Last week, I went to a summit for corporate communicators.
Over the course of three days, a dozen experts made presentations. The presenters fell into two categories:
- Those who understood the power of story, and its unique ability to build connections with the audience and make your message memorable, and
- Those who did not.
In preparation for his appearance at the summit, Expert Number One pulled two or three dozen slides from a PowerPoint deck his team uses when pitching services to clients. He zipped through these, rattling off acronyms and citing statistics. We were glad he zipped through them, because most of his slides featured ten to twelve bullet points and were drenched with unreadable ten-point text.
From my perch in the back of the room, I watched as people listened (at first), then drooped (about five minutes in), then disengaged (about five minutes after that). People acted as though they were taking notes, but most of them were on Facebook or answering email.
In preparation for her appearance at the summit, Expert Number Two had created a few brief, visual slides that told her story. "We had these problems: no budget, no controls, no single solution." All of us nodded. "We decided to see what we could do to make things better." All of us leaned forward. "We hit these roadblocks." All of us felt her pain. "We learned these lessons." All of us wanted more.
From my perch in the back of the room, I watched people log off Facebook, close their email apps, and start taking notes. They sat up straighter. They nodded in agreement. They asked questions. They empathized with the speaker's problems, delighted in her solutions, appreciated her advice.
Why? Part of her appeal -- undeniably -- was wrapped up in her status as a "do-er." She wasn't a consultant or a sales rep. Instead of talking about a tool, she showed us what she made with it.
But what gave her presentation real power? Her innate understanding of the power of story. "We had this pain. We tried these fixes. Some of them worked. Some didn't. So here's what we do now." As a result, she wasn't presenting: she was speaking to us, sharing with us, connecting with us … and we were grateful.
If you want to reach an audience -- to be an agent of change, to win hearts, to build support -- you must understand the simple power of story. The facts are important, but if you cannot relate them with empathy and emotion, if you cannot weave them into a tale, your presentation will miss the mark.
Companies make presentations. People tell stories.