Are Stories in Presentations Always Persuasive?

Using stories in presentations

In today’s video, I briefly discuss using stories in presentations to be more persuasive. The idea of using a story to help get your audience across the ‘persuasion and influence’ line is very common. Whether we’re aiming to change people’s mood, change their mind or get them to take real action.

And when I talk about a story, I don’t mean a cosy, fluffy tale, like someone reading to us in primary school or before we go to sleep! I simply mean using what I call ‘humanity’ to balance out facts, data, statistics. Most great presentations have a balance of both: and persuasion actually isn’t possible without bringing in the human aspect.

Story word carved on stones of the beach
Using Stories in Presentations

So a story is just a way of ‘carrying’ that humanity in a form which is highly accessible to an audience. Our brains love stories, and they pull us in naturally as an audience member, rather than a presenter pushing at us trying to get us to do something. This is really important if we’re the speaker wanting to persuade and influence our audience.

Chip and Dan Heath wrote a book called “Made to Stick” about communication that works (which I highly recommend!). In it, they call stories “flight simulators for our brains”. 

But do stories in presentations always work? Watch my take on this question in the video below.

Transcript is below the video.


“One of the recognized ways to persuade and influence an audience, if you’re giving a presentation, is through using a story. And I’m sure you’ve heard this, it’s so common isn’t it?

People talk about the fact that you need that humanity, that emotional element, as well as having logic and data, and this is perfectly true. However, does using a story always work?

If your audience has limited knowledge of your topic, they’re not experts…and you use the right story, which is well edited to make sure that it moves forward. And it has enough context and detail without having too much. Then that’s really going to help them to understand, organize and link new information if they’re not experts.

So when does a story not work? If you’re speaking to experts, we have to be very, very careful because – and I’ll get you to think about this for a moment. If you’re in the audience and it’s a topic you know well, you’re an expert on a particular topic, would you enjoy a presenter giving you a story about it?

I’ll just let you think about that for a moment.

If you are there to be entertained, then yes, the answer is possibly you would. However, there is a serious danger that you will disengage, and you will actually feel that it’s irrelevant because you already know your content. You don’t need a story to give you a signpost to help you to organize information, and to link things together.

So there’s a serious danger around it. You need to be very, very careful if your audience are experts in what they do, and you’re presenting on that.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t use a story. You just have to be careful to make sure that it’s sophisticated and nuanced enough to still appeal to them, and perhaps give them a new perspective.”

Final thoughts:

It’s important to remember that using facts by themselves is rarely interesting, insightful or memorable. We need context, and a linking narrative to make sense of those facts. In business of course, data is crucial: there must be a return on investment from the story. And a story may work beautifully – or it may annoy your audience. 

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