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I recently ran my mastery programme. Four half-day group workshops and four 1-2-1 coaching sessions with each of the eight people in the group.
All the participants were highly skilled professionals who dealt with figures and analysis for a living. They worked by and for the balance sheet. But the result of living in this world was that they were all heavy on the rational side of explaining: many were the Informer archetype.
Not one of them used stories in their presentations, because they’d been trained to avoid using emotion. After all, numbers and facts are solid, not stories, right?
Wrong. Stories are an incredible asset in your presentation arsenal. So, let’s see how to use them for the better – especially if you’re in a data-heavy field.
The five essentials for storytelling
If you’re trying to persuade someone in your next presentation, then you need to hit them (figuratively, of course) in their hearts and their heads. The rational content belongs in the headspace – the facts, figures, costs and proofs, the numbers that back up your big idea.
The storytelling is what connects emotionally. It often has a longer-lasting impact, and can make your presentation that much more compelling and persuasive.
Creating a story doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you probably do it all the time, when recounting events to friends over a drink, or when describing an event you’ve seen in the news.
At their most basic level, a story has just five elements:
The where and the when of the story, whether that’s “Once upon a time” or “Last week in Wellington.” It helps your audience get a sense of place and time, so they can orient themselves to it.
It’s the people! Every story needs characters who do things that have made events unfold. And when you have multiple characters (even if one of them is yourself), then it’s the interaction between characters that gives your stories a good sense of drama.
Or, “One thing led to another.” Humans are pretty unique in that we can connect cause and effect – and share that information with each other. How we connect cause and effect helps us build a narrative, like the plot of a film.
Every good story has the element of surprise – and a reveal that justifies telling the tale. Without it? Well, your story is a bit of an anticlimax.
Your story has to have some kind of message or lesson. If it isn’t relevant to your presentation, doesn’t elucidate or emphasise any business point, then there’s no reason to include it.
Bringing life to your presentation
Legendary screenwriting teacher Robert McKee defines it well, saying, “A story expresses how and why life changes.”
Therefore, a good business story expresses how and why a business changes. So, let’s use stories for the better – especially if you’re already in a data-heavy field.
Stories don’t replace evidence and argument, but augment them. They offer a chance for your facts to come to life in memorable ways, and connect the facts to the people they’re going to impact.
What you’ll also find is that stories bring incredible life to your presentations, too. Those data-heavy presenters on my mastery course really came alive when they started telling stories – making for more authentic, engaging and inspiring presentations.
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