Presentation and Storyteller’s Promises

When you pick up a book or go to a movie, you enter into an agreement with the author, the producers, the storytellers. It is a relationship and an agreement. What does it say? It says, “I’m here as a consumer of your content, and you won’t betray me. You will give me what I’ve come to see/read/experience. You won’t try to trick me, unless that’s part of what I’ve signed up to see.”

Let’s take a movie. When I saw Batman Begins, I expected an origin story (says so in the title), action (because Batman is a superhero), and I expected it to be fresh, engaging, and captivating. I expected to experience what Batman experienced, because all entertainment is part catharsis. What’s happening on screen should be happening in your emotions and your little fantasy dialogues. Believe me, when I leave a Batman movie, I AM Batman.

Presentations are the Same Deal

You, as presenter owe your audience a few things. If you title your presentation “The Impact of Wikis on Our Knowledge Management Software,” this presentation damned well better discuss impact. You can’t just tell them about wikis, how they work, and all that.

The Storyteller’s Promise

As a presenter, you are a storyteller. If you don’t agree, you’ve already failed. You’re no better than a live next button and a data chute. But, if you agree with this premise that you are telling a story via your materials and your presence before an audience, you have some responsibilities:

  • Before Anything- What is the purpose of your piece? Are you presenting details. Are you giving product information? Do you have to convince anyone of anything? What do you want from me?
  • Titles Matter- Give up “clever.” Go instead for short, impactful titles.
  • Load the Front- Your audience will form a “value” opinion on your presentation fairly quickly. Give them a big start, with a lot of enthusiasm for your topic. Don’t “phone it in.”
  • Explicit Promises- The agenda, whether on a slide or verbally, is where people “seat” themselves mentally for your presentation. If you give them three points you’ll cover. Make sure you hit them.
  • This is LIVE- Take advantage of that fact. You can adjust to the audience. You can pep them up if they’re lagging. You can give them a break if they’re seeming lost.
  • Keep it Tight- Nothing kills any presentation like tangents. If you’re talking about wikis, don’t talk about how Google just started offering a calendar. Sidebar comments are also disruptive. Stay on target. Stay on target.
  • Finish Strong- Lots of people’s presentations just seem to end. They go, “That’s it,” and they wait for the applause they expect. Let’s go into that further.

    Finish Strong

    By the end of your presentation, people should be nodding their head vigorously. They might be affirming your data presentation. They might be agreeing with the point you so masterfully made. But you should be looking out on a sea of nodding heads. Often, this isn’t the way presentations end.

    Presenters, especially nervous ones, have expended a lot of emotional energy to get to this point. They are feeling exhausted mentally from keeping everything straight in their heads, and from reacting to the audience. You can’t stop now. Give them a strong finish.

    If you’ve hit them with lots of product details, here’s a great chance to tell them the one most important emotional or story-based thing you want them to remember. Because most of the facts are seeping out of their ears, tell them: “When my grandmother first logged on and downloaded a video of my daughter, she cried. No, not because the kid is so cute. She said, ‘I’m on the internet.’”

    Believe me, that image will far surpass the fact that your product can translate .avi, .m4a, eieio.

    You are the Authority

    As a presenter, you are a storyteller. You have the conch. You are the one standing before the fire while others watch. They trust you explicitly and implicitly to use their time well, but also to entertain them. Believe me, if you betray that trust, the fire’s not that far away.

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    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17828043 Justin Kownacki

      The power of a good story is something everyone could stand to learn. It makes every aspect of communication work better, from casual conversation to business to the arts. I’m fairly convinced you’d have a better restaurant experience if both you AND your waiter, waitress or bartender knew how to tell a good story, and how to keep the other person’s interest, even if all you need is a water with lemon.

      A book I read recently and dug more than I expected to was Robert McKee’s “Story” (link from my blog). I figured it would be a formulaic approach to communications, but it veers away from that concept and instead breaks down WHY stories work. It may still be a masculine viewpoint, whereas a feminine viewpoint may better suit your story, but it’s a good building block nonetheless.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17828043 Justin Kownacki

      The power of a good story is something everyone could stand to learn. It makes every aspect of communication work better, from casual conversation to business to the arts. I’m fairly convinced you’d have a better restaurant experience if both you AND your waiter, waitress or bartender knew how to tell a good story, and how to keep the other person’s interest, even if all you need is a water with lemon.

      A book I read recently and dug more than I expected to was Robert McKee’s “Story” (link from my blog). I figured it would be a formulaic approach to communications, but it veers away from that concept and instead breaks down WHY stories work. It may still be a masculine viewpoint, whereas a feminine viewpoint may better suit your story, but it’s a good building block nonetheless.

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    • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

      “As a presenter, you are a storyteller. If you don’t agree, you’ve already failed.” I absolutely couldn’t agree more and I’ll most certainly be adding this to my repertoire of quotes.

      I just noticed that this post is from 2006. Not that this isn’t something that’s held true for millenniums (it’s how history has been conveyed), but it was at least before Garr’s Presentation Zen and before Nancy Duarte took the world by storm and validated effective presentation design (especially with her book “Resonate” specifically about storytelling in presentations).

      Audiences want to be informed and entertained. They want to be removed from their seats and taken on a journey of enlightenment and change. They want to connect and interact, either with the presenter, fellow audience members, or both. This is no small task, however, and it’s a shame how many people are willing to subject an audience to wildly substandard presentations where they read of bullet-point laden slides. They’re probably better off being shot with a real bullet. Might be more interesting.

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