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  • Writer's pictureAyyappan Ramachandran

How to tell a story in business presentations

How can we create a presentation that won't get tossed in the bin or put people to sleep?


Creating an engaging business presentation is much like writing a screenplay. There are characters, scenes, cliffhangers, an emotional arc and a satisfying resolution.


Prerequisites 

Before rushing to creating the slides of the presentation, please be conscious of the following details.


  1. Who is the main character in the story? (This is the person the presentation will be shown to.)

  2. What are their challenges (relevant to the product/service covered in the presentation)?

  3. What are the emotions associated with these challenges?

 

Story framework 

John Doe aspires to grow his manufacturing business, so he worked at it and grew it 3x. This is not a story, because there is no story without challenges.


Now, "John Doe aspires to grow his manufacturing business, but his factory has no latest technology to meet growing demands" holds a great promise for a story. If you analyse the statement, there is a need, and there is a challenge in fulfilling that need. Both John Doe and we the audience are eager to find out if he succeeds in taking his business to the next level.


Need-challenge-resolution is the framework we will be applying to the business presentation.

 

A short note on why challenges are important

Without challenges, there's no tension, no drama, and no reason for the character to change or grow. Challenges force the character to act, react and make decisions. As they come to terms with a challenge, they experience a moment of clarity and develop a new strategy, moving the story forward.


The more obvious reason for including challenges is the fundamental fact that we all face challenges everyday. Not even the richest or the happiest people on earth are free of challenges.


 

Depending on the length and depth of the presentation, it would either be a single cycle of need-challenge, or multiple cycles, before meeting with the resolution at the end.


For example, here is a single cycle framework:

  1. John Doe aspires to grow his manufacturing business.

  2. But he is hopeless as is factory has no latest technology to meet growing demands.

 

And here are multiple cycles:

  1. John Doe aspires to grow his manufacturing business.

  2. But he is in despair as his factory has no latest technology to meet growing demands, and more competitors take centre stage.

  3. Therefore he is determined to implement Industry 4.0 principles followed by his peers.

  4. But he and his team feel discouraged as they lack the knowledge and tools required.

  5. Therefore, he hopes to partner with a technology services provider.

  6. But finding and evaluating a vendor is a daunting task.

 

And so on, depending on how far and detailed you would like the presentation to go, until the product/service is revealed as the final, irreversible resolution, satisfying the original need of the character and bringing the emotional arc to a closure.


(Note the words in italics in the above six points. They convey the emotions the character is most likely to go through in their scenario, and serve to rise the drama.)


Irrespective of the number of cycles in the framework, it must be kept in mind to alternate the presentation slides between 'progress' and 'challenge' in order to keep the story alive and moving. They could be thought of as positive value / high point and negative value / low point.


Therefore a story, when charted as a graph, should look sinusoidal with one or many cycles.

Opener and closer of the presentation

Now that we have the main content of the presentation sketched out, it is time to clothe it in thoughtfully done opening and closing slides.


Think of your opener as a film poster. It should be creatively designed so as to be inviting and give a hint of what the audience can expect.


The closer, however, has not got a cinematic equivalent. Business presentations are purpose-driven stories, unlike films, which need not have a purpose/motive. The close of a business presentation should be a strong call to action, appealing to the target audience to take an action just when they are experiencing an emotional catharsis, increasing the likelihood of the presentation's desired outcome.


How we do it at Tellable

Here is how the Tellable team members collaborate to implement storytelling in business presentations.


  1. Our Business Storyteller works with the client, and empathises with the character (client's target audience) of the presentation and charts the story graph.

  2. Our Writer drafts vivid content for each slide based on the story arc, including emotion-words and rich details describing the character's scenario, and also attempts to raise the stakes and audience curiosity at each high or low point to make the presentation more engaging.

  3. Our Designer creates a broad layout for the presentation and adds fleshes out each slide with matching visuals to bring out each turn of the story effectively.


 

Disclaimer: It is to be noted that this is not a rigid formula, or the most effective framework available to tell a story in a presentation. We encourage you to bend, adapt or reinvent the wheel, keeping in mind that the key is to embrace challenges in order to drive the story forward and emotions to make it relatable.

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