If you include a story in your next presentation, consider five strategic ways to make that story matter.
1. Pick stories that prove, illustrate, or at least introduce your point.
In the context of a presentation, a story doesn’t justify its own existence. Used most advantageously, the story is a powerful vehicle through which a meaningful point travels. Your goal is to make the story relevant, not just riveting.
Any true story can help propel a point–like a moment from your childhood, an eye-opening incident from your professional history, or an event you witnessed at a business location–but the key is connecting the interesting moment to an imperative message.
For example, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been known to talk about an accident that left his father unable to work when Howard was a child and how that drives his interest in caring for Starbucks employees. Likewise, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tells stories about his early days at the company, during which he recognized the value of building a corporate culture.
Both of these stories are deliberately designed to convey an important message or make a positive impression–not just to delight an audience or make the speaker more relatable.
2. Use language that explicitly connects your story to your point.
The work of making your story relevant doesn’t happen during the telling of the story; it happens after you tell the story, with critical connector lines like these:
“This story illustrates why we must…”
“This case study exemplifies the importance of…”
“This event proves what’s possible if we…”
“This moment was pivotal in developing my appreciation for…”
These phrases put the story’s point in virtual neon for the audience. Without these connectors, the story lacks a clear purpose.
At the end of the day–or a presentation–an audience that remembers your story but not your point is left with something amusing but not valuable. But an audience that remembers your point–even if they forget the story–is gifted with inspiring insight.
The best TED Talks are filled with stories–they virtually require it–but if you watch carefully, you’ll spot these connector lines (“here’s why I told you that story”) expressed in various ways.