At the 2016 Democratic National Convention Michelle Obama took the stage. Confident. Calm. Passionate. She spoke approximately 1,561 words while she was on that stage and the critics agreed; she was brilliant.
However, though the entirety of her presentation was strong, there were 100 words that stood out most. About a minute into her speech, the now former First Lady told the story of sending her daughters off to school for the first time as children of the President of the United States. With those 100 words and that single story, Mrs. Obama held the nation in the palm of her hand and the speech was destined for greatness.
To the untrained eye, the success of that presentation may be unclear. However, a closer analysis shows expertly executed storytelling strategies -- which you can use the next time you have to speak. Here are four storytelling strategies to implement in your next presentation to make it as memorable as an Obama's.
1. Create a simple, clear lead in to the story.
Sometimes the most daunting part of using a story in your presentation is the lead in. How do you start a story? This conundrum stops many stories before they even start. If you've ever avoided telling stories in presentations because starting one seems awkward, take a page out of Michelle Obama's book. Keep it simple.
To transition from her opening comments to her irresistible story, Mrs. Obama simply paused and said, "I'll never forget that winter morning..." With that single statement she signaled our story-hungry brains that we were about to get something good (and signaled the internet that her speech was about to go viral).
Keep your lead-ins to a story simple and obvious. Phrases like "I'll never forget the day," or "I remember the moment I learned...," are the perfect ways to switch gears from forgettable chatter to captivating narratives.
2. Use vivid details.
When was the last time you enjoyed a movie more than the book? Likely never. The reason; your brain enjoys adding imagery to words. You may be tempted to cut the details out of the story in an effort to preserve time or "get on to the important stuff." However, including a vivid detail or two takes only a few words and engages your listeners in a way everyday jargon cannot.
3. Choose a universal moment.
One of the greatest strengths of a story is its ability to connect teller and listener. When preparing your next presentation, consider your audience and choose an experience you and your audience likely share. Michelle Obama nailed this at the Democratic National Convention when she detailed watching her two daughters head off to school--any parent can connect with that emotional moment and every child can connect with waving goodbye to a parent or caregiver. She had 100 percent of the room covered with that single story. Mrs. Obama did it again with a 2016 graduation address where she told the story of her own family and history--one that likely sounded familiar to the graduates in the room.
Tapping into stories that are a part of the human experience is a powerful strategy to build deep and instant rapport with your listeners.
4. Use your story as scaffolding for the rest of the presentation.
The great news about telling a great story is you can lean on the imagery and emotion from that story throughout the rest of your presentation. Every time she mentioned "children" or "kids" or "boys and girls" (which she did often), Michelle Obama immediately redirected her audience back to that emotional place. If the facts, information, pomp and circumstance was causing the listeners to disconnect (as it often does), one mention of children and everyone was reconnected to a real moment--two little girls, faces pressed against the window.
The next time you have a presentation to give, take a page out of the great Obama playbook and include a story. 100 words is all you need. And while there's a good chance your next presentation won't involve addressing the nation, you can still use the nation's favorite storytelling strategies to make your speech memorable.