We never get tired of stories. We read them, watch them, listen to them and tell them every day of our lives. We even tell them to ourselves.

And as a business leader and public speaker, you should tap into our yearning for tales, because wrapping your messages in a story will almost guarantee that your listeners will hear, understand, and remember your ideas.

Telling stories in conversation comes naturally. But writing and using stories in our business presentations is a little harder. To do this, try using a story to structure a talk. Here's how.

1. Get comfortable with the template.

Why: Knowing the parts of a story will make it easy for you to plug in your information.

Storytelling is a craft in which the broad outline is given. The basic structure of a story is three acts: the set-up, the development, and the resolution.

Understand that the template for storytelling--the structure and nature of stories--is pretty straight forward, but finding one that reaches your audience, engages their emotions, and helps you make your point is hard. 

2. Ask the right questions.

Why: The right questions will guide you as you weave the facts into an interesting tale. 

To figure out the set-up, development, and resolution, answer these questions:

  • Who is/are the "character(s)"?
    This doesn't have to be a person--it can be a product, or a team, or a research project, etc.
  • What do they want?
    Or, what do the people involved with the product, team, project, etc., want? What would make everyone "live happily ever after"?
  • And why can't they have it?
    Again, focus on the people. Even if the answer to this question is complicated, try to break it down into generalities that are easy to understand. Who are the "good guys" and who--or what--are the "bad guys"? 

3. Add suspense to spark interest.

Why: When people aren't sure what is going to happen next, they are more interested in what is going to happen next.

Suspense is the essential ingredient of story, even a short personal one. It drives the narrative, and its most basic form is, "How does the story turn out?" Try some of these ways to create it:

  • Set up an expectation for your listeners, an expectation that isn't satisfied. That's surprising, and creates suspense.
  • Do the exact opposite by describing something mundane and then reveal a ticking bomb within the situation. That also creates suspense.
  • Ask a question and then fail to answer it. For instance: "The question we need to answer is: How can we launch a product in one year, when it usually takes at least two? Let me know if you have any ideas. And now, let me walk you through the manufacturing schedule." 

4. Make the abstract concrete.

Why: People like things that are plain. If you give real-life examples to help people understand complex situations or data, they can "connect."

Don't just dump a bunch of dry data on your listeners. Build a story around the whys, when, hows, etc., of the data. That will help your listeners grasp what all those numbers, graphs, and charts mean. Also, they will be able to put them into a context because you'll be giving them a framework.

Last but not least

You can't learn to be a good storyteller from reading a book or a blog. You have to try your stories out on people. Comedians go to out-of-the-way comedy clubs to try out their new material, and we as business presenters who are eager to capture and hold the attention of our own audiences need to beta-test our stories just as we beta test our products.