s eye when learning new, challenging ways of thinking that demand that I let go of old patterns. There’s a way that evocative language “wakes up” the ear of the listener. Even if there’s not a lot of action, it gets the mind thinking with a new lens of learning.

Each time I do a presentation, I make a mental note… Have I incorporated each one of the above? If not, what simple adjustment can I make to do so? It’s amazing just how much more engaged your audience becomes when you use these 5 simple ingredients.