Turn your presentation into a story. Easy.

“That’s great stuff” your manager says encouragingly. “But we need them to really connect with this, if we’re going to get a decision from them. Turn the presentation into a story, show them what this change will really mean.”

You smile bravely but inwardly heave a sigh. The problem with turning your presentation into a story is that it’s full of very clever content – rich information about concepts, solutions, statistics, financial results, problems to solve, risks and barriers.

Now that you’ve gathered all this great information to support the decision or message you are aiming for, it’s a big ask to say ‘tell a story’ with it. You’ve already sailed so far with your research-argument-outcome structure, you can barely see the tell-a-story option waving from the shore. 

But your manager has a point. Delivering your most important messages in story form will (if you do it well) engage your audience emotionally and personally, and has the potential to be more influential and ‘stickier’ than all the great content you’ve compiled. So get creative and give it a shot.

Now, you may happen to have an insightful story from your own experience that magically fits your presentation and helps deliver your message.  If you do, maybe test it against the points below. But let’s assume you don’t have anything that’s quite right, and you need to sculpture one from your content.

Here’s how I would suggest you go about it:

Think about your audience and how you want your story to affect them

Who is the story for? What do they care about? Do you want them to be concerned about a new problem? Energised to educate themselves? Ready to make a decision or take on a role? Take a few moments to think yourself into their shoes before you begin, and imagine their ideal reaction and state of mind after they hear your story.

Pick one message. Two at the most.

Don’t make your story a Sherlock Holmes-style puzzle to unravel, with twists and turns to incorporate every message on your wish list. Keep it simple. Your one message isn’t rich content, it’s an overarching message, a ‘key take-away’. So the objective of your story shouldn’t be make sure they understand the trends for each of our products over the past two years, but rather something like make sure they understand that we are seeing our legacy products becoming irrelevant, so it’s time for change.

Find your character/s.

You need to figure out who your story will be about.

Good thing you thought about your audience. The story needs to be about a character they are interested in. Depending on the nature of your content, you might consider a central character a lot like your audience, or a character who represents the people most affected by the ideas/changes/decisions in your presentation, that your audience can identify with. This could be a story about a typical customer, a staff member, a leader in your organisation, or a competitor.

It is possible to use a character that is not a person, but unless you are quite the talented storyteller, it will be harder to engage your audience and generate empathy if the hero of your story is your organisation, your strategy document, your latest product, your city, a country or the internet. A story about the internet is an overview. But when you talk about Angelica, who used to walk 4 miles to the library for basic research needs before she had broadband, that’s the start of a story.

Give your character a situation or problem

Possibly your proposed change, product or idea solves a problem for this character. It could be that they will need to make a big decision which illustrates your point, or maybe they are faced with a daily challenge that helps to illuminate the potential of new services. Whatever it is, the story about your character will work if there is a situation that needs to be resolved for them personally, or a transition they will go through. This creates the tension in the story, to keep your audience listening for the outcome.

The scenario in your story is (of course) meant to highlight your message, so ask yourself what happens to this character in different situations – for example what happens to them if you don’t achieve your objectives, what happens if you do, what if the worst happens to them, and what if they achieve their heart’s desire. Test the scenarios against your one message to see what power they have.

Don’t leave them hanging

Be kind enough to your central character and to the audience to see it through. A story isn’t just a description of a problem for Angelica, it’s her journey and outcome, even if it’s only a minute or two. You may craft a story with a negative ending to illustrate risks or current problems, however if you are illustrating how something might work in future, a story that outlines the intended positive experience can be very persuasive.

Don’t throw away all that great original content

Your story is the hook. Ideally your audience is more emotionally engaged once they have heard it. Now that you’ve prepared the story itself you can reassess the rich content the audience will be wanting to complete their decision making/education/reasoning process.  Maybe your presentation offers some of this after the story, or maybe there are other ways to provide it for people to digest in their own time.

Good luck with your presentation!

As part of our online collection of stories, we have a Sticky Story on this very subject, Tell me a story – you might like to check it out.



After many years as a management consultant, Leisha Boyle is now the founder and Co-Director of Stickystories.co, a video collection of 1-3 minute animated stories on leadership, communications, HR, change management, Agile and more.