You know, deep in your heart, what presentations lack. Free doughnuts, yes, but they are also devoid of excitement, clarity, and fun. Corporate jargon is the little sister of legal jargon, each working hard to lull you into daydreams and resentment.
As a content strategist for a presentation design firm, my company wages war against terrible corporate presentations each day. A major problem is convincing clients that they need something more creative in the first place, even though all of our research and experience indicates that brains crave stories.
No one likes boring corporate content. So why does it keep happening?
The answer for that lies in the burden of tradition, or perhaps the feeling that Business starts with a large capital letter “B,” and should be handled carefully in pantsuits, ties, and shiny shoes. There is also perhaps the fear of looking unprofessional, and thus inexperienced or underprepared. Sometimes we receive content and design instructions from clients who use coded language to describe this desire. “Make it look conservative,” is something they will say, “conservative” meaning “dull” in this case.
Shake off your blazer and close all of those Excel spreadsheets that are open on your desktop: I have some important news for you.
You’re a natural storyteller.
Today you walked into the office and told your coworkers about the worst steak you’ve ever had the displeasure to eat. Or maybe you shared the story of what you do for a living to a date later that night. You tell stories all of the time, everywhere. The same is especially true for your business, no matter which industry you work in. There is the story behind the company’s foundation, the singular inspiration behind what you do, and so many other small tales that build up the fabric of your narrative.
Choose your tale.
The best presentations are story driven. They follow the arc of a narrative with a hero (AKA solution), a villain (AKA problem), and a happily-ever-after that either tempts the audience with a vision of possibility or gives them an ultimatum to act lest the hero meets their doom.
What’s your story? Who or what is the villain that your company faces each day? It could be as simple as a better way to keep shoes from scuffing to something complex like keeping our environment clean. Wherever there is a problem to face, there is a story behind it. This is also where a dragon enters the story: your problem should be described as bold, terrifying, and fire-breathing as the legendary creature itself.
Once you’ve established the villain of your story, a brave hero or solution must follow. After you’ve described the long teeth of the dragon, the flame-throwing power to melt dungeon walls, and the scales which no armor can pierce…your audience is going to look for a sense of relief. Choose a hero or solution that is formidable enough to fight your dragon and ready to demonstrate exactly how that will happen.
Here’s how to tell a story.
You have a mighty villain. You have a brave hero. Now you need to bring them to life within each slide of your presentation. There are a few different storytelling arcs that you could follow. Here’s some examples of a few that we love:
Hero’s Journey. This is a classic arc in which the audience meets the hero in the introduction of the story, and then travels along through the narrative as the hero meets and eventually defeats their own dragon. This format always has a beginning, middle, and an end which resolves the core conflict and gives your audience the satisfaction of a happy conclusion.
Cliffhanger: In this story arc, the hero and villain are still introduced and the main journey is still followed. However, instead of creating a happily ever after, the presenter leaves an open-ended question or a cliffhanger to encourage their audience to act. An example of this would be a pitch deck about restoring the planet’s honeybee population. You might paint a picture of a world with a crumbling food supply and global devastation, and close the presentation on that vision with a final slide that says “only you can alter this future,” or something like it.
2nd Person Perspective: This is a storytelling tactic in which the presenter uses the audience as the hero of their story. Sound confusing? Think of all of those modern commercials today that start with audience-facing questions like “what if you could improve your productivity?” or “what if you could drive from Nashville to New Orleans on a single tank of gas?” The key for this kind of story is that you use a hero’s journey, but include the “you” tone throughout.
Write your dragon
I encourage you to tell one story about your brand, company, office, or product. Just one. Tell the story about how you came up with a great idea one stormy night, share the tale of your biggest triumph, or simply make something up.
Once you have this story, find a way to merge it into the content of your existing presentation, or rewrite the deck entirely. Think of it like a welding job, merging two different kinds of metals together to create something even stronger.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. But I guarantee that even the tiniest pinch of storytelling will make your presentation stronger and more memorable to your audience. All you need to do is start with a single story.