My Top Storytelling Presentations

Posted By on December 19, 2012

In my work training businesspeople at Microsoft, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Costco, I’ve learned that storytelling presentations work powerfully to connect the speaker to an audience.

That’s why I use so many stories in my seminars and, more importantly, why I pull stories out of my students with many different writing exercises. I demonstrate how stories can get more focused with retelling, and I help people figure out the universal meaning of their stories to make them stronger.

I believe we can learn a lot from master storytellers by listening and analyzing how they unspool their stories the way a spider unspools its sticky web. Here are my choices for best storytelling presentations of 2012. I hope you learn from them too.

‘Tan Le’s Immigration Story’: Storytelling Presentations About Women (

No PowerPoint. No imagery. No visual or physical tricks. Just the power of the heartfelt personal story of Tan Le’s trip from Vietnam across the China Sea to success in public life. Amazing. Notice how Tan uses a puzzle metaphor to provide structure to her story.

‘A Story about Knots and Surgeons’ by Ed Gavagan

New Yorker Ed Gavagan tells the chilling story of a near-death encounter with three knives wielded by gang initiates. Notice how Ed structures this story as a story-within-a-story: the deeper you go into the stabbing, the higher the stakes.

‘John Bohannon: Dance vs. PowerPoint, a Modest Proposal’ (

Molecular scientist John Bohannon demonstrates how thinking outside the box can explain science without wonky PowerPoint slides; he uses a troupe of modern dancers instead. It’s a presentation you won’t forget.

‘Don’t Regret Regret’ by Kathryn Schulz (

Kathryn Schulz is a terrific writer. She demonstrates how to use a seemingly inconsequential personal story about getting a tattoo to spark a lovely and soaring essay on the value of regret. Watch for the climax of this presentation when Kathryn removes her jacket, “revealing” herself.

‘Wedding Bells and Doorbells’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (This American Life)

This is the story of the worst wedding toast ever. It illustrates both the value of a weird story and, if you’re telling the story or recording it, the need to “make sense of the weirdness” by translating its point. Since the ear processes slower than the eye reads on the page, the storyteller has to help the listener “get it” when a story is delivered by audio. You can download the whole recording on Amazon or iTunes for 99 cents or listen to it for free in the This American Life archives.

‘The Secret Structure of Great Talks’ by Nancy Duarte (

This is a great video on how to structure a talk to make change. Nancy Duarte, a presentation pro, analyzes Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech visually to illustrate her points. I subscribe to her idea that you, the presenter, are not the hero of the presentation; your audience is.

‘Dramastic Presentations of the Decade’ (

Presentations look and play better in the cloud. These are the top 10 presentations of the last decade as chosen by, and they’ll turn your head inside-out-upside-down about how to use slides, music, video, and stories in inventive and persuasive ways.

I’d love to hear your picks for great storytelling presentations, so leave your inspirations in the comments and I’ll watch and tell you why I think your choice works–or not.