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The Recipe to a Powerful Presentation Includes an Engaging Story

If you’re like me, you spend what feels like a decent portion of your professional life creating and compiling presentations. Or perhaps you’re like the other half of the professional world where a lot of your time is spent listening to those presentations.
I reflect back on conferences I’ve been to which are often a string of presentations and I try to think about which ones really stood out to me and stick in my mind. Chances are the ones that stand out include three things. A charismatic presenter, interesting subject matter, and a good story.
It’s something I’ve always suspected to be true, but the story concept is actually backed by scientific research. This New York Times article talks about what happens to your brain when someone tells you a story, fact or fiction. Here’s a excerpt:

In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading (or hearing) about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

When we tell stories of emotion, describe smells and actions, our listeners brains become engaged in all of these areas even though this experience isn’t happening to them.storytelling
Certainly scientists aren’t the only ones that understand this. In the presidential debates, why did Obama answer questions about what he plans to do with our country with stories of growing up with his grandmother and the farm life struggles his family went through?  Why does Brian Tracy, a professional business speaker tell us stories about other business folk to demonstrate how to organize our calendars instead of using bullet points? Pharaoh’s lives and lessons described in picture painting cartouche’s. The bible uses parables.
Clearly not new ideas… These are all stories that are meant to engage us and make us understand new thoughts, or to make us want to get up and do something. We remember them better than presentations with bullet points.
Don’t just give a presentation with facts and figures. Find a way to weave in a story that truly engages the full mind of your audience. They’ll remember you far past the coffee break if you do.

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Abbey Smalley

With 10 years of interactive industry experience under her belt, Abbey Smalley serves as a Solution Architect within Perficient XD’s Strategy & Ideation Practice. Client industry list includes Financial, Retail, Healthcare, Fitness, and Restaurants. Prior to working for Perficient XD, Abbey served as the Online Design and Usability lead for 3M’s global mobile design strategy. Abbey is passionate about spreading the message of a User-Centered Customer Experience and has spoken Internationally at several industry conferences. She is a contributor to Perficient’s Spark blog and a part of the leadership committee for the Minneapolis Interaction Design Association (IxDA). Abbey’s other interests include creative strategy, writing, jewelry making, and rather cute cats.

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