Weekly Training Booster Episode #9: How to Tell Stories at Work to Improve Your Presentation Skills


Telling Stories at work

Join Andy Palmer and Darren A. Smith in the ninth episode of the Weekly Training Booster. This episode was about telling stories at work and how to improve your presentation skills. Using stories to achieve greater engagement with your audience. Everyone can tell stories – Tell me about an accident you had, or a time you were embarrassed.

You Can Read the Storytelling Episode Transcript Below:

Darren A. Smith:

Hello and welcome to week nine with Andy Palmer. We’re talking about the Weekly Training Booster. And this week, Andy, we’re going to talk about storytelling and how to tell stories at work.

Andy Palmer:

Yeah, absolutely. So I think for me, this is one of those learned skills that actually become incredibly useful because the majority of us spend a lot of time influencing, persuading, communicating, ultimately presenting to people. And what we’re ultimately looking to do is to improve that ability by becoming far more persuasive. And storytelling can just be a super powerful way of doing that.

Darren A. Smith:

And my understanding of storytelling is it comes from when our ancestors sat around a cave, where we can sometimes see Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner. And they’re telling stories around the campfire and they’re really intriguing. And partly, there’s no telly to distract them or mobile phone, but the storytelling, that’s how it was passed on for years and years and generations.

Andy Palmer:

Absolutely. So, I mean, way before recorded history, at any time before recorded history, it’s the vehicle in which humanity passed information from generation to generation. And yeah, I think it still plays out true now.

And yes, there’s all those influences, but actually, if we all think back, we can probably remember that story our grandmother told us when we were a kid. Maybe, that cartoon that we saw on the TV when we were five, maybe the thing we learned in school about how the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. And they’re the things that stay with us because we have such strong emotional connections to stories, as opposed to just simple information gives.

Screenshot of weekly training booster video
Telling stories at work will help to improve your presentation skills

Darren A. Smith:

And one of the stories that I remember was back when I was in corporate and this guy was doing a training course on time management. Now, I got intrigued by time management, as you know for the last 20 years.

But, the story that stuck with me from that whole day was this guy said, “I want you to remember, I’ve got tickets.”

Now, he started with that and that was intriguing. I have no idea what he was on about, he’s a mad American. And then, he told this story about how he had tickets for a baseball game. And did I know that during that day, he was the most productive he’s ever been? Because at five o’clock he had to leave the office because he had tickets. And were we surprised how productive he was? No, we weren’t, because he had a goal. And it was brilliant, loved it.

Andy Palmer:

For me, that is the power of bringing stories to life by having a single central clear message. His clear message was, “I have tickets.” Now, there was a whole load of other stuff going on, but that’s the bit that stuck with you.

When we can come up with that simple clear message and that could be as much as, “I’ve got tickets,” or, “I want to launch a new line,” or, “I want to run a promotion, I want to negate,” whatever that thing may be, if we’re absolutely crystal clear on what it is, and then we can surround it with an appropriate narrative, we become so much more engaging in the way in which we’re delivering that thing, whatever that thing may be.

Darren A. Smith:

And I agree. I was at a workshop, a different workshop some years later, with a guy called Richard White. God bless him, he’s now passed on. But, we were in a storytelling workshop. There was 30 of us there and most of us started moaning as people, I think, were watching.

“I can’t tell stories, Richard, I can’t.”

He said, “Okay, get into groups in pairs right now. Tell a story about an accident.”

We were there an hour. I told the story about my hand with 80 stitches in it. I had them roaring. 20 minutes, I told that story.

Andy Palmer:

And I think that’s a perfect example. And I use a very, very similar one. Most people, as you’ve said, will put their hands up and go, “I can’t do stories that feels too big, scary, horrible.”

They start to feel anxious about it, they start to feel very nervous about it, but yet the reality is we can all do it. And actually, if we take it away from our personal experiences that we can bring to life really, really easy, we’re trying to then translate that to our professional or work environment, simply put the stories are just the stages and steps that you are going through or went through, in order to get you to that place that you are.

So if we’re talking about you’re in a recommendation space, it’s just about saying, “Well, this is what I initially observed from the data. My analysis then allowed me to explore this and that.”

I think sometimes it’s really powerful to then talk about the obstacles and the barriers that you faced because conflict will exist, in which case stories become engaging.

“Went over here, turned out it wasn’t this. That led me onto this here.”

And you just play the story out, much like a book, chapters, chapters, chapters, all the way through to your end, your summary. And you’re then able to make that recommendation. But, people have come on that journey. What did you see? Why did you find it or what was the observation? The reason behind the observation, our insight. What’s the recommendation off the back of it? It’s a very simple example.

And the story is just literally bringing to life the experience that you’ve had in a way that people can relate to. It doesn’t need to be wrapped up in a Jackanory, once upon a time type narrative. It can just be brought down into the journey that you took to get to that point, that you’re actually at, at that exact moment.

Darren A. Smith:

I like that. I like that, that’s good. Because so often in business, we get into this theoretical, we need to talk in this business way and have 500 PowerPoint slides. Whereas actually, we can have much fewer slides, and bring it to life with our words and our animation.

Andy Palmer:

You’re absolutely right, because the default is to go, “I’m going to spend four hours up, putting together my PowerPoint presentation, beautifully crafted, even managed to put a bit of animation in,” and then we just talk through those slides.

But, we give ourselves no time to prepare. It’s all about the slides. And all we do is talk through these slides, thinking they’re our presentation. No. Breaking news, you are the presentation. The slides support you and not the other way round. When we can use stories and the slides then support us, our engagement, persuasion skills, influencing skills, go absolutely through the roof because we are that presentation, not the slides.

Darren A. Smith:

I really like that. So storytelling is really important, we know that. And as you said, it helps with influencing, helps with persuasion, helps with engagement. If we can move away from PowerPoint, that sounds good as well.

Okay, the guys that are thinking out there, “I’m not sure about the storytelling. I get what you’re saying. I conceptually get it.”

Where do they start?

Andy Palmer:

With your end in mind. I think, for me, everything starts with the end in mind. Let’s talk Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, as he said, “Everything’s created twice. First up here, then, in the physical.”

If we figure out what our end in mind is for that particular meeting, or presentation, or communication, we can then work to achieving that. The single probably easiest thing that most people feel reluctant to do is maybe just storyboard it. What are the seven stages that I’m going to talk through? What’s my start, my middle and my end?

From that, we can then start to weave a story around it, but the story is literally just bringing to life each of those stages. Now, if we can link it in with personal experiences, then that’s fantastic. But sometimes, it just needs to be, or can simply be, that journey that we’ve got on to achieve that end in mind, at that end.

Darren A. Smith:

I love that. And I’ve seen you before take seven A3 sheets with the client, some marker pens, and start scribbling. Love that. Love it.

Andy Palmer:

Yeah, it feels very unnatural for people to do that because actually we must be in front of a keyboard, we must be in front of a monitor or four. Actually, why not just grab a simple pad and paper and storyboard it?

You talked earlier, in the previous video, number eight I think it was, about discretionary time. Stepping away from my desk, a bit of paper, pen, just story-boarding out. I’ve got six boxes on a bit of paper. I’m going to go roughly, conceptually get some thoughts out of my head and what each of those areas can look like. Then, I might come to PowerPoint and start putting something together, but never the other way round.

Darren A. Smith:

Brilliant, love that. Love it. All right. We’re wrapping up. One take away for our viewers on storytelling?

Andy Palmer:

Break down those barriers, the perception that it’s something more than it actually is. Everyone, I believe, can tell a story of a personal experience they’ve been through in their life. That’s easier to do when it’s retrospective.

I think this still plays out as well, when you’re bringing to life a presentation using stories. You are just talking through the stages and the steps that you went through. You’re going to meander off and say, “These were some of the black holes,” or, “These are some of the dead ends,” that you maybe experienced. But, that’s good, it shows humility. And it shows that you didn’t always get it right first time.

So a simple take away, break down those preconceptions that storytelling is really hard. It is just about you, being you. And bringing to life the experience that you’ve been through to get you to that point, the recommendation, or the reason behind your presentation.

Darren A. Smith:

Right, love it, Andy. I’m going to leave these guys with a story, not this hand because that one’s got a lot of stitches, but this one.

My dad, we’re unloading the shopping, I’m seven years old. It’s the Saturday weekly shop. Dad gives me, back then, a glass of orange juice. So this is what I use in our Influencing Training course.

He says, “Son, don’t run.”

I run. And he spent six hours in A&E telling me that he’d told me not to run. And that’s all about sharing the power of words. I heard, “Run,” I’m eight years old. Of course, I was, and this hand proves it.

Andy Palmer:

That’s good, I like that. I like that for a number of reasons. Of course, one, we can demonstrate that we can tell stories. And the other take away is kids do not hear the word don’t, can’t, and won’t. They just don’t hear them. Genuinely, they don’t.

Darren A. Smith:

And the other thing kids don’t do, or they do, sorry. The other thing you can’t do is negotiate with a kid, they always win. But, that’s another story for another time.

Andy Palmer:

And negotiation skills are unlearned as we get older.

Darren A. Smith:

All right, Andy, thank you for telling us about storytelling. Hopefully, there’s a bunch there that you can take away and go do now. We’ll add some links that will help you. And also, if you want to learn more about storytelling, particularly from Andy, he shares this in the Category Management Workshop. Take care.

Take a look at the Storytelling video on our YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog.

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