Many people seem intimidated to make a presentation. Lots of times they will say they are nervous to speak in front of others. That’s natural, we all get a little nervous before we go on stage, no matter what your performance or venue. But the other reason people are timid has to do with the idea that they have nothing to say.

I am here to tell you that idea is rubbish. Everyone has something to say. We all have experiences to share. And that is what your audience wants to hear, they want you to share some of your stories. And, in a lot of cases, they also want to share their stories with you. When you get up to present you are essentially calling a meeting to order and you get to decide how the meeting will be run.

What I have learned along the way is that if you want to give a presentation that others will remember then you need to use stories. The stories can be your own experiences or they can be ones you borrow from other sources. As long as they are applicable to the subject at hand you’ll be fine (but don’t use another story without citing the source, common sense people!)

Storytelling is a very powerful way for you to communicate ideas because they are such a powerful way for people to learn. I may not be able to remember everything about transparent data encryption, but once I hear the story about the time the DBA enabled TDE and it brought his server to a halt because TDE also encrypts the tempdb which incurred more overhead on the instance it allows me to remember a fact about TDE I might not have remembered otherwise.

Five Stories

There are five stories that make up effective presentations. Every great story falls into one of these five:

  • the Quest
  • the Stranger
  • the Love story
  • the Rags to Riches
  • the Revenge story

Now, I doubt you are going to be spinning such yarn when presenting at your local SQL Saturday…or are you? Think about the presentations you have given in the past. I am willing to bet that you have always interjected your presentations with phrases such as “this one time I did…”, or “in my experience I have seen this…”, or even “be careful about this thing right here because…” I know I sure do, as those quick stories add color to what would otherwise be nothing more than a rewording of some topic found in the BOL.

I would argue that in most cases those quick stories fall into the Quest or Stranger categories. In 2007 I presented at PASS on Operations Manager. Why? Well, because I was on a quest to learn something new and while on my quest I was a stranger. Along the way the stories I collected allowed for me to put together an outline for a presentation. I did a follow up talk in 2008 as well which was more of a Love Story (I will *always* love OpsMgr).

Think about your upcoming presentations. I know that some people are focusing on how the material is presented and to some degree that is very important no question. But you could go all Tufte and build a wonderful 45 minute slide deck and it will fall flat unless you can deliver a message along with your slides. If your slides speak for you then your presence is not required. Your slides and your presence represent a symbiotic relationship. You fill your role by interjecting stories to enhance your slides.

And when you do you will find your speaker evaluation scores going through the roof.