How to make an impact in business presentations

Maurice DeCastro
5 min readSep 28, 2021

The most powerful way to make a memorable impact in business presentations is to tell a story.

Human beings have been telling tales from the first moment we developed the capacity to speak.

In fact, we’ve been telling each other stories for thousands of years to help us to make sense of the world and our place in it. Stories have allowed us to create and even reinvent our lives, to imagine and create demons and monsters. Many of the gods, divine entities and even fairies come from storytelling.

Can you imagine what life would be like without fairy tales?

Stories can not only be a powerful tool for persuading and connecting with people but the good ones; well told, are remembered. They play a significant role in inspiring thought, feeling and action; especially in business presentations.

Uri Hasson at Princeton University suggests that during the telling of a story, the brains of storytellers and their listeners activate the same regions of the brain in the same way. Can you imagine how valuable that is for business presentations.

We’ve been telling each other stories for thousands of years; it’s how we communicate and connect with each other every day.

Why is it then, that most business presentations are just focused on information?

The PowerPoint goes up and we blind our listeners with facts, statistics and data in the belief that is all our audience wants.

In many business presentations you will even find presenters reading slides to their audience.

Some people believe that the only people who inflict such misery onto audiences are experts such as scientists, engineers, accountants and lawyers; it’s not true. A vast number of other professionals believe that it’s only the information that is important and how they deliver it is irrelevant.

This couldn’t be further from the truth

Numbers and facts on their own are impotent. They don’t create an emotional connection or understanding and are far less likely to be retained and acted upon. Regardless of our position or expertise it’s the presenter’s job to give the numbers or data meaning. A very helpful way of doing this in business presentations is by bringing them to life through relevant stories.

Audiences don’t like to have to work too hard to understand a presentation. One thing they value even less is feeling ambushed by data.

It’s my belief that a presentation without stories is more akin to a lecture.

One reason professionals and leaders are reticent about including stories in their business presentations is because they just don’t know where to start or what type of story to share.

Here are 7 types for you to consider for your next presentation.

1. The Window

This is a story where you open a personal window into your world. Your audience get to see you as a human being as well as an expert; you’re just like them. It’s a window that will help them understand a little about you, your background, your values and even your passion. They get a glimpse of what makes you who you are.

You may share a story about a childhood or family experience, an insight of parenthood or leadership. Perhaps it’s a time in your life where something changed that had an impact on you and is relevant to your message today.

2. The Challenge

This is a story about overcoming adversity. It may be a time where you had to rise to a challenge that required some courage. It’s a story about change, growth and learning. It could be in your personal or professional life but it revolves around the option of ‘fight or flight’ and you had to make a choice.

The point of such a story in business presentations is to offer your audience hope and insight to a challenge they may be facing. It’s a lesson learned which your audience can learn from too.

3. The Leader

This is a story about the leader in you. It’s often a story about vision, drive and your passion to succeed. It’s a story designed to inspire your audience.

You may be a parent, boss or leader in any walk of life where you demonstrate how you were able to lead others through a difficult situation. It’s a story in which your values come to the fore which allows your audience to reflect on their own values.

It’s often a story of fortitude, courage or creativity which offers your audience another way of looking at a situation they may find themselves in.

4. The Hero

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a story about you.

The hero is more likely to be someone else or a product, a service an idea or an action. The hero was the catalyst for change or transformation. It’s something which challenged the status quo. In business presentations people are often searching for how to overcome a problem, stem a decline or create an opportunity for growth.

It’s where the organisation is looking to break away from medicority or something which is stifling success. It’s the hero which changes everything.

5. The Mistake

This is a story about a personal failing or disappointment. In business presentations it’s a story about something important you went through as you learned a great deal from it. It’s a story about you being human and fallible.

It could be a funny self-depreciating story or one of an essential journey you had to experience. It’s a mistake which you learned form that your audience can learn from too.

6. The Server

This is a story in which someone needed your help.

Perhaps it was your family, your team or a colleague who reached out to you in some way. It’s a story about empathy or compassion.

It’s not a story about your ego and what a wonderfully kind person you are. It’s a story of personal leadership which in business presentations can stimulate ideas and opportunities for others to serve as well.

7. The Change

This is a story about how you either instigated and led or experienced significant change.

It may be cultural, behavioural or emotional. It’s often a story which represents the process, power and impact of change.

It’s a story which illuminates a path for your audience who may be struggling in a certain area and need to look at things differently.

In business presentations it’s a story which inspires action.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Rudyard Kipling

As you prepare for your next presentation regardless of the importance of the data or the message, sit quietly for a moment. Reflect on each of these areas and pinpoint at least one relevant story.

Your life is full of stories, in fact it’s arguably one giant collection of stories. Take the time to review your past and find the meaningful stories that will help you to animate your message and connect with your audience.

If you are presenting soon and need a little help:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and public speaking coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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Maurice DeCastro

Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.