MORE Stories = BETTER Presentations

Presentation SkillsWhy are stories so powerful?

Neuroscientists have learned significantly more about persuasion through brain scans and data-driven studies. They believe that they know how and why stories are very effective in the art of persuasion. They know what works and why it works, and can prove it scientifically.

The data firm Quantified Communications, a data firm, has accumulated a significant amount of evidence that storytelling plays a critical role in effective business presentations. Quantified Communications maintains a database of written and spoken communication from Fortune 500 executives, TED Talk speakers, political leaders, business professors, entrepreneurs, and others. They use computer algorithms to analyze and measure the effectiveness of communication. A recent study indicated that the average audience has an attention span of five minutes and you have 15 seconds to make a good first impression.

Carmine Gallo, a story-teller, contributed and article that was republished in Business Insider, where he commented about his study and analysis of 700 presentations. His big “find” was that adopting one speaking skill could help us to become more persuasive. “Messages that included well-crafted stories were 35 percent more persuasive than the average communication in their database. Story-based messages were 21 percent more memorable.”

Stories seem more likely to drive an audience to change its beliefs or actions. Sarah Weber of Qualified Communications, said that, “Storytelling language gives a speech the qualitative elements that help audiences engage with the speaker and recall the key points.” The research also suggests a format for your stories (1) Establish a setting, (2) Introduce tension through conflict, and (3) Establish a new normal for the characters via the resolution.

Our brains are wired for stories. Uri Hasson of Princeton University says that our brains are literally wired for stories. Hasson and his colleagues recorded the brain activity of speakers telling stories as well as the people listening to the stories. The researchers found that the brains of a speaker and their listeners “exhibited joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.” Simply put, the listeners’ brains mirrored the speaker’s brain — only when the speaker was telling the listeners a story. The speaker and the listeners were in sync, and story was the glue that brought them together.

In one case, human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson delivered an 18-minute TED Talk that contained three personal stories. Those in the audience were so inspired, they spontaneously donated $1 million to Stevenson’s nonprofit the Equal Justice Initiative.

For those of us who are professionals in the soft skills areas, we have some scientific evidence that can help us in the presentation aspect of the many communication skills. Intuitively, we know that storytelling helps us to make a point, but we now have evidence of what thousands of years has taught us. Now, science has given us hard evidence to support our claims of this important soft skill. So, all professionals should include more stories in their presentations. If we don’t, we may be missing some great opportunities.

Related Articles:   When Presenting … pause here, here and here! and   Engage Your Audience … compel them to listen!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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