I was recently on the phone with a client who wanted to hire me for a keynote address. After several minutes of explaining their event and audience to me, I asked, “What do you want them to know, do and feel?”
The last word often makes a client very nervous. I can almost see the furrowed brow of concern that I might be one of those speakers. Nope. I’m not going to throw fairy dust into the audience or make people in suits in a ballroom recite an ancient warrior chant to prepare them to sell more. That’s not my jam. Emotion is one of Aristotle’s elements of persuasion along with logic and trust. No one stands in front of an audience of any number without wanting to move them.
Whether I’m delivering a presentation or helping a client build a presentation, I am looking for the story behind the content or data. Storytelling brings a point into sharp relief and moves things from the general to the specific. A statistic or fact pattern alone will not influence behavior. It’s almost counter intuitive that a fact or statistic wouldn’t be more compelling. But it is simply not how we make sense of the world. We make sense of the world through story. Information is general or conceptual vast. Story is specific. Jennifer Aaker’s from Stanford submits that, “stories are remembered 22 times more than facts alone.” This is only addressing memory by the way, which is incredibly important, but it’s also critical to realize that storytelling is what bonds you to the listener. Storytelling is the greatest tool we have in a presentation.
While most people cannot deny the power of storytelling, it’s common to resist using narrative and relying on bullet points, graphs, and more information. Bigger, better information is not enough to be memorable or influence a listener. It is instead how you tell the story of that information that builds trust, credibility, and influence.
Here are some tools to build more emotionally intelligent, high impact presentations in every profession:
1. Ask the questions I started with in this post. What do I want an audience to know, do and feel?
2. If you are using PowerPoint, look at each slide and ask yourself who did this happen to? What’s the story behind the graph or bullet points? Graphs and bullet points will never replace a story.
3. Avoid reporting information – tell a story instead. If you are merely telling me something that I can just read, I don’t really need you to stand on a stage and do that. Show me – don’t tell me. Showing is storytelling, telling is dictating information.
4. Be specific. Bring your point down to one company, one person or one municipality. Fact patterns and information are general, make it specific and small so your data are concrete.
5. Be careful of general sweeping statements about ROI, retention, liability – what does it MEAN. Who did happen to? What happened? How did you save the day? A story has a beginning, middle and end.
6. If you don’t have a story – borrow one. Ask a colleague about a cyber security breach, employee lawsuit or what ever it is you’re talking about. You don’t need to say it happened to you specifically. Identity whose story it is or say ‘we’ as in our company but don’t avoid storytelling because you don’t have direct experience. It may even be a story that’s been in the news. Tying your information to a story makes it relevant.
7. Make sure your story is true. It’s fine to use a fable or metaphor but if you’re using a story that happened, make sure that it happened. Storytelling is about building credibility; a lie degrades the very essence of what storytelling creates.
When you present in front of anyone for any reason you are in a privileged position. Do not waste that time. Do not cheat yourself or those who sit before you. Make a decision that listening to what you present is worth the listener’s time. Determine that your audience will be better for having heard you. Share a story that will make you memorable so your connection lasts far beyond the time allotted for your presentation.