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| 1 minute read

The power of storytelling in presentations

I’ve been unfortunate enough to sit through more than one boring presentation over the years. The worst are those jam-packed with detail or bullet points of wordy sentences, read out line by line without any sort of verbal punctuation or enthusiasm. The content and any key messages are completely lost on an audience who switched off after slide 1 of the 100-slide deck.

This is an extreme example granted, but there are some common themes that link many presentations that fall far short of the intended mark.

So where are presenters going wrong? Well, aside from the obvious of throwing too much content into a slide, presenters are failing to engage their audience and presentation software seems to be getting in the way of this. Don’t get me wrong, I love PowerPoint and the creative “art of the possible” it gives us, but PowerPoint and other digital delivery mechanisms are nothing if the slides are replacing the presenter.

Think back to a great presentation that is memorable for you. I can guarantee it wasn’t the slides that had an impact on you, but more likely the presenter. It might have been a story or anecdote they told, characters they used or an emotion they evoked. Importantly they were able to connect with their audience. It was the presenter and possibly the “storytelling” that was memorable and not the slides.

To be successful in getting our message across we need to re-think our approach to presentations if we want them to be truly impactful. Slides should complement the story and not replace the storyteller.

TED talks are the modern gold standard of presenting and their success is no coincidence. They are a brilliant example of how the powerful art of storytelling can be incredibly successful.

The presenters don’t always use visual aids but when they do, they are there to help tell their story. Importantly, what makes them successful is that the TED speakers go beyond just reciting facts and know how, they captivate the audience with emotional influence and by speaking passionately about the topic. These presenters touch the hearts of their audience, use enthusiasm, and inspire the audience to positive action.

For my next presentation I will certainly be taking a different approach. Rather than starting by opening the blank slide deck I might follow a few of Carmine Gallo’s tips outlined in Harvard Business Review “What the Best Presenters do Differently”, prioritising the story over the PowerPoint slides.

Our minds are wired for story. We think in narrative and enjoy consuming content in story form. So understanding the difference between presenting and storytelling is critical to a leader’s ability to engage an audience and move them to action.


leadership, employee enagagement, future of work, innovation