Stories used in presentations can take many forms, but common to all is that they contain elements that audiences are used to seeing in novels, movies, television shows, and in the tales that Aunt Jesse tells at family get-togethers. As a speaker you have to decide which elements of the story are going to best accomplish your purpose for the audience you're addressing. Your blessing, and your curse, is that you have lots of choices.


You could tell a story that's heavy on plot, driven by events. What happens is more important ultimately than to whom it happens. On the other hand, you could choose to focus on the people in your story. In that case, you would give more details about your characters, what they're feeling and thinking, maybe how they look and talk. You might quote them. In other stories, the setting can be the element most important. Perhaps your story is about the craziest place you've ever given a talk. If so, details about the place are essential to a successful portrayal of your horror at finding yourself speaking, for example, in a dirty, unheated basement with no microphone. The last element of a good story is conflict; there's always some tension, big or small, that needs to be resolved.

In every story you'll be using some combination of the narrative elements above, although not always in equal proportion. Balancing such demands means keeping one thought in mind as you create your story—you're telling a story to advance your purpose, not because you have a good story to tell.


In a previous Speak Previews® we included a story of about a group of kids whose mother used innovation to transform a rocking horse into a sled. The speaker who used this story decided that events were more important to her purpose than character, setting, or conflict, so her story emphasized plot.

A few other tips will help you adapt your story to the demands of a presentation. Go easy on the background/exposition. You can give so many details that your audience either loses the thread or becomes too impatient with you to follow it. Accordingly, get into the most important story element as quickly as possible. If you're telling the worst-place story mentioned above, some of the dark and dreary elements of that basement need to appear in your first two or three sentences. Essential also is that you allude to the story elsewhere in your presentation; making connections and providing hooks throughout keeps the audience engaged with you and the importance of your story.


Other techniques related to style can make your story become even more alive for your audience and provide more ways for you to secure your story to your message. Figurative language such as simile and metaphor, vivid description and evocative imagery, appropriate diction, and strategic repetition all tap into the listener's imagination.

If you've done everything right, your audience will actually provide the last element of the story. They will understand your story's theme, one that relates directly to messages and makes each clearer and more powerful.