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  • Writer's pictureLiza Engel

Beyond Words - The Power of Storytelling in Engaging Audiences

I have a story for you! Imagine this: I hop on a train in Switzerland on Saturday at 6:22 am. As the sun rises, we watch the diversity of landscapes whirling past the window as we travel from the quaint villages of Switzerland to the vastness of Germany and onto the intricate channels of the Netherlands. This isn't just a journey; it's a story that includes three suitcases, four backpacks, two kids, one dog and the promise of a sustainable adventure. A high and a low equals one shared learning. 


We had a two-hour layover planned in Frankfurt, envisioning a brief escape to stretch our legs and give our dog some much-needed exercise. However, upon arriving at the luggage storage, we were greeted by a sea of red and white construction tape – every luggage container was closed off. It's not exactly what we'd hoped for.


Time for Plan B: Follow me! I made a beeline for the Deutsche Bahn customer service lounge in hopes we would get some assistance. Yet, when I presented our tickets, the woman's burgundy lips puckered as she had just sipped sour milk. "You can't access this lounge with those tickets," she informed us, her voice dripping with judgment and more than a tinge of disgust. Apparently, if you buy budget-friendly "Spar" tickets, they ensure to strip you of any possible luxury. Let's forgive her and her lips for now. 


So, onto plan C: I became the designated luggage guardian while the others stretched their legs. So, there I was, iced cappuccino in hand, my plans of reading forgotten as I became engrossed in the world of each passerby, indeed with their own unique story. It was a reminder to be grateful for simple joys and having a moment just to be. 


The next day, we ventured out to the breezy (a.k.a. why-even-bother-hair-day) shores of the Netherlands. As we walked towards the ocean with our dog and kids, their voices filled with excitement as the vibrant scene of kite surfers caught our eye. As we walked by the parking lot, a man cleaning up his gear distracted us. "Cool!" my son exclaimed as he saw his camper van, leather boots, golden surfer hair and kiteboard. Though in Dutch, the man's enthusiastic response in Dutch was met with our apologetic admission of speaking only English. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know," he replied warmly. This simple yet profound exchange stuck with me throughout the day. Why? I was trying to remember the last time someone apologized to me for not knowing that I did not speak their language, which happened to be the local language of the country I was in! That is more than cool; that is extraordinary! 



Photo by Liza Engel


This encounter will remain a highlight among my travels and encourages me to question myself: How will I make a difference today? And how can I be even more inclusive with my language?


So there you are, a lowlight and a highlight, and both give me emotions, from the reaction to the response phase, and the good news is that I get to choose how I absorb them and, respectively, how they affect me. The lowlight - I am going to choose that that woman was having a crappy day and wish her well. The highlight is that I was reminded to model that behaviour, and I hope my kids do, too. 


I could have started this blog by jumping straight into how emotions impact us, focusing on "emotional contagion," where we absorb emotions from others, or "cognitive reappraisal," a method to actively shift our emotional response by reinterpreting a situation. Instead of succumbing to initial adverse reactions, cognitive reappraisal prompts us to view events more positively, fundamentally altering our emotional state. This approach, rooted in the belief that our thoughts shape our feelings, effectively manages emotions, alleviates stress, and boosts well-being. But would you have kept on reading to this point? Are you yawning? And what are you going to remember from this post? I bet you will remember the disgust of the burgundy puckered lips of the Deutsche Bahn Lounge Lady and the "not-too-cool-to-say-sorry" kite-surfer man.  

 

To engage your audience during a presentation, incorporating stories that are relatable, thought-provoking, and relevant to your message can significantly enhance engagement and retention.

I regularly ask for feedback after speaking, and the common theme often highlights the enduring impact of storytelling over too many technical frameworks. We do need to ensure your stories are concise, relevant, and emotionally engaging to make our message memorable. What kind of stories work best? Please read the section at the bottom for all the details. 


This blog comes to you in a moment of quiet gratitude, nestled with my family in a cosy tiny house in the Netherlands, soaking in the simplicity and warmth of togetherness with wonderfully messy hair. These moments with my children, close to nature and without the distractions of daily life, remind me to be present and cherish the richness of my life. A gift. 



The Story Type Details

Here are some types of stories that are particularly effective for presentations:


  1. Personal Anecdotes: Sharing personal experiences can create a connection with your audience. These stories are powerful because they humanize you as the presenter, making your message more relatable and memorable.

  2. Historical Narratives: Stories from history related to your topic can add depth and context. They can illustrate how challenges were overcome in the past, providing inspiration and insight for present situations.

  3. Success Stories: Sharing examples of individuals or organizations that have succeeded in overcoming obstacles similar to those your audience faces can be very motivating. These stories can also demonstrate the practical application of your principles or strategies.

  4. Failure Stories: Narratives about failure and the lessons learned from it can be incredibly impactful. They show vulnerability, promote learning from mistakes, and highlight the importance of resilience.

  5. Analogies and Metaphors: These can help clarify complex ideas or abstract concepts by linking them to familiar experiences or scenarios. An effective analogy can make a complex concept easy to understand and remember.

  6. Fictional Stories: Crafting a hypothetical scenario can help illustrate a point in a way that's engaging and accessible. Fictional stories can be beneficial when discussing potential outcomes or emphasizing a concept's relevance.

  7. Customer Stories: If applicable, sharing stories of how customers or clients have benefited from your product, service, or advice can be powerful testimonials. These stories can be particularly persuasive in a sales or marketing context.

  8. Visionary Tales: Stories that paint a picture of what the future could look like if specific actions are taken (or not taken) can inspire and motivate. They can help your audience visualize the impact of their decisions and actions.

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