Jul 20, 2010 by Andrew Crow
We communicate with other people every day. Over the course of our lives we’ve developed verbal, written and visual communication skills that help us convey our thoughts. From time to time, we find ourselves in a position to share these ideas in a business context, often in the form of a presentation. And, it’s usually at this point where we completely forget how to talk.
I remember in 4th grade, I desperately wanted to ask Jenny Grubb to dance at a school event. Like every other 4th grader, I was plastered against the wall with the boys, while the girls giggled against the other wall. My friends pushed me to ask her as they wondered why I couldn’t do it. Jenny and I hung out all the time. Why couldn’t I ask her to dance?
In my heart, I knew I could just go up to her, but my head told me that was totally wrong. I had convinced myself that asking someone to dance was different than asking them to sit with you at lunch. I was sure that I should talk to her differently in that situation.
When we stand in front of a boss or a group of strangers, we transform into boring, fact-spewing robots. We do this out of a perception that ‘businesslike’ is appropriate and required. We’re embarrassed to share how we personally relate to the information on the screen for fear of letting our guard down. Whether we’re providing an update to our superiors, conveying a new idea to a team or training a group of people, we’ve become accustomed to reporting on what’s on the screen.
Now, imagine telling your spouse or friends how your day went in that same tone. Would that person have any reason to become vested in your needs? Could you convince them to do something for you through a series of soul sucking facts?
We’re most effective when we talk and tell stories. Our best stories use anecdotes to move people from one event to another as they wait to see how things unfold.
“The Power of the anecdote is so great… No matter how boring the material is, if it is in story form…there is suspense in it, it feels like something’s going to happen. The reason why is because literally it’s a sequence of events…you can feel through its form [that it's] inherently like being on a train that has a destination…and that you’re going to find something…” Ira Glass
Stories give deeper meaning to facts and satisfy an emotional need in your audience to connect with what you’re telling them. They allow you to add emphasis on key points by tying them to real-world examples. Stories provide inspiration, hope, fear, qualities that motivate people into taking action.
When designing your presentation, remember that good stories offer questions and answers and key moments of reflection. Your audience didn’t come to see you, they came to find out what you can do for them. Your stories provide depth to the facts and figures that they would not get by simply reading by themselves. Your delivery makes their experience successful.
This approach will change the way you design your presentation (and that’s a good thing). Ensuring your slides support what you’re saying is important, designing them to provide additional motivation is crucial. There are excellent books on the topic, ‘Slideology’ by Nancy Duarte being one of the best. Or, using a professional team of designers like MB/I to help is a great option. Just remember that before you fire up PowerPoint, think of how conversation, examples and stories can help to convey your message.
I never asked Jenny Grubb to dance with me, but I recall that story every time I need encouragement to try something new.