Two of our employees, Doug and Eric, came to Nancy Duarte six years ago with a pitch. Unbeknownst to Nancy, they had spent the weekend in our shop’s studio working on a set of videos that explained presentation best practices with puppets. They wanted to know: Would she invest in a permanent series? To get off the ground, they would need professional puppets and a budget for basic props. Altogether, it would cost upwards of $10,000.
She found the videos delightful and the initiative admirable, but what did puppets have to do with presentations?
Despite all the excitement around storytelling these days, we still run into people who swear it won’t work for them. They say things like, “That’s all well and good for you. You’re a creative agency, but my subject matter is too complicated and my audience is too serious for story.”
Sure, it’s our job as innovators to push the boundaries in the presentation space. But it’s also our job to help people stand out and be remembered. And if you want to stand out novelty is your friend. You might not be able to use puppets in your presentation, but maybe a metaphor about bonsai trees, space travel, or Antarctic expeditions. Maybe you use a prop to demonstrate your point. Or maybe you bring an impressive statistic to life in a unique way. Whatever it is, every communicator should continually push him or herself to reach beyond their comfort zone for the sake of reaching their audience.
So, what did I do about the puppets? During their pitch, Doug and Eric talked about how they were inspired by the lessons they had learned as kids from shows like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Sesame Street in particular, they explained, used really tight writing and humor that transcended age groups to explain concepts to kids. They thought they could do the same for presentations to not only reach adults, but also kids, who are learning presentation skills, and unfortunately, picking up many of the bad habits adults have. No one was teaching business skills with puppets. Their idea was creative, unique, and memorable, so I funded it.
Today, Doug and Eric, along with Doug’s husband Corey, have made six episodes of Duarte.com/edy starring the characters Bob Solete and Finn O’Vation, who cover everything from moving your audience to using complementary colors. We even sent Bob and Finn to San Diego Comic-Con last year to spread the word about story and heroes. And the team continues to come up with creative ideas for explaining presentation best practices in a fun and memorable way. Doug told me when he came back from Comic-Con that when Bob and Finn were interviewing people on the street, the interviewees would ignore Doug and Eric and talk directly to the puppets. He said it was amazing how willing people were to fall into the story. Now, that’s engagement.