Persuade with Stories (pt 2)

Oh, the Places You'll Go!In part 1 of this post, we learned about the power of storytelling, and why it is an important technique to include in our presentations. In part 2 we will consider some strategies for applying the technique of storytelling directly to your health sciences presentations.

Before we begin, however, let’s chat for minute… off the record, because I know what you’re thinking. Your presentations are very serious business, and no one will take you seriously if stop to tell a story in the middle of it all. Am I right?! The truth is, there are many kinds of storytelling, and as tempting as it may be to convert your important scientific presentation into a Dr. Seuss book, that is not what I am suggesting you do. What I saying, is that no matter how complex the topic, how limited the time to prepare, or how strict the expectations, you can successfully incorporate elements of storytelling into your presentation. In fact, I would argue that it’s even more important to include elements of storytelling in technically complex presentations. Without a human element for the audience to relate to, your presentation can quickly become a collection of facts and figures that are easily forgotten.

Top 5 ways to become a storytelling presenter:

  1. Establish the setting first. How many successful stories begin in the middle? Hardly any. So why do we think it’s OK to begin a presentation in the middle?! Always begin your presentation with the who/what/why/where of your topic. Even if you are presenting to your peers, you should provide context, and background, and a starting point for the audience.
  2. Create suspense. Most scientific presentations reveal the solution first, and then spend the rest of the presentation detailing the steps that were taken to reach that solution. This is bad storytelling, and leaves nothing to the imagination. A better strategy is to begin the presentation by defining the problem, with a tease of what you hoped to achieve, followed by a description of the journey and the challenges that had to be overcome. The solution (success or failure) can be revealed at the story’s climax, followed by an explanation of where you’re headed next.
  3. Make it personal. You care about your topic, or else you wouldn’t be presenting it to an audience. Share your reasons for caring with the audience. Did you become a pediatrician because you battled illness as a child? Are you involved in global health sciences because you want to visit remote areas of the world? Are your parents both health science professionals, and they inspired you to follow in their footsteps? Sharing this kind of personal information with an audience may seem “too touchy feely” to the inexperienced or hardened presenter (and those inflicted with the curse of knowledge). On the contrary, personal stories are important because they provide opportunities for the audience to relate to the presenter. This emotional connection leads to trust, respect, and ultimately, belief in your message by the audience.
  4. Give character to your data. Behind every scatter-graph, data set, flowchart and protein synthesis animation is something more than numbers. That scientific data represents amazing things like cures for diseases, healthier children, and prolonged life for our loved ones. That is what it’s all about, right? So, why not remind the audience of that connection? And you can do this in a number of ways. For example, you can create a fictional person (unless you have permission to use a real person) and tell the story from his/her perspective, as his/her cancer is treated using the new drug that you helped to create. Give that character a name and a background, and make it realistic.
  5. Be yourself. Ira Glass, the long time host of This American Life, knows a thing or two about storytelling. In his own words: “Everything is more compelling when you talk like a human being, when you talk like yourself.” Take his advice and remember it throughout your entire presentation, not just when you are incorporating elements of storytelling. With this in mind, you will seem credible, as opposed to a presenter who tries to act like something they are not and comes off like a cheap salesman. Humility works hand-in-hand with confidence!

As you incorporate these new techniques into your presentations, remember that everything must relate back to your message.

For more on storytelling in presentations:

Share your stories below in the comments section!

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