In the final article in this series, Bruce Gabrielle shows you different storytelling techniques – such as turning facts into quotes and using customer anecdotes – to bring dry facts and figures to life.
To return to the Introduction and view a list of other articles in this series, click here.
Use Storytelling throughout Your Presentation
The following techniques will help you breathe life into your presentations, make your presentations unpredictable and give each presentation a unique and compelling character.
Turn Facts into Quotes
Let's say you want to make a point on your slide that customer loyalty is low and there are a lot of customers thinking about switching to the competitor. Rather than make that a bullet point, put a picture or silhouette of your prototypical customer with a speech balloon that says "I like your company, but the other company is offering me a discount to give them a try. I'm probably going to call them next time I have a problem."
I've seen this technique used very effectively. In one example, a presenter was showing us the three benefits of cloud computing. But rather than just listing the benefits as text, she showed three photographs of customers with each talking about the benefit. I use this technique all the time; here are two slides as an example.
Use Statistics You Audience Can Visualize
Most business slides are filled with charts and graphs. But data lacks the ability to create mental images, which is critical for the storylistening effect. People can relate to things if they can imagine what they look like.
For instance, in Made to Sick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors talk about scientists who had computed some mathematical formula so accurately, it was as accurate as "throwing a rock from the sun to the earth and getting within one-third mile of the target every time". Does this statistic stick? Can you realistically visualize throwing a rock from the sun to the earth? Can you visualize how close one-third mile is? Are you impressed by this level of accuracy?
But how about something more concrete: “It’s as accurate as hitting a golf ball the length of a football field and getting a hole-in-one every time.”
Both of these statistics state the same level of accuracy. But you can visualize one while you cannot visualize the other. It’s the same thing with your statistics. If you say “25% of our customers are dissatisfied” that’s just a statistic. It’s hard to visualize all of your customers and then divide them into two faceless groups. But it’s more compelling to explain your graph using language that’s easy to visualize, like “The average sales rep has 20 customers. This graph indicates that five of those customers can’t wait to do business with another company.”
Use Customer Anecdotes and Quotes
I conduct market research for a living and talk to customers about what they like, what they don't like and how they make decisions. So I'm full of customer quotes and stories when I finish a project and sit down to write the final report.
Consider using customer quotes and anecdotes to make your points come to life. You can argue with a fact but you can't argue when you hear it in the customer's own voice.
Add Pictures of People
We relate to people. Some brain scientists argue that there are actually three parts of the brain: the part that recognizes text, the part that recognizes pictures and the part that recognizes people. Eye-tracking studies show that when we look at a picture, we are drawn to pictures of faces. In fact, our gaze is momentarily frozen on the eyes of people in pictures.
That's why, whenever your slides talk about people, think about adding pictures of those people to the slide. I like to add silhouettes to represent the heroes in my presentations, rather than photos. It's easy to find photos on the internet but they are often copyright-protected. But you can easily make silhouettes by finding a photo online and then tracing it with PowerPoint's drawing tool. Then you can add interesting gradient fills, drop shadows and other finishing touches. You can re-use this image on other slides to remind the audience you're talking about the hero, not something abstract.
Use Immersive Pictures to Put Your Audience inside the Action
When you use pictures, try to find pictures that put your audience right inside the action. For instance, if you're showing a picture of a business meeting, show it from the point of view of one of the participants, rather than someone watching from the back of the room. Help your audience see the world through the hero's eyes.
Use Real Examples
One of the best presentations I ever saw involved someone who evaluated our product website by showing actual screenshots and demonstrating what the customer experience was like. It wasn't pretty. They started by saying "Okay, I'm looking for an answer to a licensing question". Then they showed us how they selected links to click on, which lead to another page loaded with links. After five or six clicks, they were back at the page they started. The message was clear: our website was a disaster.
Rather than simply summarizing the main points, consider having the audience experience a situation with you and then sum up the points. For instance, if you want to illustrate how slick a competitor's mobile phone is, or how terrible your customer service is, don't just list the details in bullet points but show a picture or play the customer service recording.
Use Video and Audio
Some of the most memorable presentations I've seen have included video, especially of customers speaking. Executives love to hear things directly in the customer's own words. Now that mobile phones have built-in cameras, and camcorders are affordable, you should think about capturing more video for your presentations.
For instance, if you're going to a trade show, bring a camcorder to capture the competitor's booth. Going on a customer visit? Ask if you can interview the customer on film. Or, record customers shopping in your store to illustrate how they make decisions. I try to capture customer comments on video.
You can also capture customer’s thoughts as audio and insert it into your presentation. The one tip to keep in mind when you play audio or video: tell the audience what to pay attention to. For instance, point to the person at the end of the table and say "notice how this man keeps interrupting to disagree when the speaker complains about our product."
Summing Up – Closing Thoughts
I'm not a believer in giving "formulas" for writing presentations as stories. The last thing we want is to attend presentations that are predictable and look like carbon copies of each other. Still, stories are powerful and you will want to develop your own style. I personally find that business presentations do not bend easily to fit a storytelling structure. But hopefully, this series of articles has given you some practical storytelling techniques you can experiment with.
There are quite a few books written on storytelling and I encourage you to sample them all. There is no single book which really captures storytelling for business presentations. However, each book on its own is a great starting place for helping you develop your own unique style.
- Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip & Dan Heath
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
- Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business by Bruce Gabrielle
- Moving Mountains: Or the Art and Craft of Letting Others See Things Your Way by Henry Boettinger
- The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative by Stephen Denning
- Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® 2007 to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire by Cliff Atkinson
- 7-Slide Solution(tm): Telling Your Business Story in 7 Slides or Less by Paul Kelly
- Transformational Speaking by Gail Larsen
About the Author
Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations.
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