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6 Key Principles for Great Storytelling


Storytelling in market research has been a hot topic now for many years and at FUEL Research & Consulting we still see demand for this as a topic for training and skills development. However storytelling skills are useful for pretty much anyone involved in creating and delivering any kind of business presentation where the presenter is aiming to persuade the audience on a specific course of action. Here are 6 key principles that I believe are essential for great storytelling and form the basis of our storytelling training:

1. Start with the End in Mind

In market research, many people build presentation decks as they go and then figure out at the end what the key message they want to deliver is. This is akin to the movie director shooting the scenes of a film without knowing what the ending is going to be! It is essential that before you start creating your PowerPoint deck, you are clear on the message you want to deliver. In market research, this means separating the analysis stage from creating the PowerPoint deck. Ultimately it is much more efficient as you can more than halve the number of slides that you need to create.

2. Less Is More

This principle is strongly related to the first one and is essential in today’s business environment of overworked executives with short attention spans. Your entire presentation needs to be focused on getting across (concisely and clearly) the two or three things that you want your audience to retain. Most of what you present will be forgotten the next day, so a razor like focus on delivering your core message is critical. Anything that doesn’t support this message should be left out (or put in the Appendix or sent as a separate document).

3. You are the Presentation

Most presenters, especially early in their careers, rely too much on PowerPoint and perhaps subconsciously feel that the PowerPoint deck is the presentation, creating an over-reliance on software as the medium of delivery. However most of what is retained from a presentation comes from the presenter. Their ability to show interest and passion for the topic and deliver points clearly and concisely (supported by PowerPoint) is paramount.

4. Cater to different Communication Preferences

Each one of us has preferences about how we like to communicate and receive information. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) tells us that some of us are more verbal, some more visual and some more kinesthetic. This has implications for how we design and deliver presentations. In short, we need to get beyond the usual focus on delivering rational facts and engage the emotions. Attendees need to see, hear and feel the learnings for them to be memorable across a wide audience.

Behavioural economics also teaches us that people can relate more to the personal than the general. In practice, this means moving beyond just summarizing the aggregated data and telling stories or anecdotes about individuals, or otherwise making the findings personal and individually relevant.

5. Know Your Audience

Key but often not given enough though – who are you presenting to? What prior knowledge and expertise do they have of the topic? What is their role in their organisation and what are their expectations from the meeting and is what you are delivering in line with what they will be expecting. Will the audience need to get what they need during that meeting or will they work with a copy of the presentation later? All of these questions need considering and have implications for content, tone and structure of the presentation.

6. Help Your Audience

If you are using PowerPoint (as most people do) then make sure you help your audience interpret all the charts as intended and therefore reach the same (logical) conclusions. This is largely about good structure and data visualization. To do this well:​

  • Ordering of data around key issues (not research questions) is essential to form a strong story

  • Charts highlight the key things to focus on

  • ‘Nice to know’ information is not presented

A good presentation structure will naturally come from a well thought out analysis stage – and this involves clearly defining the ‘problem’ to be solved and the key issues that need to be taken into consideration to solve that ‘problem’. In our training we teach a number of tools that help to structure any presentation around a small number of key issues.

Many people dread presenting, but those that prepare well and have created really strong stories find great joy and satisfaction in presenting. And those skilled in the art of presenting usually rise to the top of their professions – as Ira Glass points out “Great stories happen to those who can tell them”.

Need help in developing storytelling skills in your organization? Get in touch with us for more details of the training we offer in Thailand and across South East Asia.

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