The key to delivering presentations that instantly inspire your audience is telling captivating stories in the first two to five minutes. Here are three examples of stimulating stories that you can learn from.
1) The girl who drew God
In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson stood on the TED Stage to present an astounding concept; to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence in the traditional school systems. However, instead of elaborating on diminutive details, he illustrated his ideas beautifully with the following story:
I heard a great story recently. I love telling it - of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing. The teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she asked, "What are you drawing?" And the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, "They will, in a minute."
Needless to say, Robinson won the hearts of the audience within the first five minutes and is considered one of the best TED speakers.
2) A promise to Mama
In 2012, Bryan Stevenson, a renowned attorney and Law professor, delivered a TED talk about the importance of identity. Before presenting the inconceivable statistics regarding crime and injustice in the United States, he began the presentation with a story:
I grew up in a house that was the traditional African-American home that was dominated by a matriarch, and that matriarch was my grandmother. She was tough, she was strong, and she was powerful. She was the daughter of people who were actually enslaved. Her parents were born in slavery in Virginia in the 1840's. She was born in the 1880's and the experience of slavery very much shaped the way she saw the world.
One day, she took me out back and she said, "Bryan, I'm going to tell you something, but you don't tell anybody what I tell you. I want you to know I've been watching you.” And she said, "I think you're special.” She said, "I think you can do anything you want to do.” I will never forget it.
And then she said, "I just need you to promise me three things, Bryan.” I said, "Okay, Mama.” She said, "The first thing I want you to promise me is that you'll always love your mom.” She said, "That's my baby girl, and you have to promise me now you'll always take care of her.” Well I adored my mom, so I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that.” Then she said, "The second thing I want you to promise me is that you'll always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing.” And I thought about it and I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that.” Then finally she said, "The third thing I want you to promise me is that you'll never drink alcohol.” Well I was nine years old, so I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that."
When I was about 14 or 15, one day my brother came home and he had this six-pack of beer. I don't know where he got it, but he grabbed me and my sister and we went out in the woods. He had a sip of this beer and he gave some to my sister and she had some, and they offered it to me. I said, "No, no, no. That's okay. You all go ahead. I'm not going to have any beer.” My brother said, "Come on. We're doing this today; you always do what we do. I had some, your sister had some. Have some beer.” I said, "No, I don't feel right about that. Y'all go ahead. Y'all go ahead.” And then my brother started staring at me. He said, "What's wrong with you? Have some beer.” Then he looked at me real hard and he said, "Oh, I hope you're not still hung up on that conversation Mama had with you.” I said, "Well, what are you talking about?" He said, "Oh, Mama tells all the grandkids that they're special.” I was devastated.
And I'm going to admit something to you. I'm going to tell you something I probably shouldn't. I know this might be broadcast broadly. But I'm 52 years old, and I'm going to admit to you that I've never had a drop of alcohol. I don't say that because I think that's virtuous; I say that because there is power in identity. When we create the right kind of identity, we can say things to the world around us that they don't actually believe makes sense. We can get them to do things that they don't think they can do. When I thought about my grandmother, of course she would think all her grandkids were special. My grandfather was in prison during prohibition. My male uncles died of alcohol-related diseases. And these were the things she thought we needed to commit to.
Stevenson was able to resonate with the audience because he successfully conveyed the power of identity through a heartfelt story. In fact, his talk was so victorious that the audience donated a combined total of $1 million to his non-profit organization.
3) A crowded Vegas convention
Ford president and CEO, Mark Fields, delivered his first keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show as the new head of the company in 2015. Fields began the presentation by establishing a theme: Ford is passionate about designing products to address very serious problems in major cities around the world such as population density and congestion.
Who finds it easy to get around Las Vegas during the show? Fields asked as the audience laughed at the obvious reference to the notorious crowds during CES week.
It really is a challenge to get around Vegas during the show. But think about this. The Las Vegas metro area has just more than one million people. And with a population density of roughly 1,750 people per square kilometer, it puts Las Vegas at number 120 on the list of the largest cities in the world by population density. During CES, there’s an influx of another 150,000 people, most of them are concentrated right here on the strip. We put up with this for a few days. Imagine what people in Mumbai, India, face every day. More than 18 million people live in Mumbai and its population density is 17 times greater than here in Las Vegas.
By building the comparison between something familiar, a crowded Vegas convention, with something that is unfamiliar to most of the audience—Mumbai congestion, Fields created an unforgettable story that framed the rest of the discussion to show how Ford can tackle the problem of population density.
Stories are the heartbeat of powerful presentations. They capture the imagination, engage the emotions, and break through the mundane. A story told successfully is a little miracle – people see the world differently afterward.