Better presentations with the help of a vitamin pill


4742089272_917060d23a_bWritten by: Henrik Häkkä

When I was a kid my mother used to give me multivitamins during the winter. The pills were white, about a centimeter wide and had the profile of an ellipse. I always found them a bit hard to swallow but with a gulp of orange juice they went down just fine.

As the pills had a slightly sweet taste a one morning decided to let one melt in my mouth. The sweet taste lasted for a while after which the bitter taste of the core pushed through, after which I quickly swallowed the pill.

Fast forward some 25 years to the corporate world. If you think about a typical Power Point presentation chances are your mind conjures images of slides full of graphs and charts. (The other possibility probably being slides crammed full with bullet points that the presenter reads out aloud.) You are being presented a long report with information you are hard pressed to understand the value of.

Assuming there is a reason for this bombardment of graphs and charts what is the point if you sleep through the presentation? Now matter how important the information is it does not matter if it is beyond your grasp. Maybe the problem is your concentration. Maybe you should have drank another cup of coffee or maybe you just have a short attention span. Or maybe there is a way to make presentations more interesting?

How do you make a report masked as a presentation interesting then? One way is to make them a better experience. How do you make them an experience? By sugarcoating the information with stories.

Storytelling, contradictory to traditional left brain thinking still common in corporate settings, is a very powerful way to convey information. As part of a suiting story information is put to context which helps the audience to see why the information might be of importance for themselves.

A story to support information needed be long, in fact shorter might be better. In his book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling Steven Denning argues that in addition to a good story being true, positive in tone and contrasting the situation before and after the story also needs to be minimalistic in nature. A too detailed story may steal the focus from the information.

What inspired me to write this particular text however was another book, Nancy Duartes Resonate. In her superb book Nancy describes the value of stories in presentations like this:

Mixing report material with story material makes information more digestible. It’s the sugar that help the medicine go down.

As I read this description for the first time I had a big smile on my face. Not only did it take me back to my childhood but was also a great realisation as it nails the importance of stories that I long had known, but had had a hard time define.

For me storytelling was also one of the reasons i decided to join Toastmasters. Keeping regular presentations and receiving feedback is a great way to practise storytelling, something that is both a joy and that I am already seeing the benefit of professionally.

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