Storytelling in presentations: harness the Hero’s Journey to achieve success.

10 minute read

When I say ‘presentation storytelling’, what comes to mind?

For many, storytelling is fairy tales told at bedtime, or gathering around a fire to recount ghost stories. If you mention storytelling in a boardroom, you can be met with words such as ‘wishy-washy’ and ‘childish’.

People don’t like the connotations, but they also often don’t understand what storytelling is. They don’t know its power to persuade. And they don’t know how to use it to their advantage. They think it’s all goblins and talking horses. It certainly doesn’t have any place in their business communications.

If you’re one of those people, we’re here to not only explain the importance of storytelling, but to show you a basic structure you can apply to your own presentations.

If you’re not one of those people, keep reading anyway, because there’s some key insight into how a classic narrative structure can help you to make connections, inspire audiences and create leads and sales.

Stories have power

First off, let’s look at the power of narrative. All you naysayers listen up, because there’s some hard science here to add a bit of gravitas to our claims.

63% of presentation attendees remember stories, while just 5% remember statistics.

Presentation storytelling stat

And when you think about it, it makes sense. Think of the last presentation you sat through, either in the room with the presenter, or over a video call. Now, try to recall even a single statistic from that slide deck. Hard, isn’t it? Especially if it was one of those that grind on forever, full of slide after slide of charts, tables and unreadable text.

But if the presenter told a story; took you on a journey, full of highs, lows, laughs and surprises, you’d most likely remember that well – whether it was part of the actual presentation messaging or not.

Some people are just good at telling stories, and as humans, we like to listen to them. If you’ve been with us for any amount of time, you’ll likely know all about the magic brain chemicals that are released when we hear stories, and how they influence buying behaviour.

But even if you’re not a natural storyteller, you can learn the basic plot points that get people hooked and keep them listening.

And when you start to put your business messaging into this story structure, that’s when you’re really onto a winner.

presentation storytelling image

Once upon a time…

So let’s get right into it. You may have heard of the Hero’s Journey. If not, you will absolutely have experienced it.

You will have read it in a book. You will have seen it in a film. And you will have heard it in a TED talk. Hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

The majority of every story, fairy tale, myth and legend are based on the Hero’s Journey, because it is the fundamental framework of storytelling.

In 1949, American writer and scholar of mythology, Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In it, he said that almost every story told, in every generation, and on every continent on earth, followed the same overarching structure and contained the same types of characters.

He called this the monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey.

It had been used in some of the classics of literature, like Beowulf, Odysseus, The Iliad, or the story of Moses or Buddha. And it would go on to form the basic of modern classics, like Star Wars, The Matrix, Spider-Man and The Lion King.

But before we break this structure down, let’s introduce the main characters.

The main characters in presentation storytelling

Villain

Vader, Sauron, Agent Smith, Scar – villains are massive problems that need to be removed. And they are just as important in your presentations as they are in Hollywood. The challenges that your audience face every day are villains. Excuse me while I get meta and use you – our audience right now – as an example.

What is your challenge? You don’t want to – or don’t know how to – use storytelling in your presentations. And this is a problem, because you’re not giving your messaging the impact it deserves, and your profits and reputation relies heavily on them.

So, this is your villain.

Hero

This is the good news for you. You are the hero in this scenario. You’re Luke, Simba, Neo or whoever you want to be. This is all about you. You are at the centre of this particular universe and everything is focused on helping you beat your villain, so you can create memorable and persuasive presentations to sell more stuff.

But you’re not sure how to go about beating the villain. You maybe don’t even see the point of trying. That’s OK. You need a bit of help and a bit of coaching. Which brings us to our next major character.

Mentor

This is us: the guys presenting to you. We are your guide: your Morpheus, your Gandalf, your Hagrid. We’re going to help you understand and overcome your villain to become better and more successful. You’re welcome.

We do this by using three tools:

1. Empathy

Quite simply, we CARE about you. We know times are hard and it’s more important than ever that your sales pitches cut through and win business.

We understand that using storytelling in your presentations can be a bit bewildering. It’s OK. We got you, boo.

2. Authority

But in addition, as your guide, we have authority. We’ve written countless presentations for many, many clients and seen the massive benefits that they’ve experienced.

We’ve literally been there and done that, so we’re the right people to help you on your quest.

3. Vision

And finally, we mentors know what the end result looks like.

We understand that once you can use presentation storytelling, you’re more likely to connect with your audience on an emotional level and get the sales rolling in.

storytelling ebook cta

Our guide to making you the hero

Now that the introductions are done, let’s look at the Hero’s Journey in detail.

We all know that any good story follows a clear path in a logical and coherent manner.

That means starting with an introduction, moving the story through the main body of the presentation and finishing with a clear ending.  

Start. Middle. End. Easy, right?

But where’s the emotion in that? There’s much more to a proper story arc than just three stages. Lean in a little closer, we’re about to show you how to use it to your advantage. Remember: YOU are the HERO, and WE are your GUIDE to success.

The twelve steps of presentation storytelling

Step one: the ordinary world

So, this is the landscape you’re living in.

Every day, you face the challenges of finding leads, converting the leads and setting up campaigns.

But there’s not as much budget as there used to be. And people aren’t buying as much as they used to. And your boss thinks this is somehow your fault.

This is all about empathy.

Step two: the call to adventure

You’ve heard tell of a new way to deliver presentations. Or your boss has told you to get more leads this quarter. Or you just want to get better at your job.

Whatever the reason, you’re aware that your current way of pitching isn’t quite working.

But we’re telling you there’s another way. A way that can make your dreams come true – all you need to do is take the leap and embrace a new adventure.

You’re excited about the benefits, but nervous about the challenge: there are things at stake now.

Step three: refusal of the call

Some people stop right here. Maybe they don’t feel they have the time, energy or agency to go on an adventure right now.

Maybe things are OK, and they are satisfied with OK.

Because change is hard – it might mean additional cost or causing friction in the ranks above by daring to question their methods.

So initially, you might refuse that call to adventure. But you’re the hero, right? You just need a helping hand.

Step four: meeting with the mentor

This is the point where we come in, as a mentor. We’ll show you the value in continuing with your adventure, using the three factors we mentioned before – empathy, authority and vision.

We understand your challenges –  whether that’s being embarrassed by a poor pitch deck, not having the in-house expertise to put a great presentation together, or having inconsistent brand materials.

But we’re the right people to help you through. We create amazing presentations for the biggest brands in the world, every day. We’ve been there, done it, and then done it again, even better.

And we’re here to remind you of the value in doing it – the big pitch win, the promotion, the impressed boss.

You’re not alone, and we can help.

Step five: crossing the threshold

This is all about transitioning from your old, unsatisfactory Ordinary World into the new, amazing Special World we’re offering you.

For this to happen, you need to fully trust us, as your mentor.

We want to get you out of your comfort zones, which is often the hardest part. If we get this right, the rest can fall into place.

And as an empathetic guide, we need to acknowledge that it will be hard for you to cross the threshold. There will be obstacles on this path. But the rewards are worth it. Here, we show our wisdom to remove their scepticism.

Because you need to CHOOSE to cross the threshold.

There is a different way to do things. It doesn’t always have to be like this. BELIEVE.

This is the part where we encourage you to commit to change, and you accept that there could be a better way. Trust your mentor to show you the way.

Step six: tests, allies and enemies

It’s time to empower you, as the hero.

But you’ll need more help. And THIS is where our products and services come in. These are the tools or weapons you need to defeat the villains.

For every challenge that we’ve introduced, (a poor pitch deck, no in-house expertise, inconsistent marketing) we explain how our bespoke presentation service – storytelling, design and animation – is an incredible solution to help you solve them.

And what about the tests and enemies?

These are further challenges you have to face. Perhaps you’ll face opposition from your company about trying something new. Maybe there are cost limitations that you need to get round.

Again, as mentors, we can empathise that these challenges are real, but can offer guidance on how to overcome them. Show you the short-term pitch wins and long-term financial benefits in more detail.

Something like giving you advice on getting buy in from other stakeholders.

writing a story for presentation

Step seven: approach the innermost cave

The approach to the innermost cave is sometimes called the belly of the beast – when you, the hero, is trapped in the enemy fortress.

This is when the stakes are at their highest and you need to properly commit to our way of thinking.  Taking that major leap of faith away from your normal way of seeing things, or ways of working.

Doubts can set in and you might just consider going back to making your own, decidedly-average presentations.

Here be monsters, and a lot of soul searching is involved.

Step eight: the ordeal

This is really part of the previous step, where your faith in our product or service may get a bit shaky – it might seem just too hard.

But, as mentors, we’re here to reassure you that this is the best path for you to reach your goals.

Have you seen some of the testimonials that our clients have given?

Did you know we won the Amazon Growing Business Award for Creative Industries Business of the Year?

You get the idea.

Step nine: the reward

Once you’ve faced – and overcome – the ordeal, you can seize the reward.

You’ve confronted your doubts, and now you’re fully on board with the quest you’re on and can clearly see the overall benefits of a premium new presentation solution.

To help you, we could offer even more practical encouragement, like more detail of how other clients have seen huge benefits through case studies.

Step ten: the road back

We’re not quite done yet.

You now face the road back from the Special World to the Ordinary World, and this part isn’t easy. You’re committed, but still face resistance, perhaps by nagging doubts about your vision.

What if this costs too much and doesn’t work? What if we could have created these decks ourselves all along?

This is where we ramp up the excitement. Really hammer the benefits home. We need to make the pitch sound better than ever. There’s no turning back now. Time to bring out the big guns.

The hard work is done, it’s time to bring it all home.

Step eleven: the resurrection

And now the resurrection. Or it’s actually more like a transformation than a literal return from the dead.

This part represents your final chance to make the big change.

Here, we remind you of the personal opportunities that you have; that with our tools and guidance, you can achieve your goals and become victorious over whatever challenges you’re currently facing.

This is where you will be transformed into the hero of your own story, impressing your boss, bringing in the big sales and becoming even more indispensable than you already are.

Step twelve: return with the elixir

And so, we get to the final step in the Hero’s Journey – return with the elixir. Or in your case, returning to your business with an incredible presentation that blows your audiences’ socks off, meaning they can’t wait to spend all their money on your products.

You, the hero, have a new and special power to benefit the Ordinary World that you have returned to. Your clients love you. Your boss loves you. Your sales team loves you. Your CEO loves you. Hell, you’re probably being paraded around on their shoulders right now.

You’ve showed them what the future looks like now that your presentation is widely used throughout the business.

And of course, the Ordinary World is now a vastly better place, all thanks to you.

Putting it into practice

Pretty engaging stuff, right? And while it may have looked like that was a massive sales pitch for Buffalo 7, that 12-step journey was actually a roadmap for you to follow to introduce storytelling into your presentations.

Next time you’re putting a pitch together, use those steps yourself, putting your audience in the role of the hero, and yourself in the role of the mentor.

Understand their challenges, help them to overcome them, and make them the heroes – with your essential help, of course.

storytelling ebook call to action

LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? WHY NOT share

Work Can wait

Put off writing that email just a little longer.
Send your incoming calls to voicemail.
Put your feet up, grab a brew and explore more presentation
insight in the Buffalo 7 Library

Get Reading