story telling

I have been helping out some companies recently with their presentation skills. And it has been like going back to school.  And I don’t mean the story telling.  There have been tears and tantrums and I have had to send people out of the room.  No, I haven’t.  I’m joking.  Mostly.

But what I mean is this.  Some of the people I have seen present are very polished, very ‘professional’ and their PowerPoint slides do all the fancy things that PowerPoint can nowadays.   And in general, their presentations were boring as hell.

Why is it that people think that being ‘professional’ means being boring?  And if I hear the words “we or me” one more time, I swear to God!!!

A business presentation is no different to a wedding speech or a personal development presentation at the most fundamental levels.  For example – you start with – who is your audience?  What are their pains and concerns?  What keeps them awake at night?  What is missing for them (that your product/service/solution/information solves)?

Consider Your Audience 

Ultimately whatever audience they are, people are only (on most occasions) concerned about “WIIFT” (what’s in it for them?).  So if your presentation is all “we this” and “we that” then you are just “we-ing” all over the place, like a dog marking its territory: and nobody likes that!

Keep “we-ing” and your audience will switch off and go to sleep. I see it all over the place.  Induced coma by PowerPoint.  Boring fact after boring fact.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There needs to be some facts and figures in your presentation – some ‘evidence’ that supports your proposition.  But it needs to be tailored and it needs to be presented in a specific way – which is NOT as a list of bullet points on a slide.  But more about that another time, the subject of today is storytelling and why it is important for businesses.

Well, firstly because that is how we communicate in real life.  When you meet your mate for a coffee you might start with – “Guess what I just saw on the train…..” and you’re off – into a story.  When your child gets home from school and you ask what they did, they tell you in story form.

Just imagine for a minute your child telling you about their school day in corporate presentation style.

“Well Mum, at 9.15 there was assembly.  355 people entered the room which was 7% less than the total number of students registered at the school.  The headmaster stood up to speak and spoke about the school fair, luckily only speaking for 11 minutes which is a 30% reduction in his usual offering which gave us an extra 4 minutes to get to class – and so I didn’t get a detention today!”.

Yep – and that’s probably more interesting than many of the corporate presentations I see.

How to Make a Boring Presentation Fascinating

If you want to see a bit of this in action – here’s an example.  I recently spoke to someone about the block chain (yeah – I didn’t know what it was either).  The conversation was kind of interesting but also very confusing and when I watched a presentation on this a little while ago, which was far too detailed and over most of the audience’s head (including mine), I have to admit to losing the will to live about 5 minutes in.

Now – compare that to a 15 minute Ted Talk by Bettina Walburg – described as ‘fascinating’ in the write-up.  “Fascinating?” I thought, “for Nobel prize winners maybe!” – but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Bettina brought everything up to a level that was an overall picture and out of the detail, she spoke to the concerns of the audience (uncertainty and mistrust of others in trade) and she told stories to illustrate her points.

And actually – at 1 minute 13 seconds in, she says the words “it is a very human story”.  Not something you would normally associate with block chain.  She uses metaphors …. “it’s a bit like Wikipedia,” she says at one point.  She talks about how trade started with the hunter-gatherers and shows a picture of a caveman.  And whilst there were (a couple of) slides, there was not a bullet point in sight.  Watch it here if you want a de-jargonised overview of the blockchain.

My point is that stories are essential in business.  They are essential in presentations unless you actually WANT your audience to get some rest and have 40 winks.  They are essential in teams, to build the team history and the collateral.  They are essential in companies.  The companies with the best stories, and who are able to communicate those, end up attracting and being able to hire, the best staff, and also attracting the right suppliers, and ultimately the right (and loyal) customer base.  If your customers are telling your story for you, then you know you are doing the right things.

But how do you craft your story?  Well, that is a story for another day (pun intended), but needless to say – the starting point is the end point.  What I mean by that is – decide what are you trying to achieve from this presentation / client meeting / conference keynote speech.  And work your way backwards.

And never underestimate the power of stories.  Long after the details about this weeks “suicide bomber” (for suicide bomber read murderer of children) are forgotten, the things that WILL be remembered are the stories.  The stories of the real people of Manchester who were involved, and their lives.  The facts and figures, while disturbing, ARE just facts and figures.  The things that move us to tears are the stories, the pictures painted.  For example, the story of the homeless man that ran into the building to help; the story of the couple that were outside and took a selfie minutes before their children became orphans or the story that Arianna Grande will pay for all the funerals.

That is what is real.  That is what is remembered.

Tomorrow I am flying to Africa to help one of my mentees who spent his early career entertaining people on International football pitches as a professional footballer.  I’ll be taking my yellow card with me, not for him of course, it’s potentially for his presentation because we will be substituting the “professional boring version” with an exciting, emotional and enthusiastic version that he can use to inspire others.


Change Your Story Share Your Story Inspire Others





Share This

Share this post with your peers.