Story has played a significant role in all cultures but its adoption into professional cultures has been painfully slow. That’s because it’s easier to present a report instead of a well-crafted presentation that incorporates stories.
Presentations are the most persuasive tool available to us in business yet we squander them. This video explains some of the structural differences between a report (what most presentations are) and a story.
Stories are a powerful container of information. In fact, cultures, beliefs, lore has been passed down from generation to generation across illiterate generations of humankind. That’s how powerful it is. Stories can be repeated. They can be told. They can be passed on even to children and be remembered. What is it about a story? Something happens to a story. Our heart races. We lean forward. We can’t wait. We’re anticipating. Oh my gosh what’s going to happen next? We’re excited. We’re actually really engaged. And it actually means something to us to share a story with someone. What happens suddenly, we insert a slide in the mix, and our communication flatlines. Suddenly it’s not interesting. There’s no pulse. The slide, something about it becoming a presentation makes our stories sterile. In fact we’re not even using stories. To use a story means you need to be human and you need to put a human sense and your humanity out on the line for people to judge and people maybe not even take care of the story you’re trying to tell them and that’s kind of scary. There’s two basic types of writing. On one extreme is a report. A report is exhaustive. It’s got facts. It’s got figures. It’s got tables and details and it’s just exhaustive. So if you work for a large consultancy let’s say and a client pays you two million dollars to do a bunch of research you’re going to build a report for them for goodness sake, and it better look like a dense report. And better have tons of information because they paid you two million dollars. And you might even be building that in PowerPoint or some other slide application, and that’s fine. But you’re building a report. But something happens. We’re in report building mode, and then we forget that to convey our research; so we captured our research, but to convey and communicate our research we need a different creative process to follow than report making and exhaustive research. So what we need to do is incorporate more stories. So on the other pole, the other extreme of writing is a story. It’s basically dramatic writing. Cinema, literature follows that form. Those are the two extremes, and what we need to do is presentations fall right in the middle. A presentation has explanatory structure. It’s got some facts and figures and information, but it also needs to be married with a story. Like a cake, layers of a cake. You need to build in some report like information and also story structure and story information to keep it interesting. Now this is a very powerful communication medium. Stories are very sacred in a way. And you can’t abuse them either. So what you need to do is fold stories in. Let your humanity kind of hang out there. Tell stories in a compelling way and you’ll actually change people’s beliefs. You’ll change their ideas. You’ll sway them towards you, just like a great story does. They’re engaged. They’re wanting to hear from you. There’s a big structural difference between a report and a story. So if you look at them in parallel, you’ll see that reports have a framework to them and stories have a framework to them. A report framework has topical information, has data, has facts. Whereas a story framework it has narrative, meaning, story, metaphor. So what you need to do once you’ve built your presentation is you need to identify places in your presentation where you can turn what would be considered fact or reporting into a story. You can take data, and instead of just conveying the data, you can find the meaning and the narrative in the data, and tell the story behind the data. So you need to do that throughout the presentation, so that it creates a pattern and a rhythm. In Hollywood they’ll only be on a scene for three minutes. There will never be a movie scene that lasts longer than three minutes. And that’s very important to remember. So you need to mix up a little story with a little information, and move it up, change it up. Keep it interesting and constantly be changing it up. Mix a little bit of report with a little bit of story and change all of your presentations into wonderful explanations of your idea. Because if you do that your idea will spread. They’ll be chatting about your presentation at the water cooler. They’ll be talking about your idea in the next meeting. They’ll be saying did you hear what he just said? It was unbelievable. And that’s what you want. That’s how you’ll get recognized. That’s how your organization will stand out from the competitors. And it’s a very powerful tool that has worked for thousands of years, and I know you can use it to work for you.