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Don't Give Boring Presentations, photo by Mark Hillary

by Jill Pollack

Do You Follow the Rules?

Here are a few of the “rules for giving good presentations” I’ve heard over the years. But I can’t help myself; at StoryStudio we are forever trying to break the rules in order to build a more persuasive and compelling story.

Our advice to students—both creative and corporate—is to rely on classic story craft while adding in a good dose of your own personality.

The one rule we don’t ever break? The needs of your audience come first.

Rule to Break #1: Start with a personal story

You’ve probably heard this old advice: when you have to get up in front of an audience, tell them a story about yourself to create some trust and intimacy.
It’s not bad advice. But it’s not good advice, either.

How about using elements of good story craft to engage your audience right off the bat. Frankly, they are more interested in themselves and the topic at hand than hearing about how your five-year-old learned the value of a dollar while waiting in the grocery checkout line.

Try telling a story that is directly related to the problem you are trying to solve. Focus on being specific and using details and images to engage your listeners.

Rule to Break #2: Tell the audience everything they need to know

Imagine you are telling me the story of how you convinced your manager to approve a far-reaching and expensive “Get Healthy” campaign. I’m interested because I would like to do the same thing. But as you are talking, giving me every action, every bit of dialogue, describing every tic of your manager’s facial expressions, I lose interest, check my phone, and dream of getting a latte.
Why does this happen? It’s because the science behind stories tells us that your audience doesn’t want to just listen; they want to be involved in your story. If you tell them every little detail then they will tune you out. It is as if you are putting a boring textbook in front of them that demands only memorization, not creative thinking.

Instead, try involving your audience by not telling a story chronologically—leave a few key details until the end—or ask questions. Remember, many presentations can be more “conversations” than one-way deliveries of information.

Rule to Break #3: You only have 10 screens so make sure you fit all of your information on them

Sigh. Yes, I know you know what I’m thinking of. Those presentation screens that are filled to max with bullet points or charts that have been edited to use 9 point type to fit it all in, plus that asterisk for the footnote.

No Bullet Points!

You heard me. Try creating your next presentation using only a minimal amount of text on any given screen. Instead of a bullet point list that you will have in your speaking script, try inserting an image that will convey the emotion of the message. In your speaking script, talk about a specific example. Your audience will remember the image and the emotion, and then they will remember what you said.

If you do need to provide detailed information, prepare it as a leave-behind piece or a PDF you can use to follow up with via email.

When standing in front of an audience—whether it’s two people or two hundred—be confident, creative, generous, and interested. If you do that, your audience will be invested and interested too.

Jill Pollack
About Jill Pollack
As Chief Story Wrangler, Jill Pollack spends her time chasing down the best stories…and making them better. But telling a great story isn’t enough for her; she has to throw some neuroscience into the mix. Art+Science=the answer to everything. Jill is the founder and director of StoryStudio Chicago—a writing training center for creative writers and business professionals. In addition to teaching, writing, and forcing people to admit that they can’t live without great stories, Jill oversees writing training for more than 1,200 students each year. She is a frequent speaker on the power of stories in our personal and professional lives and was once again included in the Newcity Lit Top 50 list of literary leaders in Chicago.
Don't Give Boring Presentations, photo by Mark Hillary
Don’t Do This: Myth-Busting Presentation Rules