The Power of Telling Stories and Anecdotes in Presentations

You’re at a business meeting, and the presentation is up to you. What kind of presentation are you going to give? A dry one that presents just the facts or one that’s alive with stories and anecdotes?



Your choice, of course, depends on whether you want to inspire and engage your audience as you inform them, or whether you want to just give them the information and be done with it. If you want to give a presentation that will be remembered, it’s best to choose the stories and anecdotes to illustrate your points.

Why is that? Why do anecdotes and stories make a presentation easier to remember? According to Nick Morgan, a nationally-known communication theorist who blogs at Forbes Magazine, it’s because the brain processes stories completely differently than straightforward facts. Stories are processed in an area of the brain where one’s emotions and memory work together to preserve information. Straightforward facts, on the other hand, are stored in an area where emotional connections are not made and things are forgotten fairly easily. In other words, engage someone’s emotions and they’re more likely to remember what you tell them.

Okay. You’ve got a presentation, and you want it to be memorable so you’re going to tell a story. What now? According to Mr. Morgan, there are five kinds of stories you can choose from that will automatically forge a connection between you and your audience. Using one of them will almost guarantee success.

  1. The Quest – This is the story where something must be conquered. It’s not an easy process. Strength and determination are going to be stretched to the limit and beyond. It can encourage the audience to persevere and keep going, striving for the success that waits just down the road.
  2. The Stranger in a Strange Land – This story sees everything turned upside down and our hero learning how to cope with a new reality. It can encourage the audience to master new conditions and learn to thrive again, even though the world around them has been turned upside down.
  3. From Rags to Riches – This story is about the hero making something of himself. He starts from humble beginnings and is “king of the mountain” by the end. It can inspire the audience and give them hope that they too can be kings one day.
  4. The Love Story – This story is about falling in love, losing your way, then finding each other again. It can provide a good analogy to help your audience understand the ups and downs of a merger or partnership and help them adjust to the bumps that are sure to occur along the way.
  5. A Tale of Revenge – This story is about settling a score and making things right – getting justice for the wronged. It can provide a rallying point for the troops in the face of competition and keep them fighting till the bitter end.

So what kind of story should you choose for your presentation? That depends on what your goal is. If it’s simply to present the attributes of a product, something simple like a real-life example of it being just the right tool for a job might suffice. If it’s to provide motivation for a complicated situation, one of the above story types might be more appropriate. Whatever the situation, just remember your goal: To entertain, engage, inspire and inform your audience – in other words, to connect with them and engage their emotions. That’s when your information will be remembered.

If you enjoy this article, you may also want to check out these others:

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This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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1 Comment:

  • By Bill Hubbell 23 May 2013

    Great insight on effective audience connection and how to select narrative elements that match the communication objective. I especially appreciate the ‘brain processing’ perspective. A sales presentation that relies on sequential fact building to bring an audience (1 or many) to a ‘buy-in’ conclusion naturally invites them to critique each building block as it is presented; hence they are creating objections and questions with each step. A story, however, naturally conditions the audience to wait til the end to make a judgment on the outcome. A very effective tool.
    Thanks for sharing.