A good story is like giving someone a bit of gold. Tips on presenting from TED talker John Bates.

Mark Smalls Indigo Swan


Two salesmen go down to Africa in the 1900s.  They were sent to find out if there was any opportunity for selling shoes.  They both wrote telegrams back to Manchester.  One of them wrote, “Situation hopeless.  They don’t wear shoes.” And the other one wrote, “Glorious opportunity.  They don’t have any shoes yet.”

This is the charismatic opening gambit from Benjamin Zander’s TED talk; it is used as an example of a great way to start a presentation off….with a story.

I sit in the audience encircling John Bates in the dimmed auditorium of the John Innes Centre in Norwich ears pinned, pen ready, eagerly awaiting his dissection of the 20 second TED talk opening clip he’d just played. 

John admits to us that the first TED talk he did was a failure but since then he has worked with the likes of IBM, NASA as well as hosting, speaking and training speakers at TED events.


Being Awesome

 Last year I attended a talk by John focused on presentation skills, I have put his teachings into my work and the one that has stuck with me the most, although deviously simple, is just a different way to think about going into a presentation.

“I am awesome, and my audience wants me to be awesome.” Sounds a bit trivial, almost stupid to highlight, but I use it all the time.  When I first walk in and the nerves start to creep up I just think “I want to be good, they want me to be good so, just do myself, and them a favour, and be good!” why would I want it to happen any other way?


Tips from the man himself

In the break I was lucky enough to catch a few minutes with John.  I asked him “What one thing do you think has made the biggest impact for businesses in terms of getting a point/presentation across using storytelling?”  He gave me two…


​​Tip 1 – Start in the middle

“It's a cardinal rule of great, interesting story telling.” John states. “The Ancient Greeks called it "in medias res," into the middle things. We all live in a world that happens in chronological order. So, what do you think would be the most boring order in which to tell your stories? Right! Chronological order!

So, start in the middle, somewhere exiting! Then, once we're hooked, go back and explain how we got here and then tell us the wonderful, exciting and good for us, conclusion! By the way, I don't mean the exact middle! Anything that is not the absolute beginning or the absolute ending counts as the middle! Pick someplace interesting and exciting to begin and then we'll want to hear the rest!” 


Tip 2 – Tell the story in the present tense

John continues “If it happened in the past there's nothing we can do about it! But, if it's happening now, well, that's exciting! And, in the same way that you picture a little purple elephant dancing at your feet when I say, "don't​ picture a little purple elephant dancing at your feet​..." people will experience being there with you if you tell the story in present tense! It's not for every story, but it's good if you want to really draw people in. As an opening, as a way to share an ah-ha moment you had, or as a way to give them the experience of something that you experienced very deeply it's great.”

And, as a little bonus John shared a saying that world famous speaker Les Brown shared with him: “Never tell a story without a point and never make a point without a story! “It’s how human beings brains work,” John retorts, “so just go with it!”


You may have noticed that I have worked on weaving those tips into this article; hopefully this will spark something off so you can weave a vein of gold through your own presentations/stories.  As the headline states if you have a good story to tell it’s like giving someone a bit of gold, happy prospecting.



Article originally from the Indigo Swan website: 

More information about John Bates – Peck Here
Benjamin Zander TED Talk – Peck Here
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