You are standing in a conference room full of people, or on a stage, about to give a business presentation. How do you begin?
Well, for starters, go for the brain. No, we don’t mean what zombies do or anything like that. But a little humor is good, especially if you can start with a story, a personal anecdote or an experience you’ve had that is relevant to your topic.
Storytelling is an immensely powerful way to communicate and it will help you immediately connect with your audience. Great leaders, sales and marketing professionals have always known this, and in today’s fast-paced corporate world, storytelling is a skill you need to succeed in business, says Darren Menabney, a lecturer on business presentation and critical thinking in the GLOBIS MBA program in Tokyo.
Why is that? Because storytelling relaxes you, grabs your audience’s attention, it boosts their empathy with you and helps them remember what you are talking about, he says. “Just giving data or facts doesn’t have the same effect on the brain of the people listening. Anybody who is in business needs to persuade — that is a core leadership skill. For example, you might be a startup and need to persuade investors and employees to join your company. But the goal is always to use a story to make your presentation compelling and create a bond with your audience. Take the facts, wrap your story around them and you will see a greater effect in terms of selling a product or idea.”
It’s a powerful, yet simple technique that has proven effective for thousands of years. Humans have always told stories, whether it has been sitting around a campfire, in books, movies, TV or online. The tools change but the power of storytelling remains because it comes naturally.
“Everyone has a story to tell, a life experience,” Menabney says. “Our brains are naturally wired to tell stories. For most of us, on any given day, 60% of our conversations are gossip or storytelling. If you can use storytelling in a presentation, with some visuals, the results will be much greater. Create a portfolio of stories that you can use in various situations.”
Storytelling is also a great way to help you overcome your own shyness, Menabney says. “When you learn storytelling skills, it becomes easier to put them into effect at your workplace because you are able to find new ways to bring about a mindset shift. Of course, like all stories, your story will need characters — they can be anything from the company itself, a new product idea or an innovation.”
While nobody is born a natural presenter or public speaker, you can learn the techniques, Menabney says. ”A good example is Steve Jobs with his Apple keynote talks. When he first started, he was nervous. Later on, his body language and gestures changed. He would walk on the stage and build up drama. Then he would stop … and show the new iPhone. Another example is Bill Gates. He gives great TED talks but if you see videos of his old talks, he was a bit rigid.”
Menabney recalls that he, too, honed his business presentation skills over time. Born in the UK, he grew up and lived most of his life in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in astrophysics, he spent over 20 years working for the federal government in Canada, at the departments of Revenue, Industry, Foreign Affairs and Defense. Seeking to take his career in a new direction, Menabney moved to Tokyo in 2011 and enrolled in the part-time MBA Program at GLOBIS.
“It taught me critical thinking, problem solving and to focus on the big picture. It gave me a better sense of my strengths and weaknesses. I picked GLOBIS because of the teachers and now I am one of them. We are not academics. We are businesspeople who teach and bring a real world experience into the classroom.” His skills have helped him with his work at Ricoh Co Ltd where he leads and manages global HR programs focusing on employee engagement and helping Ricoh employees build stronger global and cross-cultural teams.
Menabney is still, learning, though. He has given hundreds of presentations to diverse audiences across North America, Asia, and Europe, which he says constantly refines and improves his skills. He has worked as a business skills trainer at top Japanese companies and government agencies, instructing business leaders, military officers, and ODA staff on how to create compelling presentation slides, handle audience questions and boost their confidence. He is also an alumni coach with IDEO U, supporting learners in online courses on storytelling and creativity. He works with the start-up community in Tokyo, coaching entrepreneurs on how to better present and pitch their ventures.
Menabney cautions that a speaker needs to observe his or her audience. “If you see the audience fading out, try to engage them and make it interactive, saying, for example, ‘What do you guys think?’ The worst kind of presenters think they know everything and just want you to listen to them. A little humour is good but not a joke because telling a joke could backfire. Move about a bit, too. That’s important. Know your audience and what is going to work for them.”
Knowing your audience also means not judging their ability by their cultural background. When some Japanese tell him that they are not good at this style of emotional, story-driven presentation, Menabney says that’s a myth. “Look at Tokyo’s Olympic bid where Mami Sato, a Paralympian who lost her leg to cancer, gave one of the most passionate and personal speeches, and in English. In our classes, I’ve seen many Japanese people shy or nervous at the beginning of the three -month courses. By the end, they are volunteering to give presentations.”
The power of storytelling will be the theme of a seminar, “Storytelling: Redefining Business Presentations,” that Menabney will give at the GLOBIS campus on November 2. He will discuss the use of narratives to communicate, persuade and motivate others. During the interactive seminar, Menabney will give the audience an introduction to storytelling (and tell a few stories of his own, no doubt). Participants will learn how to effectively structure and deliver stories in their speeches and business presentations.
To sign up for the seminar, click here.