Defeating Story Fatigue - The Pickering Group

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Defeating Story Fatigue

Recently, I was working with a client who is the tech officer in charge of his organisation’s IT, and he was struggling to come up with a way to open his next presentation.

He was on the right track, but he wasn’t confident with the content. The presentation was for the general public, and the message was simple: be more aware of cybersecurity incursion risks.

“Why don’t you start with a story that shows what could happen, and in a way that would connect with your audience?” I offered.

He laughed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, everyone starts cybersecurity talks with those stories.”

“Yes, but has this audience heard them before?”

Story fatigue is real, but it all depends on context

Story fatigue is what happens when you become tired of using or hearing the same stories and anecdotes. When we start to fall down this path, there’s a real risk that you’ll commit to the ultimate sin: phoning it in!

There’s a few reasons that this can happen. When we encounter the same story many times, its emotional impact tends to diminish. It can also become predictable, and boredom-inducing, since it’s no longer surprising to us, and potentially to our audience too. 

Let’s avoid that!

Fortunately for us all, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll encounter this as a speaker if you present for your organisation or are called up to give a best man’s speech. (It can happen to professional speakers touring, but that’s for another day.) 

But you will want to make sure you’re giving your audience something engaging, fresh, and memorable – even if it’s a bit familiar to you. Story fatigue may be real, but a great story always has the potential to win over an audience. 

Just because you find a story fatiguing doesn’t mean your audience will

With the tech officer, their general audience wasn’t as familiar with the kinds of incursions the speaker had in mind; opening a talk with a story about a phishing email or false invoice was a fresh experience for them. 

Here’s what you need to do, when you’re planning your next presentation: Shift your focus from your presentation to your audience. Remember that you’re there to provide value to them, and help them from their Point A (wherever they are) to their Point B (where you want to take them). 

This is a natural continuation of my last email, where I talked about the need to prepare by asking questions about your audience. You should get a gauge of their demographics and psychographics, their issues and concerns, their levels of knowledge, and what’s in it for them. Nail that, and you’ll know whether your story is going to hit the mark – regardless of whether you’ve shared it before. 

The stuff that you consider part-and-parcel of your industry might be totally exciting and innovative to newcomers. Equally, your colleagues and peers are going to value more granular details and the kinds of stories and case studies that come from your unique experience. That could mean using a familiar industry case study, or pulling a recent example that highlights the same points but presents it in a new light.

There are always new ways to surprise and delight with presentations. You just have to ask the right questions.

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