Let Me Tell You a Story...

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

...did you open this post after reading the headline? Well obviously, you did...and that's because most people love hearing a great story. Some people say that our ability to tell (and listen) to stories is built in our DNA. Storytelling has been around since our earliest ancestors have written on cave walls to tell their story, we get entertainment from books, TV and podcasts telling stories, and if you happen to eavesdrop on any conversation on the subway you'll hear people telling each other stories. Have you been to a party where there is a crowd gathered around one person? That person is usually telling a great story...and great storytellers are revered.


Storytellers always gather a crowd

But what happens when you gather a bunch of people into a lecture hall for a medical lecture? You know the answer to that question...you get heaps and heaps of data and information thrown at you for 30-60 minutes. The result? Learners who are bored, and audience distracted by their phones, people talking amongst one another during the lecture, and people who try to catch up on their sleep. Have you ever been a victim of this when giving your last lecture? Without stories in your presentation you might as well open up a textbook and start reading it off chapter by chapter. Story-less lectures was a major problem for me until I realized that you cannot truly connect to people unless you engage them naturally, and the best way to do that is to simply tell people stories.

"...but I can't tell a story....this is a lecture"

I often hear this comment from people attending the Keynotable Presentation workshop. Trust me, you can and should tell stories during your presentations. So how do you tell a story during a medical lecture? Here are three simple ways to be a better presenter with storytelling:


1. Be the main character in your story. Tell the audience about your personal journey to better understand the topic you are speaking on. In one of my lectures, I start by tell the audience how early on in my career, I didn't truly understand how non-invasive ventilation (NIV) worked. I tell the true story how my lack of understanding almost led to a bad outcome for a patient. Making myself the main character in a common scenario, not only makes me look vulnerable, but relatable as a the main character in the story. The audience is now engaged because emotions have been created, and they want to hear how I learned about NIV. As I tell them more about my story, facts about NIV are intertwined with the storyline. By the end the basics of NIV were covered, but telling this through a story was more effective than just simply talking about NIV.


2. Let the audience be your main character. If you are speaking on a general topic that everyone in the audience understands, then give them a case of a very typical patient presentation. Go through the specific details as they would be discovered when seeing the patient themselves. Be specific on details, right down to the sweat you noticed on the persons forehead, details make the story more vivid and real to the audience. After the full description, turn it to the audience and ask them how they would manage the patient? The details that you've provided told a story that will engage them and the audience can picture themselves managing the case. This technique is way more effective than just putting up the age and vital signs and asking what would you do?" Your story can be a launching point for a discussion on changing how we think about approaching a type of patient or a discussion on a specific physiologic topic.


3. Let the patient tell their own story. This technique can be very powerful when used effectively. I have a talk on ICU delirium and rather than just describing the patient to the audience, I tell the audience about actual conversations the patient and I had regarding her illness, how the patient felt during her illness, how she felt during recovery, etc. I include direct quotes from her, her family and friends in the talk. Using this dialogue, I am able to emotionally connect with the audience as we work through the prevention and treatment of ICU delirium. I even added a stock image of a woman who looked very similar to my patient and now the main character has a face. This doesn't work for every presentation, but when it works, it's very powerful.


Storytelling is who we are as human beings. It's how we communicate, it's how we relate, it's how we build relationships...why not use storytelling to our advantage when teaching others though lecture.


Do you have other techniques for storytelling during lectures? Share them below and we'll be sure to repost them.


...and do you want to learn more about presenting more effectively? Then come to the Keynotable workshop in Montreal on May 22, 2019. We'll be talking about these techniques and more. Check out the website for more information.

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