Three ways to begin your presentation with a story

Jim Schrager, a long-time veteran of the venture capital world, works with MBA students at the University of Chicago to improve how they sell their ideas. Students pitch their ideas to him and they tend to follow a logical path: the market size is X, if we can get 3% of that market our revenue will look like this in 3 years.In his blog, Bruce Gabrielle, a student, remembers the day Jim stopped the presentations to model the correct way to pitch a new business idea. I thought Bruce wrote such a powerful post, I wanted to share it here. Be sure to visit his blog, Speaking Powerpoint,. This is what Bruce describes in his post, Storytelling in the Boardroom, three ways to open your presentation:

“He stood in front of us in silence for about 10 seconds, while we squirmed, waiting for him to begin his business pitch.”


Schrager opened, “In 1998, the Vice President of a global technology firm was side-swiped on the highway by a semi-truck, sending him into a concrete bridge piling at 70 miles per hour. His car was destroyed, his wife died instantly, but he miraculously survived. Paramedics pulled him from the twisted metal of his shattered car and rushed him to the nearest hospital, bleeding profusely. The doctors and nurses raced him into surgery. But it was too late. They could not stop the bleeding and this wealthy business executive died.”

Schrager paused and looked around the room, which was hushed. Then he continued:

“If the hospital had our product, that man might still be alive today.”

Schrager went on to describe the product, the patents, the several hospitals where the product was in use, the inventor’s credentials and so on. Everyone in that classroom felt humbled. They had focused on impressing the investors with the market size. Schrager used a story not only to help the potential investors understand the product, but to turn them into humbled admirers before he even talked about the revenue potential…

Even in a boardroom presentation, you need to start by grabbing the audience’s attention and getting them on your side. While your presentation may not lend itself to such a powerful and tragic story as above, there are three storytelling techniques you can use to grab and hold your audience’s attention: a springboard story, an analogy, or a metaphor.

Use a springboard story

Stephen Denning, author of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, describes a springboard story as a true story that illustrates a problem you are facing and introduces the solution to that problem. The Schrager example discussed above is an example of a springboard story.

Use an analogy

An analogy is a similarity between two different things, like the similarities between a bird and a plane. This is how human beings learn; we make generalizations from one thing and apply them to other things. This happens naturally and automatically.

We not only see similarities; sometimes we actually transfer traits from one thing to another. For instance, we compare a sports car to a first kiss and automatically transfer the excitement and newness of a kiss to a car, even though the similarities are not real.

Use an image as a metaphor


A metaphor is not a story, but like an analogy it can activate stories from our memory. And just like analogies, metaphors make us see the new situation as similar to the metaphor, including the emotions and other characteristics of that metaphor.

As an example, I once attended a business presentation to learn about different licensing programs. Licensing is usually a very dry subject, riddled with legal rules and conditions. But this presenter, instead of showing a table comparing the different licensing programs, showed three 7-Eleven soda cups; small, medium and the Big Gulp. We now had a familiar metaphor to use as a placeholder while the speaker explained the three licensing choices.

This article used with the permission of Bruce Gabrielle, author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business.

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photo by Katrina Snaps

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2 thoughts on “Three ways to begin your presentation with a story

  1. I’m a huge advocate of storytelling and its power. I’m reading “Tell to Win” right now, all about the power of storytelling. I like your integration of stories into metaphors. Stories don’t always have to be an independent piece of your presentation. You can weave narrative throughout.

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