Presentation Tip: Make a long story short

Posted by Doc
Mar 29 2011

Stories are powerful. If you are going to be an effective presenter, it seems clear that you must incorporate stories.

A mistake that many of us make is to think that every little detail is important. It might be important to you. Ask yourself whether all of those details are important to achieve your purpose.

Here are some questions for you:

  • What is it that you want your listeners to learn from the story?
  • How much context do you need to create?
  • Are the details contributing to either the cognitive or emotional impact of your story?
  • How does the story contribute to the larger talk/presentation?
  • Is it more important to include more of this story, or to include other stuff?

It’s not as simple as saying “Every story should be <so long>!” I have stories that take 30 seconds to tell, and others that take ten minutes.  I include more shorter stories in training and in short presentations.  That said, I include my ten minute “signature story” in my one hour keynote talk (a motivational talk, from my earlier professional speaking days).  It’s a matter of your goal.

Short stories include brief anecdotes, and stories that are there to make a point or give a brief example.

Longer stories are there to totally captivate and engage your audience.

If I say “In 1996, thinking I was perfectly healthy, I had a heart attack. It changed my life.” I’ll get a gasp and immediate attention. If I’m making a point about a healthy lifestyle or diet, this is all that’s needed (well, I don’t think I can actually leave it at that :)).

In my keynote, on the other hand, the ten minute version was designed to get people to think and reflect and leads up several key points that I want to be the last thing that the audience hears and thinks about.

Do you tell stories? Could they be shorter, and still have the same impact? Are you telling them for your own pleasure, or to make a point? What’s the point?

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