Why are most business presentations so bad? Often we see speakers organise their talks in lists of information (such as ‘Five reasons to join our exciting investment program’), without recognising that the human mind isn’t constructed to remember lists very well. Once we’ve been told three or four things, to remember the fourth and fifth points, we’ll have to forget the first couple. ‘In one ear and out the other’ pretty much describes how we respond to lists.
Yet everyone who has heard, seen, or read Romeo and Juliet, for example, remembers the story. Our brains have the capacity to recall information far better, if it’s told as a story. So the theory goes that if you give speeches more like Shakespeare and less like the Phone Book, you’ll be much more memorable.
Storytelling can be such an important tactic, but how do you go about creating a great story, for the purposes of public speaking?
My favourite structure for a persuasive speech is the problem-solution structure.
You begin your presentation by describing a common problem that the audience has, and then you describe a solution. You can either stick to that structure, and tell stories at various points along the way, as examples and supporting evidence; or you can treat the whole speech as a story.
Think of your stories as having three acts.
The first act presents an idea or a situation that will engage the audience.
(Romeo meets Juliet and falls in love)
It’s best if this idea or situation is one that, once it has happened or been told, cannot be undone. (Romeo cannot ‘un-meet’ Juliet.) If you give your audience some information at the beginning of your speech that they don’t know, it has the same effect.
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