All types of writing, including presentations, fall somewhere in between two extreme poles: reports and stories. Reports inform, while stories entertain. The structural difference between a report and a story is that a report organizes facts by topic, while a story organizes scenes dramatically.1 Presentations fall in the middle, and contain both information and story, so they are called explanations. In many organizations the norm is to default to writing reports instead of telling stories. But a presentation isn’t a report.
PowerPoint Does not Equal Presentation
Some people seem to think that using a presentation application, like PowerPoint, will magically turn their report into a presentation. It won’t. Reports are meant to be distributed. Presentations are designed to be presented. Documents all too often pose as presentations, and in many organizations these “slideuments” are now the common mode of communication. It’s not that reports aren’t valuable; they just shouldn’t be projected on a screen so an audience can participate in a “read-along.”
The primary purpose of a report is to convey information, while stories are told to produce an experience. The middle area between the two is where explanatory presentations belong. A blend of the two is ideal for your presentation, so that facts and stories can be layered like a cake. Navigating back and forth between fact and story creates a pulse and builds interest. When report material is mixed with story material, information becomes more digestible. It’s the sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Presenting dull, data-driven reports may be more comfortable and require less presentation time, but static reports don’t establish a connection between people and ideas. As soon as you know your task is to create a presentation rather than a report, shift your goal from simply transferring information to producing an experience. This will be the first step in shifting your mindset from the report end of the spectrum to the place where stories belong.
There are plenty of opportunities to use dramatic story structure in presentations. But how do you create a dramatic experience? Creating desire in the audience and then showing how your ideas fill that desire moves people to adopt your perspective. This is the heart of story.
This chapter will draw insights from the best story methods available today: mythology, literature, and cinema. Once you understand their power, you’ll see why great presentations move away from reports and closer to stories.