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A Great Story

by Randall Craig on April 14, 2009

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet

Tagged as: , ,

Have you ever wondered why some presentations seem to grip the audience, and others are beyond dull? The reason is simple: an entire generation of people have been raised on PowerPoint and an outline-style presentation mode. Think about it: most business presentations are lists of points, sometimes with cheesy clip-art, and maybe with a table of figures or a graph. And when PowerPoint isn’t used, the presentation is still a list of points.

Even worse, many presenters follow the best advice of forty years ago: tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said. Following this advice, and using PowerPoint’s “bullet” approach, means stultifying presentations that leave audiences bored at best. If audience engagement is your key goal, there has to be a better approach.

Ironically, we each learn this approach from a very young age, when our parents would read stories with a “moral”. As we listened, we would picture ourselves as the main character. We would be interested in what happens, and empathize with the situation. And at the end, we learned a lesson. Many years later, we often still remember these stories… along with their lessons. This approach – story-telling – is a key way to capture the audience in your presentation. First tell a story – then connect it to one of your key points. Then tell another story, and connect that one too. And so on.

Story-telling is effective because it elicits an emotional response. Think about the best speakers you know: they usually will speak to your head, and also your heart. (And then bridge their story to their point.)

While many business presentations might not seem like the venue for story-telling or emotional connection, many people consider your passion for the subject an indicator of it’s importance. If you are not passionate, then your audience will assume that your presentation isn’t important to you either. (On the other hand, there is nothing more annoying than an “always on” presenter. Use only the right amount of emotion, humor, and story-telling for the situation – and for your personality.)

This week’s action item: Before your next presentation, go over the stories that you think will best illustrate your points. If you deliver a standard presentation over-and-over, consider whether your “signature” stories need to be updated. Everyone wants a great presentation – but this can happen only if you have great stories.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)