All stories deserve embellishment

“Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” – Gandalf the Grey (in a conversation with Bilbo Baggins)

 

Merriam-Webster defines to embellish as “to heighten the attractiveness of by adding decorative or fanciful details.” Gandalf was right. Every story – and to an extent, every presentation – will benefit from embellishments.

Here are a few tools you may use:

  • Bring in (one or more of) the typical elements of a story: character, setting, plot, theme, and style. Many (if not all) novelists and movie directors rely upon these to ensure a consistent narrative, allow the action to develop, and let the audience emotionally engage (learn more about them in my post about the “five elements of a story, and how to use them in a business presentation“)
  • Give it a personal touch: when telling a personal story, you share an authentic part of yourself that may inspire, connect, and engage people. You could e.g. start your talk by “On the way to this event, I …” or “Lately, my X year old son/daughter asked me …” Or tell an anecdote about a real-life moment, encounter, or incident.
  • Enrich your story with facts, figures, and trivia: crafting your presentation for creating an emotional connection with the people in the room doesn’t exclude using hard, soft, or fun facts. They help you to make your point and persuade your audience. Just make sure to embed your data into a convincing narrative, and visualize them appropriately and creatively.
  • Use metaphors: as they speak directly to our imagination, metaphors bypass humans’ left-brain hemisphere and will help you explain and explore ideas that lie behind rational thought – or that are too dry, too boring, or too complex for your listeners (more about the functioning of your audience’s brains can be found in my posts “Yin, yang and your brain” and “Use your brain, you’ve got three of them.”)
  • Quote people, books, or movies: quotes may serve as a second voice in your presentation. Use them to strengthen your arguments, to confirm your claims, or (most likely) to infuse your story with a memorable or inspiring statement.
  • Add a touch of humor: humor is subjective, but the principles underlying humor are not. If you use the comic toolbox intelligently, moderately, and appropriately – without hurting anyone’s feelings – you have access to a set of non-threatening tools to make your point, challenge incorrect assumptions, or help people remember your key messages.
  • Provide case studies: document your presentation with real-life examples to make your story more credible and show that you’ve “been there, done that.” Embellishing case studies with a protagonist or antagonist character makes them even pleasant to listen to. The hero could be you, your company, or your product, while the adversary may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer, or an unfavorable market condition.
  • Enhance the look and feel of your slides: in one of my older posts, I compared a good presentation with a tasteful dish. Great food is enjoyed through many senses. Taste, smell, and colors do matter. And so do the look and feel of your presentations. Your slideshows will derive great benefit from creative layouts with images, video, and multimedia.

One more thing: exotic fonts, in-slide object animations, and click and whoosh sounds aren’t embellishments. They are annoyances. You’re not Gandalf, you don’t need a magic wand, and as a business presenter you’re not competing for the special effects Oscar.

Also note that the quote on top of this article only appears in in Peter Jackson’s movie; you won’t find it back in J. R. R. Tolkien’s original publication of The Hobbit. The photo above is showing Ian McKellen as Gandalf in the Warner Bros. picture.

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