How to Become a Stellar Storyteller and Ace Your Next Presentation

Presentations of all stripes can run the gamut of a startup pitch deck to a grand product reveal. The one thing they have in common? They aim to inform and inspire. But even the most beautiful and well-put together presentation can fall flat if it doesn’t manage to tell a compelling enough story.

Think of some of the most epic stories ever told in our lifetime, the likes of Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings. What is one thread that they all share?

They follow the “hero’s journey,” a narrative style that follows a protagonist through three very significant acts.

The hero’s journey is but one way to get your audience to care about your story, but there are a handful of other ways to craft a presentation that actually works.

To do this, we’re drawing inspiration from the greats to teach you the ways that you, the mere mortal, can also deliver top notch presentations.

So when you’re preparing your next presentation, ask yourself these three questions:

Does My Story Answer the “Why?”

Simon Sinek, the man behind one of the most watched TED talks of all time, asks every storyteller to “start with the why.” He says that all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world all communicate in the same way, they focus on the “why” instead of the “what” or the “how.”

The “why” communicates your purpose, your value system, and why you get out of bed in the morning.

It tells your audience why they should care about your message and can help you come across as transparent and authentic. Which is easier to resonate with than simply telling people “what” you do.

Sinek pits two hypothetical Apple marketing messages against each other.

The “What”
“We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

The “Why”
“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

You’ll certainly respond more to the second message as it communicates Apple’s vision as a company, which is so much bigger than just making computers.

So ask yourself: What is the purpose behind my presentation? And does my story address “why” I am doing this?

Does My Presentation Introduce a Hero and Villain?

Steve Jobs is, without a doubt, the greatest business storyteller of all time. He was especially masterful at product presentations, bringing the crowd to its knees with the grand reveal of Apple’s latest innovations. It’s dramatic stuff.

How did Jobs craft such riveting narratives? He did this by introducing heroes and villains in every single one of his presentations, the classic clash between good and evil.
It goes something like this:

In a dark world, there is the villain who threatens to bring down mankind (in the case of Apple products, the villain is what’s traditional and boring).

The hero then emerges (with an awe-inspiring new product) as the last line of defense to save the day.

The reason behind the success of Jobs’ product reveals is because he was privy to the secret sauce behind what great stories are made of. To this point, Forbes notes:
[clickToTweet tweet=”“heroes and villains are the fundamental building block of compelling narratives.” quote=”heroes and villains are the fundamental building block of compelling narratives.”]

The 1984 Macintosh launch, which featured IBM as the villain, is one great example. Another is the 2007 reveal of the iPhone where Jobs slotted the existing smartphone category in as the villains.

It would be defeated by Apple’s shiny new product which was presented as the protagonist.

Besides Jobs, there’s Ken Robinson, the man behind the most-watched TED Talk of all time: “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

He also uses the “hero vs. villain” storytelling tactic brilliantly by introducing a villain (education in its current state) and a hero (an education system where creativity is weighted similarly as literacy) and uses personal anecdotes to drive home his points.

Does My Presentation Cater to Today’s Consumer Habits?  

Gary Vaynerchuk, the fast-talking social media marketing guru and probably one of the most sought-after speakers of today, points out that storytelling needs to evolve.

This is because the way that people are consuming content has vastly shifted within the past decade:

We now expect everything to be done “in our own time,” ranging from Netflix vs. TV programming to chat apps vs. phone calls.

Besides people wanting to exert control over how and when they consume content, there is also a need to consume in bite-sized pieces. According to Vaynerchuk, we are now living through is a very big culture shift in storytelling.

He says that in the past, we were living through consumption of heavy, very cerebral kinds of content such as movies and documentaries. Now we are living in the breaking news era, where frankly, the audience is kind of inundated by options and does not have time to focus.

In short, what’s changed in the past decade is the attention span of the consumer. It is seriously far shorter than it used to be. Vaynerchuk says that:
[clickToTweet tweet=”Our society is experiencing ADD at scale.” quote=”Our society is experiencing ADD at scale.”]

According to a Microsoft report on consumer insights, human attention is fast dwindling. While in 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds, it has dropped to a mere 8 seconds in 2013. To put this into perspective, a goldfish’s attention span is at 9 seconds.


To tackle this, you can incorporate some of the basics of presentation design, which are:

  • Make sure your presentation communicates ideas, not slides. To do this, you have to avoid filling your presentation with text. Go with visuals instead.
  • Typography is important. Be aware of your font choice and what it says about you and your presentation.
  • Make information beautiful. Instead of pasting a boring spreadsheet into your presentation, use colorful charts and graphs to communicate.

See the below Slideshare for more tips.

While this should quickly prompt us to change the way we present information, this is not to say that there isn’t a place for long-form content which is any piece of content over a 1,200 word count.

Two great benefits of long-form content include ranking exceptionally well in Google and earning quite a number of backlinks.

When in Doubt, Always Give The Brain a Good Story

So when putting together your next presentation, remember that the brain lights up when it hears a good story.

It reacts the same way when it encounters award-winning screenplays and literature, and it will expect the same from your presentation.

Ready to get started on your next presentation? We’ve got a number of templates you can work with, whatever the occasion. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Feeling particularly nautical? This dreamy presentation could work.
  2. Styling! This fashion-forward template is fun and fearless.
  3. This template is for you techies out there.

Do you want to be part of these success stories?

Join more than 11 million who already use Piktochart to craft visual stories that stick.

Yes, I'm ready!