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Presentations a Bore? Motivate your Audience by Telling a Story through PowerPoint

This article was originally posted by a media partner at

Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have communicated and organized their societies around stories. Think of the stories in the Bible, the Greek myths, and Indian folklore as prime examples of the power of the story to educate, motivate and organize society. They all employ some degree of emotion to underscore the human condition and a clear progression of events. When combined and told well, they resonate and move the audience. It’s what makes great stories so powerful.

Businesses also have stories to tell. They do it with presentations. Businesses rely on presentations every day to motivate their customers and employees – to close sales, raise capital, launch a new product, and train new hires. Now you could argue that these goals are not as grandiose as, say, teaching ethics and behavior so everyone can survive and thrive in society, but if you’re reading this article, chances are these stories, these presentations, are pretty important to your business and you.

Most presentations are created in PowerPoint. It’s easy to use, and has great images, effects and animations. And it’s ubiquitous – everyone has it. So it’s no surprise that an estimated 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. We all rely on PowerPoint to tell our business story. And therein lies the irony. PowerPoint’s format decimates the elements of a great story. The outline with bullet format removes the substance, emotion, and transitions that would otherwise grab and guide your audience through the story. And its linear nature limits the speaker’s ability to respond to his audience’s emotions and reactions. So, in essence, businesses’ biggest presentation medium is actually undermining their ability to connect and motivate – to produce more and sell more.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With a different approach to PowerPoint, anyone, maybe even everyone, in your company can tell better stories and give more powerful presentations. To create better presentations, consider the following:

  1. Beginning, Middle, and End – All great stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is where the scene and characters are introduced. In business, the scene could be the market or situation analysis, and the characters are the product or the problem you are trying to solve. The middle of the story is the action – the path or solution you are recommending to improve the situation. The end is the result – usually a positive outcome. Next time you open up your PowerPoint app, STOP! Don’t just start filling in slides with text and images. Look away from your computer and create the story in your head – the beginning, middle and end — the progression from start to finish. Make sure there are obvious transitions to and from each section so your audience can follow the story.
    2. Add Emotion – When I suggest adding emotion, I don’t mean an episode of This is Us or an Adelle song. There’s no crying in business! That said, business is conducted by real people who feel excitement and satisfaction, as well as fear, pain, and annoyance (Who’s never been annoyed in the midst of a presentation?). Each section of your story should have a corresponding human emotion. Emotions motivate people to act. So, think of a corresponding emotion for the beginning, a corresponding emotion for the middle, and a corresponding emotion for the end, and ask why your audience should care. What’s in it for them? Then, include that corresponding emotion into your slides. Use words, images, or even videos to help convey that emotion. Images and videos are usually stronger than words, so use them whenever possible.
    In business, we are trained to focus on the facts and the logical rationale for an idea. PowerPoint’s outline format plays exactly to the facts. But we also know based on thousands of years of human interaction, or just listening to our pundits and politicians, that stories that play on our emotions are more motivating than facts.

The good news is that you do not need to make a radical change to your presentation practice to get a better presentation. Just alter your approach, and think a little differently. At the very least, include the corresponding emotion to the fact you are presenting. Then, look at that fact in terms of a beginning, middle, and end. In the process, you will create a story for your fact – your business – that will motivate your audience. You will make a better presentation, and you will ultimately unleash the power of PowerPoint.

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