7 Rules of Using Storytelling to Hook an Audience

Inspired by the presentations at CES 2020

David O.
David O.
Jan 13 · 7 min read
Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is an event that takes place yearly in Las Vegas, USA. This year is the first time I would be following the event closely.

My interest is not really on the electronics, even though I love tech. My interest this time is on the presentations. The consumer electronics companies at the event present on stage their new products and projects. And I was watching closely what they presented and how they did it.

Of all the presentations I have seen thus far, I was most impressed with Toyota’s presentation. The presentation was made by the CEO, Akio Toyoda. Although his English wasn’t perfect, his presentation was better (in my opinion) than all the others.

Why Was Toyota’s Presentation the Best?

The reason is simple and obvious. Akio Toyoda was the only person I saw (thus far) who really used the power of storytelling to captivate the audience. He took the audience on a journey. And it was beautiful.

The others were just excited to show us the next cool gadget they made. They go right into the product to tell us what it is, what it does, how it works and so on. There was no story to bring us into their world.

A few other presentations tried to add this feature but they were concentrated on product features. It was 75% features and 25% story. I think it should be otherwise; 75% story and 25% features. This is because the story makes the audience appreciate the features.

Using Storytelling Effectively

There are rules that make storytelling effective when speaking to an audience. I have discovered seven. However, you can still have a great presentation if you are off with one or two.

Here are the seven rules of hooking your audience with storytelling:

1. Have a Good Command of the Language

Your presentation can swiftly go off the rails if you do not have a good command of the language you are speaking in. The best is always to be a native speaker. But if not, then the key is to practice, practice, practice.

There were a couple of non-native presenters at the CES 2020. And they spoke fairly well. The big secret of presenting well in English when you are not a native speaker is to talk slowly. When you try to rush your words like the native speakers, it becomes difficult for the audience to hear you clearly.

When you talk about facts and features in an unclear tone, it would still be easy for the audience to catch up. But if it is a story, the audience gets lost when they can’t hear a part of it. And you will feel it when you say something they ought to laugh at or clap to, and there is dead silence. That moment can negatively affect your stage confidence going forward.

Native speakers ought to pay attention to this also. No matter how small the time you are given, it is important not to rush things. It is better to just reduce how much you’re going to say.

2. Know the Cultural Background of the Audience

Storytelling involves jokes, punchlines, slang, and so on. The last thing you want is to say something that would be offensive to the audience without you knowing it. A lot of big speakers have experienced this. They said something they thought was funny, only to be told later that it was offensive to the audience.

There are some offences that are just people being petty. But there are cultural differences that could be really bad. This is why you need to have a general idea of the cultural background of the audience. Nobody needs a detailed account of every possible thing that could be offensive.

You just need to get someone who has a good understanding of the audience to practice with. That person should tell you when you are out of touch with your story or triggering the wrong emotions.

3. Know the Industry Terms to Use

You must be aware of the technical level of the audience. There is no point in trying to impress them with terms nobody understands. When presenters fail this rule, they believe they have given a great presentation. However, the audience will have the opposite impression.

A presentation is to impress the audience and not oneself. So the terms and descriptions used should be one the audience is deeply familiar with. Simple is always best. But sometimes, the audience is very technical and knowledgeable. And that makes it necessary to use technical terms.

Can technical terms be used in storytelling? Yes! Storytelling is not merely about telling a story of yourself and your experience. It is about taking the audience on a journey. And it must be a journey they can all relate to.

4. Gauge the Readiness of the Audience

The audience is either ready for you or they are not. You must know how to gauge their readiness and address their expectations.

I was at an event a few years ago. The audience had been seated, listening to speaker after speaker for a few hours. Then my friend who was an invited speaker took the stage. He was the last speaker. He could tell that everybody was tired. He did something usual.

He asked everybody to stand up and stretch for about a minute. The energy that simple exercise brought into the room was amazing. He then made his presentation very short. He was probably the favorite speaker of everyone at that event.

If your audience is not hot and ready for you, try to find out why, and do something about it the moment you get on stage. In many cases, a little expression that shows you really care goes a long way to prepare the minds of the audience to what you have to say.

5. Stick to Your Time

This is a bit personal I must confess. People who don’t stick to time piss me off. If you cannot stick to time, it shows a lack of organization. And that not only affects time, but it also affects everything else.

Sticking to time is even more important when you are not the main speaker or presenter at an event. Everybody can bear with the main speaker going on for a few minutes more than expected. But when you are eating into the time of a speaker everybody is waiting for (or the break time), then it is not good.

You need to be able to make your point in the little time you are given. Your story must be told according to the time you have. You could have a two-minute, seven-minute and 15-minute version of the same story. More time doesn’t always mean more storytelling impact. In fact, short stories are the best.

6. Don’t Be Boring

Your story must have a plot twist or something to laugh about. A story without unexpected turns or hilarious punchlines won’t stay long in the minds of the audience. And the reason for using stories in the first place is to make a long-lasting impression.

In Akio Toyoda’s presentation, he began with popular futuristic ideas the tech world has been toying with for years. Then he took the audience on a journey with him. He showed what went on in his mind that led to what he came to showcase.

Every statement had a vital piece of information and excitement to listen to the next part. I am sure most of the audience is just as captivated as I was. Yes, he was presenting a real innovative idea, but I think most of the other things presented at the event were just as innovative (even though on a smaller scale).

There were products I absolutely loved and felt like the presentation was a disservice to the genius behind it. Everybody was coughing out features that make their product unique with minimal storytelling that makes it relevant to a general audience of buyers. The big problem there is that it gets boring very quickly.

A reasonable goal for a marketing presentation is to tell a story worth sharing again and again whenever people want to discuss the product.

7. Your Story Must Add Up

The story must be relevant to the product or service being presented. It could be from any angle. It must drive people to the point you are there to make.

The story must not be a cliché or something everybody knows already. There must be something different about it. And it must lead the audience into understanding your product or service in a more intimate way.

This is the most important part of the rules. The story has to matter. Otherwise, it would just be a nice speech and it won’t result in sales.

Storytelling is essential to an effective marketing presentation. When the consumer wants to make a buying decision, they not only ask, ‘Which is better?’, they also ask, ‘Which one am I most comfortable with?’

People are most comfortable with things they are connected to. And stories build such connections.

Better Marketing

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David O.

Written by

David O.

Copywriter. I study why people buy. Connect with me → linkedin.com/in/davidolarinoye. P.S. I have other interests too

Better Marketing

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