How to Stop Stressing About Your Next Presentation

Three tips from the speaker who received the longest standing ovation of any TED talk

Photo Creedit: damiangretka/Getty Images
Photo Creedit: damiangretka/Getty Images

Storytelling is the single best tool we have to transfer our ideas to another person. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. Best of all, we know how to do it. Storytelling isn’t something we do; storytellers are who we are.

Nothing will bring your next presentation alive better than a well-chosen, purposeful story. There are three primary types of stories that you can–and should–incorporate in your very next presentation.

These are the easiest stories to find and, in many cases, the most impactful. Human rights attorney and author Bryan Stevenson received the longest standing ovation of any TED Talk ever delivered. If you watch Stevenson’s presentation, you’ll notice that he tells three stories. Each story is about an incident that happened to him that relates back to the theme about unjust incarcerations. Stevenson tells a funny story about his grandmother, a touching story about meeting Rosa Parks, and an inspiring story about a janitor who gave Stevenson hope when he was tired and frustrated.

Stevenson once told me that he tells personal stories about his grandmother and other people in his life because “everyone has a grandmother.” In other words, it breaks down walls between people and allows the speaker and listener to bond over common ground.

Like successful Hollywood movies, a compelling personal story should have an emotional arc. For example, if you’ve had to overcome a hurdle on your way to a successful outcome, tell that story.

Personal stories of success over adversity are irresistible.

If you don’t have a relevant personal story, a case study also works well. Your listeners crave real stories of real customers who have benefited from your product, service, or company. Forrester Research conducted a survey of 214 business technology buyers in the U.S. and Europe. When Forrester asked the respondents what type of content is the most persuasive, 71 percent of buyers said, “Customer or peer case studies.”

Recently, I’ve talked to marketing professionals and executive leaders in companies ranging from Salesforce to SAP. Storytelling is a key component of their sales presentations. The companies use real customer stories to bring their data to life. For example, if you visit the website of global business software giant SAP, you’ll see a page dedicated to “customer testimonials.” You can search stories and videos by industry, region, or business size to watch relevant case studies that are appropriate for your need. The site isn’t just for consumers. While preparing for a sales call, SAP’s sales professionals can call up a specific video case study to include their presentations.

When L.L Bean ended its legendary lifetime return policy, employees and customers were outraged. Why? After all, very few companies offer lifetime returns. The policy change sparked a controversy because it went to the heart of the brand’s story. The narrative had been a part of the culture since its founding in 1912, when Leon L. Bean, a rugged Maine outdoorsman, made a waterproof boot for hunting and fishing. The first ones he sold had a design defect. Bean gave every customer their money back. The legendary guarantee was born and the story became part of the brand’s folklore. L.L. Bean learned not to mess with a brand’s story.

Most brands have an origin story that can help make presentations more emotional, engaging, and entertaining. Think about the Airbnb story. You might have heard the story about its founding–three guys living in a San Francisco apartment find it hard to pay the steep rent. They put three air mattresses on the floor and charge designers attending a local conference to crash in their pad. It was a way to “make a few bucks” as the founders tell it. Those mattresses sparked a $30 billion idea. Co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia tell the story repeatedly whether they’re on stage at TED or at a business conference.

A venture capitalist behind some of the most iconic names in startup history once told me, “Storytellers have an unfair competitive advantage.” Tell more stories to give yourself an advantage.

Originally published at www.inc.com

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