Nov 13

Storytelling: abandon slides and learn to tell stories

Delivering a convincing presentation is not easy. It is not easy to get the right attention or to communicate key messages, also because many managers and entrepreneurs participate to dozens of presentations and conferences every month. If you use traditional methods to deliver a presentation, you will play your only chance on a rational plane and you will need a lot of attention and interest from your audience.

Traditional presentations are focused on static elements: mainly the evidences emerged from the analysis and the related observations and proposals. They are characterized by the presence of only positive concepts. No mention is done to the difficulties that have been faced during the conduction of the analysis or the generation of observations and proposals.

Let’s provide you a practical example. A Market Director wants to illustrate a phenomenon which is significantly reducing the profitability of its distribution channels, with the aim of proposing a resolving project. Probably he will only show and explain a table with aggregate data, trends and the consequences for the company. Will he be able to convince the Board of Directors to finance his project? Will the Directors agree about the project? Image now if the Brothers Grimm had used the same technique of the Market Director in our example, to convince us that the prince must marry Cinderella and not one of her two stepsisters. Probably they would have projected a table with some key features of Cinderella and her stepsisters, the importance to each feature and their short conclusions. The Board of Directors would have probably answered the Brothers Grimm with the classic " We will think about it." Some Directors could have also argued that the two stepsisters are odious, but they have the misfortune to be very ugly and clumsy and perhaps these disadvantages would have put them on the same level of Cinderella who is orphaned and mistreated, but also very beautiful. The discussion would have focused only on rational aspects and nobody would have identified himself with one character.

Let's see now what is the essence of storytelling that is taught in all screenplay and writing schools. Generally, the story begins with an initial state of equilibrium, which is broken by something (inciting incident). Then the inevitable struggle with the harsh reality begins. It occupies a large part of the story and ends, more or less inexplicably, with the final scene. This narrative structure, composed by four phases, is profoundly different from the structure that has been used by the Market Director in our example. The main emphasis is given to the struggle between antagonists, the fight against the adverse forces, the difficulties and the sufferings faced by the characters, i.e. the perennial conflict between individual expectations and the harsh reality.

Do you struggle every day with the harsh reality? Have you experienced some conflicts between your expectations and real life? This is the reason why the business world is more and more talking about storytelling and less and less of power point presentations. That's why entrepreneurs, who bind their business projects to the events of their lives, are often much more convincing than managers that illustrate how they calculate the cumulated cash flow. People who tell a story and express how and why their life has changed, for better or for worse, have bigger chances to convince us to take their part and to identify ourselves with their struggles or with their satisfactions.

Many recent scientific discoveries about the brain confirm what good writers have always practiced: emotions help human beings to decide quickly and to give rise to an action. For example, the fear for the sudden appearance of a lion leads us instinctively to escape and choose the best direction in a few seconds. The function of emotions is to stop the current mental processes and re-establish the priorities, taking a decision quickly. Only subsequently the rational part takes over but it will hardly change the unconscious decision already taken with the emotional part. As advertisers and great communicators already known for many years, the more you arouse emotions, the more you convince someone and increase his propensity for action.