Finding Stories That Make Your Points Pack a Punch

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Author: David Lee | Source: HCI | Published: May 4, 2015

“How do I find stories to use in my presentations?”

This is probably the question I get asked the most frequently when speaking on how to integrate stories into presentations.

The simple answer is…

Pay attention to everyday life.

Notice experiences you have, experiences people share with you, and things you read that:

  1. Surprise you
  2. Amuse you
  3. Contain an obvious lesson
  4. Offer a new perspective
  5. Impact you at a visceral level

Then ask yourself questions like:

  • “This thing that just happened…what is it a good example of?” (so for instance, “It’s a great example of what happens when you don’t listen”)
  • “This thing that happened…what might it be an analogy for?” (the story below is an example of this)
  • “This perspective shift that just happened…how might I use it to make a point or help the audience shift their perspective?”

There are more questions to translate real life experiences into stories you can use, but this will get you started.

So, let me give you an example of paying attention to an experience that has an impact on you and then turning it into a teaching story.

A couple of years ago, I read a news story about a rare bunny rabbit being featured by a TV station. During the video shoot of the rare rabbit, the cameraman, so focused on his job, stepped backwards and crushed the little fellow.

He was so caught up in his immediate goal, his immediate agenda, that he ended up destroying that which he wanted to help promote.  

Because this story is odd and dramatic, I immediately recognized it as a story I wanted to use. Although my preference is to use less grisly, tragic stories in my presentations, sometimes a disturbing story or disturbing image is more appropriate. If you want the audience to associate pain with something they are currently doing, these types of stories or analogies can be very useful.

OK…so I knew right away that this strange story was one I wanted to add to my repertoire.

But for what purpose?

What points might you use this story to convey?

I’m going to ask you to offer some suggestions below, but for now, let’s take the first step in identifying how you might deploy this story.

The first step is to ask yourself:

  1. What’s the pattern or theme of this story?
  2. What lesson or lessons does this story communicate?

For this example, I would answer the following way:

  1. The theme of this story is someone who has good intentions, but, because he is so focused on his agenda and/or because he’s so “into” the cause, he isn’t aware of others and because of that, he has a deleterious impact (to put it mildly).
  2. I see several possible lessons, some general, some more literal and specific:
  • You can have your heart in the right place and STILL do damage to others.
  • When you are so goal-oriented or mission-driven, you can inadvertently hurt others if you’re not paying attention.
  • We can inadvertently hurt people by the way we are in the world and thus being more mindful and aware of how we come across is helpful

Now, my questions for you:

  • What situations in the workplace do you see embodying the theme illustrated in the story?
  • What points would you like people to consider in these workplace situations; points that  this story could be used to add punch?

Think about the possible lessons I identified as well as other lessons you extracted.

In a follow-up link to this post, I’ll share two examples of how I use this story, but in the meantime, tweet your answers to @SayitWithStory with the hashtag #HCIchat.