By Lynne Schinella, conference speaker and speaker coach

When it comes to presentations, the most powerful tool in the shed is telling a personal story, says Lynne Schinella.

It was my 40th birthday and I thought I’d be in a much better space. Emotionally and financially my life was looking more than a little moth eaten and my confidence levels were at an all-time low. On the day my partner told me to wear something comfortable as he had a surprise in store. Oh, please don’t let it be a BridgeClimb, I prayed as we headed towards the bridge. I hate heights.

I thought I was safe when we lumbered on and out of Sydney before my fear mounted again, becoming a hard ball of toffee in my gut when realisation dawned. We arrived at the Skydive Drop Zone.

I’ve always had a problem saying no. My partner was so excited he had bought me this amazing (stupid) gift. I saw his happy little face and knew it had to be done.

I have never been so terrified in my life. I kept my eyes closed a lot.  I can’t say I enjoyed  it. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. And on the ground, all I could say was – what was wrong with a nice diamond?

But as we sat, somewhat surreally, at a beautiful restaurant having lunch, I felt a rush of pride. I hadn’t stepped back, I’d stepped forward.  My confidence levels surged. And I knew if I could do that, I could do anything. I was back.

If you want to make any presentation easier for you to recall, if you want to connect quickly to your audience, if you want to build trust, if you want your audience to engage, tell a personal story.

They are, without doubt, the most powerful tool in the shed when it comes to connecting with your audience.

Here’s why.

When someone begins to present an argument to us, often our first reaction, even if it’s in our head, is to counter argue. But when you tell me a story, as long as it’s the right story, I can start to relax. I don’t feel like you’re trying to sell me anything.

As I start to identify with the characters in the story and empathise with them, it’s then that I let my guard down and then that I am more open to influence.

But there’s a few caveats to this. You must follow the SWAT plan – it must be the right STORY, told the right WAY, to the right AUDIENCE, at the right TIME.  If you miss the mark, it will have an adverse effect.

Say I have just contracted a terminal disease and you tell me a story of someone you know who lived five years instead of the two that was given. Or perhaps you start sharing hilarious menopause stories to a bunch of 30-year-olds. Or maybe you’re just given to rambling and we lose interest.

Choose the right STORY. If your audience can’t relate to the characters in the story they will not be interested.

You must tell it in the right WAY. Yes there is a way, and it’s not in the bar on a Friday night kind of way. You need five elements to your story called the Five C’s:

  • Characters – set up characters the audience can relate to with a central hero
  • Context – tell us the setting and what’s been happening up until that time
  • Challenge – your hero must have a challenge to overcome
  • Complication – something is in the way of achieving that challenge
  • Conclusion – the moral of the story, the reason you are telling them in the first place

Know your AUDIENCE. Understand who they are, what their issues and experiences are, and choose the story accordingly.

Make sure the TIME is right. In 2020, telling a story of tourism in China, no matter how special, is not going to get much traction.

I also love personal stories because we can’t forget them, making it easier for us as presenters. You’re not going to stumble over your own story.

For us presenting to our teams, to small or large audiences, the right story will cut through every time. It shows vulnerability, builds trust and ultimately connection. And that’s our goal, every time.

Lynne Schinella is a facilitator/MC and conference speaker. For more on what she does visit