Relate A Compelling Story Through Your Presentation - How?

Rajeev Mudumba
Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

There’s an old adage about public speaking, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. And then tell them what you told them.”

This is a terrible way to structure a story and yet, amazingly, it appears in myriad presentations I attend across all sorts of disciplines. It’s no wonder that we often feel like we just saw the same talk multiple times! What would happen if instead of focusing on the data, we focused on how to make our presentation compelling?

In this article, I offer some simple steps for telling a better story.

Start by introducing yourself — where are you from? Where have you been?

Here’s an example — I was born in India and have spent most of my life between there and the US. However, as a child I also stayed in the Middle East and so, at heart, I am a citizen of three countries.

Next is your main story — but, how do you structure that?

One common pattern is to tell “the journey” — a pattern that feels authentic because it reflects our own lives.

For example — Remember how I said I grew up traveling across continents? The same thing also happened with my academics and career. My graduate work took me from Universities in India to the Universities in the US where I worked on early Web 2.0 experiments.

But the problem with this structure is that it can be dry. If you’re not used to telling stories, it can be hard to come up with narratives that are interesting and authentic.

So, how do we find our way?

One technique is to focus on the characters in our story. Instead of telling the journey, think about a time when things didn’t go as planned. What happened and what did you learn from it?

For example, Let’s say you’re a physicist who studies cosmic rays. You might have a story about the time you were working in an underground lab and a thunderstorm knocked out the power. What did you do? How did you solve the problem?

The takeaway is that no matter what your story is, it should be interesting and authentic.

So, how do you make sure of that?

One way is to think about the audience. What do they want to hear? What are their interests?

Tailor your story to fit their needs.

For example, If you’re giving a talk to a group of physicists, you might focus on the technical aspects of your work. But if you’re speaking to a general audience, you might want to focus on the implications of your research.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the story you relate can also be fictional! Several times interesting tales are fabricated to capture attention and interest.

If you don’t have a compelling story to tell about your research, why not take inspiration from others? For example, I recently heard a great talk given by a social scientist who told a story based on the movie Alien. It was authentic and attention-grabbing…and it really made me rethink what it means to be authentic!

Finally, no matter how much you work on your presentation, there will always be things that go wrong. My own worst moment came early in my career when I was giving a talk at an international conference in India. It was a large venue and the room they placed us in had terrible acoustics. So, no matter how hard we tried, everyone in that room could hear every cough and rustle of paper. But I’d like to think that if you build your presentation around these simple steps, you won’t encounter too many such mishaps!

Finally, thank your listeners for their attention.

I hope you learned a thing or two about telling a compelling story so that your audience hangs onto every word. Now go out there and wow them!

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Rajeev Mudumba is a dynamic entrepreneur, executive, business strategist, coach, and advisor. He is also an accomplished author, speaker, and thought leader. Above all, Rajeev is a diehard optimist with a "can do" attitude. Subscribe to Plan B Success podcast on your fav platform or Also, subscribe & watch on YouTube @ Don't forget to share & spread the word!

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