It’s the story, stupid

 “Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” – Nancy Duarte

Recently I had a discussion with a colleague about my Living by numbers blog post. Being active in business consulting, he is used to creating and delivering long, dry and factual presentations (read Jan Schultink’s article on how to write ‘McKinsey presentations’) and did not feel very comfortable with some of my recommendations.

consultant_cartoonThough not all content is equally suitable for storification, I remain convinced that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management level presentations.

  • We’re all human beings, and –let’s admit it– most of us love stories. As Robin Dunbar states in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, 65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about “who did what to whom”.
  • Listening to a story is cooperative (and most of the time interactive) learning. A story can put your whole brain to work. It helps make the complex simple and make the message more memorable. We tend to forget figures, lists and bullet points. Stories help to persuade where facts can’t.
  • Storytelling is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally and/or ethically. Stories produce mental images. They are a means to stimulate higher level thinking and let the audience come to a conclusion on their own.

Of course there are different kinds of audiences that may need different styles of presentations in different situations. And some content and/or circumstance can make you decide not to tell a story, e.g. for financial reporting or in cases of crisis communication. As a professional presenter it’s your call to go for a storytelling approach or not.

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5 thoughts on “It’s the story, stupid

  1. Thanks for this Marc. I am completely in favor of using storytelling on any type of presentation, but I have a hard time defending hte idea on business presentations… What type of content do you consider not to be suitable for storification?

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    • Sébastian — If the presentation is purely reporting “naked” facts and figures (e.g. financial reporting), a story may make less sense. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that you should trash all your content into a “slideument” bin. A clean (and not too overloaded) layout and an appropiate visualisation of your data will contribute to the clarity and the presentability of ANY presentation. And, storytelling techniques (such as the use of metaphors) may be of great help when delivering your messages.

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