February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. It's origin is unclear, but it's purpose is as old as human communication--oral traditions, myths, and fables being handed down from one generation to the next.

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.

Fairy tales aren't just for kids anymore. We see them everywhere lately: at the movies (Into the Woods), on television (Grimm, among others), and on Broadway (Cinderella).

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

Use stories to structure presentations

Telling stories in conversation comes naturally. But writing and using stories in our business presentations is a little harder.

The template for story telling--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 indelibly--that's hard.

Story-telling 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. You can also try this:

  • Who is the "character"?
  • What do they want?
  • And why can't they have it?

Add suspense to spark interest

Suspense is the essential ingredient of story, even a short personal one. It drives the narrative, and it's most basic form is, "How does the story turn out?"

You can set up an expectation for your listeners, an expectation that doesn't happen. That's surprising, and creates suspense.

Or you can do the exact opposite by describing something mundane and then reveal a ticking bomb within the situation. That also creates suspense.

Use a question to engage listeners

How about asking a question and then not answering 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."

Make the abstract concrete

In business, we tell stories to make a broad point more specific and concrete, or to reveal who we are so we can connect with an audience, or to emotionalize our content.

This is a great way to communicate about dry data. Build a theme--or 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.

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.