Tips for Telling a Story


I see the term ‘storytelling’ a lot these days, whether in reference to convincing a donor to support your organization or Coke’s ambition to sell us more sugar than we ever thought we could drink. We use it often in design thinking because it is such an emotionally driven process and helps keep people engaged along the way. But what does storytelling mean in the context of your organization? While some get way into it and determine the hero and villain and obstacle of their story, I’m going to talk to you about how you can start with small storytelling in your presentations – and why you should do it.

Start from the heart
These days it is expected to present a bunch of data to prove a point, but you can quickly see the audience’s eyes glaze over as you present it. That data is important – but why are you presenting it in the first place? And why is that important? And why does that matter? (these are follow up questions to whatever your answer might have been). Keep asking that until you understand why the work is being done and start your presentation there. Maybe it is because children deserve to have clean clothing or a building that connects people to history needs to exist, but it matters.

This ‘why’ grabs people’s emotions, aligns them on why you are in the room together.

Remind them of who you serve
Within the ‘why’ are the people that your organization makes an impact on. While you may interact with them daily or feel like you know them well, your board, donors, and the general public may not. This is where being user-centered can help. Talking or, better yet, showing your audience who these people are and what needs they have brings a personal connection to the work that you are sharing.

By allowing your audience to empathize with those you serve they can start to draw away from their own feelings experiences and align on the needs of others.

Show them the change
What you are presenting should have some element of change to it. Without much design skill, you can show this change through simple graphics that make it more memorable. Are you sharing data that will hopefully influence an outcome? That’s a shape, a forward arrow, and a new shape. Are you taking about how the organization should change a branch of their work from this to that? That’s a line (path) with an arrow veering off it. Are you showing the benefits to partnering with another organizations? That’s two circles overlapping! It might not always be so simple, you can certainly add more shapes and arrow or photos, but try it out. It might be uncomfortable to boil it down your work to a few shapes, but it will make your impact clear.

Visually simplifying the impact means that everyone in the room understands and – most importantly - remembers how the work you presented made or is making a difference later on.

In the age of information saturation, these 3 tips are small but mighty in turning a presentation from blah to ah-ha! They help your work shine by connecting with a diverse audience that cares about your organization and helps them remember the impact you are making so they can talk about it with others. Want to talk more about how best present the work that you do? Reach out to me at