What Story Are Your Slides Telling?

“If you think stories are just for kids, then consider that 25% of the economy is based upon storytelling. Isn’t that what advertising, counselling, promotion and consulting is all about?” – Geoff McDonald

We’d add presentation design to that list. Presentations are about storytelling too. Which prompts us to ask, what story are your slides telling? We’re looking at 8 principles of stories that Geoff McDonald covers in his summary of Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. In our last blog, we talked about the 6 senses Pink says modern presentations need to succeed. Check that out here if you missed it. Let’s find out how to make your slides emotional, contextual, unique, interpretive, amusing, arranged, future-oriented, and memorable.


“Stories are emotional, they move us in some way; facts are rational.”

A long, long time ago, Aristotle told us that we needed ethos, logos, and pathos to move our audiences. Ethos is credibility—we have to be knowledgeable and ethical. Logos is logic—we have to have sound arguments, facts, and information. Pathos is emotional appeal and audience sensitivity—we have to know where the audience is coming from and what they expect in order to make them feel something. Unfortunately, we often focus too much on the first two and forget how important pathos is in persuasion. The next time you develop a slide deck, pay attention to the feeling and mood your design choices create. Presentation design is not just a matter of what you want your audience to know, it’s also a matter of what you want them to feel.


“Stories are contextual; they give you a way to position and frame ideas.”

Ideas must be connected to something else. One of the easiest ways to set the context of your presentation is draw upon the narrative elements of time and place. When your slide deck involves these things, it’s easier for the audience to orient themselves and also to connect your ideas with what they already know. Ask yourself if your slide design has enough context so the audience isn’t confused about the story you are telling.


“Stories are unique and personal; facts are commonplace, just ask Google.”

We remember things that are different. It’s a pretty cool principle called novelty, and our brains are wired for it. In fact, research has proven that our brain activity increases when we encounter something new. That’s why we love to help presenters design slide decks that are one of a kind. When we break free from slide templates, we can make sure the stories we are telling are unique.


“Stories encourage us to interpret and think; facts aim to be the truth.”

When you tell a story with your slide deck, you invite the audience to participate through interpretation. This is fun for them because they can become part of the meaning-making process. On our blog we recently shared research which involved three ways of telling a story about a snowman. In sum, researchers found that the version of the story that was shown and narrated factually was marked as the least pleasant and was the worst remembered. When the presenter tried to both tell the story and interpret it, the audience didn’t enjoy it as much.


“Stories can amuse and entertain; facts can only illuminate.”

While there are some amusing facts, it is generally understood that stories are more entertaining than facts. If you’ve presented often, you know the way an audience tangibly perks up to hear a story in way they never would for a data-filled chart. Don’t forget that using humor to connect with your audience is so important.


“Stories help us organize our knowledge by creating context.”

Stories don’t happen in some random order. There is a definite, clear sequence. Your slide deck needs this too. One way to be intentional about your slide deck order is to use an old storytelling method: storyboarding. Here’s how to use storyboarding to arrange your slides.


“Stories are the chief way we look into the future. eg planning, daydreams.”

Stories open up potentialities that facts simply can’t. They help us to envision tomorrows that are better than our todays. This narrative principle is especially important if you are creating a pitch deck because investors want to ultimately know where your business is headed. Audiences want slide decks that illuminate the now while also pointing to the future.


“Stories are effective because that’s how our brains remember things.”

We are in the business of making “sticky” presentations. In other words, ones that make it through the human memory process, which you can learn more about here. For example, stop to think about how many stories you have heard that you can remember and retell with some detail. The number is probably in the hundreds. But how many statistics have you heard that you remember? I’m lucky if I can remember 5. If you can put your slides into a story format, your audience will remember them much longer.

If you design your slide deck with these 8 narrative principles in mind, you can take it to the next level. For more ways to update and elevate your slide design, reach out to our team of experts now.

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