top of page
3 Tips for Effective Storytelling
by Gilda Bonanno


Storytelling can be a very effective tool in presentations.  Evocative, relevant stories can engage your audience and help you clearly communicate your message.  Here are three tips for effective storytelling:   


1.    Make it relevant

In order to manage the vast amount of information they receive, people decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore.  That means that when they're listening to your presentation, everyone in your audience is thinking, "what's in it for me?" and trying to figure out what is relevant for them.  


Therefore, your story should have a pertinent point that clearly relates to your message – and your message should be meaningful for that audience.   As you're preparing your presentation and practicing your story, think about it from the audience's point of view. 


An irrelevant story, no matter how funny or unusual, will only distract from your message.  And if the point of the story is not obvious, be clear in explaining it to the audience.  With fairy tales, fables and parables (some of the oldest stories we have), there is often a line at the end, "and the moral of the story is…" In your story, substitute "message" or "point" for "moral," and make sure it's relevant. 


2.    Include vivid, memorable details

A good story should have vivid, memorable details.  Specific details are more memorable than general descriptions.  For example, if you're telling a story about an employee problem, saying, "he came into work 2 hours late, with bloodshot eyes and slurring his words," is more effective and memorable than saying, "he came in drunk." The details help the audience visualize the story in their minds and will help them remember it.  Use your five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste - to craft the details. 


For example, if you're sharing a story about your six-year-old son's soccer game as an example of how even inexperienced people can overcome obstacles, describe the smell of the wood fire in the air during an autumn soccer game, the sound of the leaves crunching under your feet or the taste of the mint chocolate chip ice cream at the postgame celebration party. Choose whichever senses help paint the picture most clearly. 


3.    Vary your body language

When you're telling a story, another way to add life and interest to it is by varying your body language, the non-verbal part of your communication.  Body language includes elements such as facial expression, gestures, eye contact, voice, posture and movement. 


These elements should change so your body language matches the words that you or the characters you're portraying in the story are saying.  If you've ever read a bedtime story to a child, you have varied your body language instinctively by making your voice loud and harsh when you're the Big Bad Wolf and softer and higher-pitched when you're Little Red Riding Hood.


At first, varying your voice while telling a story during a business presentation may feel silly, but you can become more comfortable with it by practicing.  Even small variations in your body language can make a difference.  For example, if you're telling a story about how your teenager always responded to your questions by saying, "whatever," you can say "whatever" in a monotone, shrug your shoulders, roll your eyes and then look at the floor.  That change in body language will help the audience envision your teenager and understand when he or she is speaking in the story. 


To engage the audience even more, you can make them part of the story by repeating the body language pattern, such as the "whatever" sequence, a few times and letting them fill in the blank.  The third or fourth time you say, "and then I asked him another question and he said [pause]…" the audience will fill in the blank with "whatever." 


Stories can be an effective tool to use when giving a presentation and using these tips will make your stories more relevant, interesting and memorable. 




Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.

Copyright (c) 2009











bottom of page