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Handy Tips for Presenting Your Story Anywhere and Everywhere

presenting your storyWe’ve been talking for months about how the key to a successful content marketing strategy rests on the ability to craft and tell your brand’s story. Robert Rose wrote an excellent post on how content marketing is all about storytelling. In it, he says that to be successful, “[you have] to weave a compelling, emotionally connected story around your brand.” From CMI to famed film producer Peter Guber to agencies like Story Worldwide, storytelling is a hot topic.

When we create the story that drives our content marketing efforts, we should already know who our audience is and what we want to tell them. When it comes to the platforms, we know how we want to say it (text, video, audio) and where we want to tell it (website, blog, social media, etc.). And typically, we stop there because we have so much to monitor, measure, and manage that we become overwhelmed.

Yet, content marketing ought to be called constant marketing, because it’s always happening. David Meerman Scott talks about real-time marketing and how we have to be ready at any given moment to react and respond to relevant public conversations. What we often forget is that stories happen in real life all the time – informally when we are on the subway, on a plane, or at a cocktail party, as well as formally at a conference or business meeting. We are always telling and re-telling our story — it happens when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” or when we are up on the stage giving a presentation.

For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on the presentation aspect of content marketing. Whether you are pitching in the boardroom or delivering the keynote address at a conference, it is your job to educate, engage, and inspire the audience. Good storytelling is the strongest, most reliable way to do this.

Truth be told, not everyone is a proficient storyteller. Some people are just born with the skill — Bill Clinton, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Louis C.K., to name a few — and have an innate ability to spin a good yarn. While most of us may not go down in history as a notable orator, there are a few presentation tricks we can use to polish our storytelling skills and prepare ourselves to win over any audience.

Avoid telling the entire story

Chances are you have a limited amount of time when you are presenting. But you can use these limitations to your advantage.

Presenting is not an exercise in how to spew out a ton of information in a short amount of time — your audience is savvy, and you will likely lose their attention within minutes if you don’t give them an opportunity to focus on your most important points, or if you fail to meet their expectations for being engaged and entertained. It’s your goal to meet those expectations and, more importantly, to keep their eyes on you (and not their iPhones).

Two weeks after your presentation, the audience may not remember everything that you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. So don’t go crazy and try to cover everything you know about your topic. Choose two or three ideas that a.) you are passionate about and b.) you know will be attention grabbers. By focusing on a few points, you will come off genuine, authentic, and relaxed — a win-win for everyone in the room!

Swab the decks

Stop relying on PowerPoint. Seriously, stop using it. Presentation tools like PowerPoint, Keynote, and Prezi are becoming crutches for presenters who feel like they will fall down unless they have their slides!

If you cannot tell your story without the use of slides, then you are in more trouble than you think. Slides are for support only! They are to be used to evoke an emotion, or to make a point. The best decks should be meaningless without the presenter’s own voice to provide context and color for the story.

If you feel you must use slides, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use only high-resolution images — no clip art, and no stock photos. And have them bleed out to the far edges of the slide.
  • Use only one idea per slide.
  • Avoid using bullet points.
  • Get rid of the cheesy animations.
  • If you have a Q&A portion of the presentation, or you go off on tangents as part of your presentation, hit the “.” (period) key — this will make the slide go to black, bringing the audience’s eyes back to you, rather than staring at a slide that has nothing to do with what you are talking about.
  • Use as few slides as possible. Too many slides are distracting and can dilute the power of the presentation.

Remember: A presentation is not a meeting — it’s a performance

Pete Townshend once said, “The audience is thick and doesn’t appreciate quality . . . you do something big on stage and they go ‘Ahhh!’”

What he meant is that the audience won’t get hung up on fancy charts, specific data points, or minutiae. They won’t know if you skipped a point or forgot something you were planning to say. What they will notice is if you look nervous and fidget. For many people in the audience, your presentation might be just one in a long series of meetings they have to attend – chances are that at least half of them don’t really want to be there. Take a chance, and make it fun, entertaining, engaging. Get them to pay attention. This skill only comes with practice and experience. So, rehearse your presentation. Practice it in the mirror. Record it on your smartphone and listen back. Take the time to create a compelling performance and you will win every time.

While we continue to craft our content strategy and proliferate it across all media, let’s not forget that there is no better way to tell your brand story than in person — so they get their information right from the horse’s mouth. So from this day forward, I urge you to make your presentations an integrated part of your content marketing strategy. When you have the opportunity to present to an audience, it’s critical to be interesting, captivating, and focused on the story itself — not fumbling with a bunch of slides and data that may only confuse the audience. If we take half the time we spend on creating effective presentations, audiences all over the world will be more than thankful.

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Audience image via Flickr Creative Commons