What If Your Conference “Presentation” Should Actually Just Be a Story?

August 30, 2016 | Dan Trefethen


I just spent a great few days at the Uberflip Experience, the first-ever marketing conference hosted by Uberflip in Toronto. It was also my first visit to Toronto, and what an introduction. I came away with a wonderful impression of the city, valuable insights from marketing leaders and my peers, and a ton of new friends.

presentation storytelling

(That’s the SnapApp marketing team wearing all the socks we won for participating in the UFX2016 app!)

The setup of the conference was simple: two days of excellent speaking sessions, punctuated by networking breaks and afterparties. The whole event took place in the same theater, so I didn’t have to worry about checking my schedule and running around to make sure I caught all my favorite talks.

That concentrated environment meant I had the chance to sit in the audience and watch speaker after speaker do their thing.

What did I learn? The best presentations tell stories.

All the sessions were excellent, but the ones I heard people talking about over ketchup chips and bottles of Steam Whistle tugged at heartstrings through powerful storytelling.

I saw this in talk after talk.

  • Justin Gonzalez from DoubleDutch framed his whole presentation as a story about his journey through his marketing career. Impressive, moving, and memorable – most-talked-about in the show
  • In his keynote, Jay Baer told many great stories but the one that stuck with me was a video he shared from KLM, which you just have to watch to understand.
  • Ann Handley’s highly-anticipated Day 2 presentation centered around a story about how much her brother loves beer, and the lengths he’ll go to in an effort to keep his beer cozy.
  • Our CEO, Seth, talked about developing a business case for martech purchases through the story of one marketer at Paycor building consensus
  • The last speaker of the event, the hilarious and insightful Ron Tite, told story after story that had the audience in stitches – including one about traveling to Casa Camper hotel and how their stairwells were so nice, he didn’t need to fear he’d be murdered there (like one does in a typical hotel stairwell)

It’s easy when planning a talk to put together slide after slide of stats and best practices.

But nothing hits quite so hard as a story, making your talk – and your point – that much more memorable.

During Ann’s talk, she shared a quote from Lauren Krakauskas, co-founder of drink-coozy-maker and extraordinary-lifestyle-promoter Freaker USA:

“When you sell something people get for free at trade shows, your story is the start of the thing that sets you apart.”

At your trade show, you might have a speaking opportunity that competes with other activities around the event. It’s your job to attract attendees, dazzle them, and convince them to fill in positive feedback cards so the organizers will bring you back next year.

The easiest path to that outcome? Storytelling. Your storytelling will set you apart in a sea of PowerPoint presentations. Tell a story that surprises, that delights, that create laughter and makes us think.

The beautiful thing about telling a story for your conference presentation is you don’t have to worry about sharing that same old stat everyone shares every year. Your story is uniquely you; no one else has your brother with his wacky side business and flop-eared dog. You can tell a story – share an experience – no one in the audience has had before.

That’s special. Conference presentations don’t have to be boring: go for the story.

What are some of the best stories you’ve heard at an event this year? Share them in the comments!

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