5 Ways to Make Your Story Shine

March 11, 2024

Do you have an upcoming presentation?

Are you unsure how to start? How to maintain momentum? How to avoid a total snoozefest?

I have three words of advice that will improve any informational session and bring power and personality to your presentation:

Tell a Story.

It’s that simple. Science shows that stories “stick,” improving impact, retention, and positive impression of the speaker.

But you can’t tell just any story. A successful story illustrates the main points, creates an emotional connection with the listener, and provides a purposeful resolution.

Here are 5 strategies to make your story shine:

#1: Hook ‘Em!

Narrative hook 5 ways to make your story shine

DON’T: Start with an introduction, your credentials, and what you’ll be talking about. (Boring!)

DO!: Utilize a Narrative Hook

A narrative hook is a literary device that hooks the reader’s attention and keeps them reading. For speakers, it grabs your audience and keeps them listening. Reel them in with a compelling opening and you’ve got them!

To create a great narrative hook, start “in the moment.’ Bring your audience into the scene so they feel as if they are there.

When I speak about my book, “Fire Your Narrator! A Storyteller’s Guide to Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Life,” I don’t start with “Today I’m going to talk about that voice in your head, the one we often refer to as our inner critic.”

Nope. I get right into a descriptive scene:

“Yesterday I left for work and I couldn’t find my travel coffee mug” I might say. “And as I backed out of the garage and down the driveway, I heard a big thunk. And watched a sudden stream of brown liquid rain down on my windshield. Yup. As I packed up everything I needed for the day, I left my coffee on the roof of my car. And I thought, “How stupid can I be?” And then I couldn’t forget about it all day! And that’s because I have an invisible woman named Squash living in my head who berates me for the slightest of mistakes.

A big thunk! Coffee running down the windshield! We’re off and running.

#2: Cast a Hero

Cast a hero 5 ways to make your story shine

Classic stories have a hero or protagonist who battles evil villains and challenging circumstances. Making your story about someone – whether it’s you, a colleague, or a composite figure based on available data – gives the audience someone to root for.

Particularly in heavy data-driven presentations, don’t rely on a listener’s memory of facts and figures. Utilize a character to represent and speak for the data.

DON’T:  “58% of women ages 45-49 report struggling with symptoms of x, y, and z,”

DO!: “Let’s take a typical woman from the study. We’ll call her Carol. She’s 48 and for more than six months has been struggling with hot flashes, irritability, and uncontrollable diarrhea.” (Poor Carol! But you get the point).

Characters make us care.

#3: Create Stakes

Create stakes 1 5 ways to make your story shine

Why should the audience invest their mental energy? What makes this topic important?

Just like the element of surprise, stakes create a sense of urgency, keeping the audience’s attention on what matters.

DON’T: Presume your information speaks for itself.

DO!: Create a sense of urgency through convincing data and compelling narrative.

Odds are, we need some odds to care about what happens in the story!

#4: Go on a Journey

Go on a journey 5 ways to make your story shine

The best stories have a clear before, during, and after.

Our hero starts in one state (conflicted, unfulfilled, wanting) and through actions taken, emerges the other side (successful, happy, whole)!

Take your audience on that journey. Create clear plot points to represent the “before” (challenge, problem, or state of conflict), “during” (actions, intentions, behaviors), and the “after” (resolution, lessons learned, happily ever after).

DON’T: “Here’s what our study showed… (blah, blah, blah)”

DO!: “Josie struggled to speak up for herself at work… Through the mentorship program, she learned to trust her voice… Now she’s not only landed herself a promotion, she’s now serving as a mentor to other colleagues.”

#5: Flash-Forward

Flash forward 5 ways to make your story shine

Most people are familiar with flashbacks.  A flashback takes us backward to revisit a time already passed.

Did you know that flashbacks are most often negative? That’s because we’re far more likely to remember events that are unusual or disturbing than those that are typical or positive.

A flash-forward is a writer’s technique to get the audience looking ahead. The author takes the reader forward in time, to an imagined point in the future to show how things might be, rather than how they currently are.

This can be an incredibly effective narrative technique to raise stakes (tip 3) and complete that journey (tip 4) before it’s done.

Give the audience a glimpse of the future and they’ll be more likely to create the action steps necessary in the present to get there.

DON’T: Rely only on past results

DO!: Present the possible and probable positive future!

Valerie gordon our storied life 5 ways to make your story shine

Stories Speak Volumes

However you use story in your speaking, know that the narrative techniques create an emotionally connecting and memorable experience for the listener, illustrating important data and engaging audiences, and leading to a successful speech.

And that’s the story every speaker wants to tell!

Valerie gordon copy 2 5 ways to make your story shine

The founder of career and communications firm The Storytelling Strategist, Valerie Gordon speaks at conferences and works with corporations to train future leaders to use the power of story to nail the presentation, seal the deal, grow a brand, and build stronger teams. A 10x Emmy-winning television producer, Valerie’s work has appeared on ESPN, HBO, CBS News, and other national outlets.  


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