Imagine this…

It’s a typical workday. Up until now, your time has been spent on typical workday tasks. You’ve watched the news, read emails, consumed articles and scanned business reports.

Now it’s time to go listen to a presentation given by someone you don’t know. Your head is swimming with facts and figures as you take your seat.

The presenter takes the stage…

and he starts with a story.

Suddenly those facts and figures that have taken up your brain space get pushed aside. You’re drawn into the presenter’s story, and the world falls away for a little while.

The best presentations take the audience on an adventure.

“After studying hundreds of speeches, I’ve found that the most effective presenters use the same techniques as great storytellers: By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.”
Nancy Duarte

Whether you’re giving an educational presentation or a sales presentation, involving the audience’s imagination with a story will result in a more engaged audience.

Stories Light Up Our Brains

Stories not only sustain more attention from the audience than a presentation of pure facts and figures, but they also stimulate multiple areas of the human brain.

When we listen to a story, every area of the brain we would use when experiencing that event for ourselves lights up. When the story involves food, our sensory cortex engages. When the story involves motion, our motor cortex lights up.

Our brains are quite literally wired for storytelling.

We Have a Maximum Cognitive Load

Our brains also have a maximum capacity. There is only so much we can retain and remember. We can only expend so much cognitive energy.

The scientific theory of cognitive load explains this. There are limitations to cognitive activities such as memory, learning and analysis.

In other words – if your audience is already near the maximum cognitive load when they are listening to your presentation, they won’t be able to retain an hour’s worth of information.

Storytelling bypasses this limitation. It engages the sensory parts of the brain.


Visual Support for More Vivid Presentations

Telling a story during your presentation is a powerful thing. For maximum impact, however, your stories must be supported by your visual aids.

Let your audience use their imagination as you’re telling your story. Instead of using slides with bullet points and complicated diagrams, use pictures, images and illustrations.

Live storytelling makes a bigger impact with images and imagination … not text.

When early humans sat around campfires and shared stories, the audience created pictures in their minds. Later they created pictures on walls, too, to illustrate the stories they told.

When we invented written language and books, we began to put stories into a more visual format.

As children, we made the transition from hearing and imagining stories to seeing the words and connecting sounds with the shapes of the letters as we learned to read.


As adults today, the strongest, highest-impact form of storytelling is still programmed to work in the most primitive part of our brain first, before it reaches the analytical part of our consciousness. We hear it, imagine it, feel it — and if it captures us — respond to it with our emotions.

This is why our rich imaginations respond to seeing and hearing stories come to life in theatre and film.

When text mixes with storytelling during a presentation, a disconnect occurs. We hear the words and instinctively trying to imagine the story being told — while simultaneously trying to read words on a slide. It’s confusing for our brains to do this all at once.

Think about it. Actors in a play don’t hold up posters with words on them to get their point across. Movies only use text to quickly establish dates or locations.

Use Storytelling in Live Presentations for Better Results

To get the audience engaged and help them remember your message, tell a story.

While you’re presenting, let the imaginations of your audience members paint that vivid story in their minds.

If you want or need to visually support that process, use illustrations and images.

Imagination will create a much more impactful story than slides with bullet points and diagrams.