Kelly Isley

Tips for Experts Who Need to Be Better Storytellers

You know what you’re talking about and these four tips will turn complex subjects into important stories that audiences understand.

It’s has been another busy day. After the project briefing wrapped up, you head back to the office and find an urgent email from your leader waiting for you.

It’s a short message that gets to the point: “Why did the head of finance just call and say the group didn’t understand how critical this technology program is to our organization? What happened during today’s presentation? I thought we had a good story to tell!”

As an aerospace engineering leader who grew up in advanced technology, I have seen scientists, technical experts, and professionals in this situation many times. Although expertise remains important for advancement, the ability to tell stories and clearly communicate is essential for career success.

So, when the time comes to present complicated research and findings, you don’t need to stumble through a painful briefing. Instead, keep these tips and strategies in mind: 

1. Take every opportunity to practice

It has been proven time and again that confident speakers and storytellers are made, not born. According to Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out and Stanford lecturer, “A lot of people feel that they’re an introvert, or they had a bad experience once and now they’re doomed,” Abrahams shares. “But communication skills are like any other skills – you can get better at them. Like any skill you build, it’s about repetition, reflection, and feedback.”

2. Build alliances

Form alliances or sponsors for your briefings in advance. You may be wondering why this matters and if it is worth the time to put aside your real work just to make friends or influence stakeholders. The reality is that this investment of time will help you do your work more effectively. How? Initially, you’ll gain support for your ideas. Looking ahead, sponsors can help you with your career goals.

From a strategic lens and no matter how respected you might be as an individual, you’ll always bolster your case by having allies to reference when you share your story.

3. Prepare to engage and interact

In today’s world of distracted decision-makers, using video with your briefings can help you capture the right attention. Wondering if anyone is taking video seriously or views it as powerful? Take a look at Nielsen’s report that shows U.S. adults are now spending almost 6 hours per day on video, on average.

If your time is limited and video isn’t the best fit – photos, objects that can be passed around and audience polls are also great additions to presentations. As an added bonus these enhancements can elevate you in your audiences’ eyes. As you’re now a facilitator, not just a storyteller or technical presenter.

4. Close effectively

A smart idea from Patricia Fripp, professional speaker, and executive speech coach, reminds us to let people know exactly how long they have for a Q&A. In one of my favorite pieces of advice, Fripp adds, “It’s also a good technique to have some questions in your back pocket. In other words, if nobody asks questions, you might say, ‘We are frequently asked . . .,’ or ‘At this point, I would expect you want to know . . .’ which allows you to engage the audience and reinforce your key messages.”

In the end, most presentations’ primary purpose is to move the audience to action. Following the Q&A, focus on using the last few minutes of the presentation to reinforce the call to action you have identified.

Bringing it all together

When it comes to technology, you know what you’re talking about. Now, armed with this collection of tips, you can simplify complex subjects into stories for audiences that need to know about your important work. 


Author Spotlight
Kelly Isley is a writer, author of four books and active American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) member.  She is also a global strategist, engineer, pilot, photographer and lover of ice cream. Learn more about Kelly here and connect with her on twitter.


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