What is it that makes a great story teller?

Richard Wright

by Richard Wright

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 14:59


You must remember it from childhood? That one teacher with a magic ability to read a story and hold the whole class spellbound. You hung on every word, too afraid almost to take a breath in case you missed something vital to the story. So what made that one special teacher so good? Something unique in their voice, an ability to layer extra detail beyond what was written? Did they simply pick only the most exciting stories to read? Or was it just that you preferred it to the handwriting or maths exercise you knew was coming next? Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these. So what can we learn from our special teacher? How can we bring some of that same magic to our work place presentations? Because let’s face it; presenting is just storytelling to adults. Assuming that your audience doesn’t have a handwriting lesson after break, you need a way to engage them every time you stand up to tell your story. Having spent the best part of the past 25 years telling stories to clients, colleagues and my children, I have developed a list of 7 key magical ingredients.


Know your topic

If you want people to listen to you and take you seriously, you must know your topic. If you are just presenting facts that anyone in the audience could have Googled, how can you expect them to hang on your every word? Don’t insult your audience by just repeating what they may already know. Add value. Give them further insight. Make sure that they leave the room better informed than they were then they entered.


Less is more

Ok, so you know your topic. Now have the confidence to show minimal words on the screen. The words should only be the prompts that lead you into the next chapter of your story. If you need your audience to take in key information, include that data but don’t drown the page in text and bullet points.


Talk don’t read

If you do need to include text, talk about it instead of just reading it. If you just read it then why are you there? Your audience could read it for themselves. Did your teacher just hand out copies of the textbook? No, they held your class enthralled while they brought it to life with their voice.


Hold back the exciting bits

Do you remember the kid who always went straight to the back page to find out if the hero defeated the dragon? He spoilt the story for all of you and the magic was lost. It’s the same with your presentation. If you have four killer facts on a slide, only show the first one. Talk about it, explain it, let it sink in. Then, and only then, reveal your second bullet point. Use the technology to your advantage. Gone are the days when your school assembly used an OHP and your Headmaster covered the second verse of the song with a piece of paper!


Bring it to life

Most people will respond well to visual explanations. So use images to tell your stories. If you are talking about a challenge your team must face, use an image of a mountain climber. If it’s a story about future opportunities, a great image of the sky at night will help emphasise the message. Rather than placing text beside a small image, try a full size image with your text over the top. If you try this, make sure there is strong contrast between the image and your text colour. If you don’t believe me remember your most enjoyable storybook at school…get my point?


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Break the presentation up

If the topic allows, end the presentation with a demonstration or a physical sample of the work or product. If the presentation is going to be long (over 40 minutes) think about breaking it into two sections and have a demonstration in the middle. This is a great way of ensuring your audience is still engaged. But only do this if it is relevant. At Burrows, most of our recent presentations have centred on VR and AR, so a demonstration in our VR lab has been appropriate. Though, if you are presenting an annual finance review or if the client relationship is very formal, you may not want to ask the CEO to don a Vive headset!



Lastly, for me the most important ingredient is passion. If you want people to be engaged with your story and with you, you must have passion for what you are talking about. Remember back to that special teacher and the magic web they wove. I’ll bet their talent stemmed from the passion they had for teaching. So before you plan your next presentation, think about Mrs Callaghan in year 3 and cast your spell!


Richard Wright

Chief Operations Officer