Simply Explained: Using Storytelling for Technical Presentations

Posted by

In trying to find new ways to explain story structure and the benefits of storytelling, I came up with the following very simple sketches (don't laugh):

This, effectively, is the structure of pretty much every technical talk. It starts by explaining the problem and ends with the solution.

There's nothing wrong with this. It's the logical thing to do. But it's boring and uninspiring. So here's the simplified structure of a talk that uses storytelling:

The difference is in the story arc that takes the listener on a journey; and which makes them curious as to how the story will end. This journey isn't straightforward - it's often littered with setbacks and defeats. This is what Kendall Haven calls the "struggle" - the ingredient that makes all the difference between a story in the dictionary definition of Aristotle (beginning - middle - end) and an interesting story.

The great thing here is that it's usually easy to transform the typical straightforward problem/solution talk into a more interesting one by applying storytelling techniques. You start with the problem. What's so interesting or important about it? What's your personal interest in it? Why do you care? What made you go on that journey trying to solve it?

The "struggle" part is also easy to come up with: If the problem would have been easy to fix, you wouldn't be here to talk about it. So which obstacles did you face? What did you try that didn't work (and why)? Did you ever think of giving up? What made you persist? Or maybe you didn't; what made you pick up the problem again?

And finally, the solution. How did you find it? What was different from all the other ways you tried? What did you learn from it? What's the impact? How does your solution make the world a better place, at least for some people?

If you're still not convinced of the power of storytelling, go read Kendall Haven's book "Story Proof". I find that technical presenters are usually very passionate about their topic, which is a good thing to start with. You only need to take the extra step and make your audience feel the same way. Simply listing the facts, as technical presentations tend to do, won't do it. Storytelling is the way to achieve this and, as shown above, your typical problem/solution talk should be easy to convert from a good, factual presentation into a great and inspiring talk.

If you'd like me to talk or write about this topic, you can hire me to do so.
Please email me for details.
Creative Commons Licence "Simply Explained: Using Storytelling for Technical Presentations" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.