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December 13, 2008

Memorable presentations and the art of storytelling

The world is filled with free or cheap information these days. You can find statistics on most things that you could want to know. And if you have to pay for it the likelihood is that it won’t cost too much.

This means that facts are becoming devalued. Actually, what I am finding is that people are more likely to question the facts, to question their origins and to look deeper at the intentions of where they came from. And I think that’s a good thing.

So if you are going to do a presentation, then you have two options.

  • You can torture them to death with page after page of statistics and facts.

  • Or you can put those facts into the context of a story or parable.

Stories get remembered; facts get questioned. Stories are entertaining; facts are dull and often unbearable. Stories tap into our emotional instincts; facts tap into our logic centers.

And we don’t just make decisions based on logic. In fact, we are more likely to make decisions based on emotion.

There are several classic story structures. Try this one on for you and see how it goes.

The Beginning: A problem emerges. A company, person or team is faced with insurmountable odds, a nearly indescribable challenge, and certain doom. Some ideas are floated, but they are quickly rejected by naysayers. (The bad guys)

The Journey: Through blood, sweat and tears our hero(s) fight against the unbeatable odds to achieve incredible results; often without acknowledgement or reward. But their determination and clarity of vision allows them to pull through.

The Result: The reward, the successful homecoming after a hard won battle. The implications on a wider scale, and what is going to be required if this is going to continue.

Don’t make it up. Stories shouldn’t be aside from the facts; they are just a great vessel for your fact to have a greater impact.

Want to practice a little bit? Write a mini-saga…

Mini-sagas  are a great idea. They began with the Daily Telegraph in the UK and I learned about them from Dan Pink in his great book A Whole new Mind .

The idea is to try to write a dramatic tale in just 50 words. Not one word more or less, but 50 exactly. Since discovering this it has given me a great mental exercise for how to tell stories.

If you are working now on a conference paper, a presentation for sales, or a project report back then re-write it as a tale. This is a story of great problems, actions that were above the call of duty, and results worthy of the effort.