How to Use Children’s Book Storytelling Techniques in Presentations

Workday Design
Jun 11 · 8 min read

By Nor Sanavongsay, UX Designer at Workday

Illustration by Nor Sanavongsay

Your presentations don’t have to be boring — slide after slide, filled with never-ending data and endless bullet points. The story and structure of a presentation makes a huge difference in the way the audience responds, and the more engaged the audience is, the more likely they are to take something away from a presentation. Using children’s book storytelling techniques in presentations makes for a more memorable and inspiring talk that any presenter can give.

Storytelling Matters

Through the ages, nothing has been more prevalent than stories. We can see them in the cave walls, in the tombs of ancient pyramids, and on ceramics and items we use daily. Every story attempts to entertain us, provide clarity, and help us bond with our audience to provoke emotional responses. Children’s picture books are a good example of this: they are entertaining, clear, and memorable because of the emotions they evoke. Often, they teach their audience something, and also inspire to dream and to take action.

Remember your favorite story as a child? How did it make you feel? You might not remember the entire narrative, but I’m sure you remember how you felt. That’s the same kind of impact we want in our presentations, and by using a few simple storytelling techniques, we can get it.

Know Your Audience

Set the stage for your story, and then hook your audience in early. You have about 10–20 seconds before they decide to zone out. Be entertaining right away — we learn quicker when we’re being engaged.

The key to captivating your audience is by telling engaging stories. Know who your audience will be, then write the story accordingly. Are you presenting in front of project managers, senior leadership, your peers, or people with similar interests? Tell stories they’ll find interesting based on what they know.

In a TED Talk by Matt Chan, creator of the hit series Hoarders, he explains how telling a story that the audience knows makes it more engaging. There’s a saying that we should “start with what we know” and that’s all good if we want to tell a self-serving story that people might not relate to. But if we “start with what they know,” we can hook our audience in, and take them in any direction we want.

People often engage more with emotion than logic, so sharing an experience that most people can relate to is a great place to start. In Chan’s TED Talk, he says “tapping into shared experiences is the key to capturing an audience.” You can tell stories about your experience in a crowded plane, being stuck in traffic or behind someone going slowly on the fast lane. The point is if you don’t know your audience, find an experience in your life that other people may have shared a similar experience with.

Disney/Pixar side by side: depending on the country in which you live, you may see different green vegetables used in Pixar’s “Inside Out.”

You can take this a step further by connecting with the emotions people feel when they have a particular experience. In the Pixar movie Inside Out, there’s a scene where the main character feels disgust at the thought of having to eat broccoli. In the US, this is a relatable experience, but in Japan, it’s not, because many Japanese people love broccoli. When Pixar was releasing Inside Out in Japan, they knew they couldn’t use broccoli — they used green peppers instead. Japanese, it turns out, do not like green peppers, so feeling disgust at eating them is a much more emotionally relatable experience for that audience.

Provide Clarity

Visual storytelling, like children’s books, make complex ideas easier to understand with a combination of words and images. One great writer’s rule you can utilize in your own presentations is, “show, don’t tell.”

For example, you might have text that reads “This building is 40 stories tall, and it can hold 20,000 people,” and have an illustration of a big building with people in it. These words paired with the image may add clarity, but it’s not captivating.

A more compelling way is to use words and images to complement each other. Let’s reword the text from before to: “This building is as tall as Godzilla, and can fit a city full of people.” You make the statement more visual by using descriptive words, and using a memorable example. You can show an illustration of Godzilla next to a building full of people. If the numbers are important, show them on screen: add a measurement of 40 stories, and a label “20,000 People” underneath the building. People remember visual cues longer than audio cues. The words and images together add clarity, and by entertaining your audience, you make your point more memorable (they’ll remember how tall that building needs to be because Godzilla will likely stick with them).

Story Elements

There are a few things to keep in mind when developing a presentation that tells a story, teaches a lesson, and is engaging and entertaining. First, you must have a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. A story arc helps to structure your presentation like a narrative by giving it a linear flow, and a defined build-up and resolution.

A diagram of the dramatic story arc

Within your story structure, you can use some storytelling elements to help tie everything together, draw the audience in, and make them care about your story. Story elements include: a reason for your story, emotional changes of the main character or protagonist, and resolution to the conflict or problem they’re solving. A good ratio is to spend about 20% of your presentation doing the introduction of your character or setting context. A good portion, as much as 70% of your presentation will be the body, what data or information you’re trying to show. The last 10% would be the resolution and conclusion; tie up any loose ends and fill in the audience with the solution to the problem you’ve presented.

Reason for Your Story

You can take advantage of story structure in your slides by using the first part to introduce the reason or the background of the project.

Every person knows what they do — it’s in their job title, the products being sold, or the services being offered. But few people know why they do it — the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires them. The why is about our contribution to impact and serve others.

In the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker, he explains how the “why” — or, the reason we do something — is at the center of the “how” and the “what.”

Illustration by Simon Sinek of the Golden Circle

For the Golden Circle to work properly, we must be clear about the reasons why we are doing something. When you’re thinking about how to present design work or other projects, be clear about why you made the decisions you did — to solve a problem, to make something better — so that the audience understands the basis of your story.

The Protagonist

The protagonist, also known as the hero, is the main character of the story. You, or your product, service, or brand are not the hero of the story. The heroes are your users, customers, or the people you serve with your products. Center your story around them, and think of yourself as the enabler, the helper, or the sidekick. You can do this by making sure the storytelling presentation examples in your slides focus on the user’s point of view. If you’re presenting to users, this will make them feel heard. And if you’re presenting to other designers, coworkers, or managers at your organization, this will help them understand the protagonist’s, or user’s, state of mind.

Conflict and Problem

The next part of the presentation would be the problem the hero has, and how your product or service is helping them to solve that problem.

What is holding the hero back? What is getting in the way of them accomplishing their goal? These are the problems and conflicts in the story. The bigger the problem, the better (and more rewarding) the resolution will be.

In your presentation, show the buildup of the problems along the story arc, and then show the best solution to the problem as your resolution. Don’t present too many solutions, and make sure to explain the “why” behind the solution that you chose.

Storytelling in Business Presentations

Now that we’ve taken a look at how storytelling provides your audience with the “why,” let’s take a look at how children’s book storytelling techniques can be used visually in your presentation. In children’s books, you’ll generally find one idea or action per page. Follow the same rule for your presentation slides, and don’t overload them with too many ideas.

Keep the accompanying visual on a slide simple and accent it with a complete statement. Like in the previous example about Godzilla, your statement could be boring when it’s just telling the audience what’s on screen, but more memorable with some fantastic images and figures. The key is to have the visual enhance what you’re saying, and not just repeat it.

Most children’s books have 32 pages and are under 500 words. Plan your presentations this way as well. Around 5–10 minutes is a good length to keep people engaged with your presentation.

Many book spreads are done in sets of 8–16 pages, which makes it easy to break down your presentation story arc in parts. In the graphic below, you can see a presentation broken up into 8 slides, with each slide covering a different part of the story arc.

Illustration of a sample presentation structure

This is a sample guideline. You can add or remove slides as necessary to make sure you have room for all the information you need to include. The thing to keep in mind is to use one image with one idea for each slide to make the statement clear. Don’t worry about making too many slides in your presentation; it’s better to have more slides with each sticking to one idea, than to have too much information on fewer slides. To help break up your information, you can use these tips:

  • Break up each bullet point into its own slide.
  • Make charts and graphs easier to understand by presenting them individually, and not multiple at once.
  • When making comparisons, talk about individual differences separately; for example, slide one compares the first difference, slide two compares the second difference, and so on.

Tell Your Story

When you’re thinking about how to present your work creatively, remember that using storytelling techniques in presentations can take you a long way. A hero’s journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step.

Stories help bring clarity to what you’re presenting, and telling engaging stories helps you bond with your audience. Use storytelling techniques in presentations to make it short, entertaining, and memorable, and take advantage of story structure to give your presentation an arc, a protagonist, and a compelling reason to buy-in.

Workday Design

Experiences and insights from Workday Design

Workday Design

Written by

Experiences and insights from Workday Design

Workday Design

Experiences and insights from Workday Design