The forgotten art of storytelling


We all have been there. People looking at the smartphone, yawning, and whispering to each other while you are delivering a beautiful well-crafted presentation all in the hope to move the audience. Why does it happen? Why our team nods in agreement during the presentation when we say “This is the biggest challenged we have identified, this is what we need to do”, while right after they don’t act on it? Nonetheless, we repeat this act of transferring ideas, thoughts, and findings each day on every occasion possible.

As Robert McKee (the famous screenwriting coach) said, people, have their own set of statistics, experiences, and beliefs. Even if you succeed in persuading them you have done only on an intellectual basis and people are not inspired to act by reason alone. The way to persuade people is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. This will arouse people’s emotions and energy. It creates “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen.

Storytelling is the way we humans have interacted and conveyed the message from thousands and thousands of years. This is the way we pass on our ideas to others and it is the way remember the most. We tend to forget the list, bullet points, and paragraphs. But unfortunately, what we do in our real-life exactly the same. We make 30 slides presentation, with so many points and so many short paragraphs but not overall compelling stories for people to remember. So, they do not feel intrigued. They do not feel moved emotionally. Even though they are listening to our point but in their mind, they are opposing or simply ignoring. They give us all sorts of signals openly that they have lost their attention.

You must be wondering, how I am supposed to tell a story before each presentation. How can I compress a 30-slide presentation with so many data and pictures in a compelling story? Storytelling isn’t about converting the slides into a story and ignoring the numbers and pictures but rather its about invoking an element of emotion in it and crafting it in such a fashion that is more human, something close to you or the listeners. Here is a good example to learn from.

 There was one founder whose start-up was at a critical junction and was in desperate need of investment. He went to one investor and explained the situation and told him that his start-up was about to get the license approved for one of the crucial kits that can detect heart attack signals and prevent lives by measuring the level of protein in the blood. He further mentioned that the license will be highly desired in the medical field and has great market potential. He showed the projected market demand and revenue for the next 5 years. The investor did some calculations in his mind, thinking about another potential solution that can compete with this product. He calculated the risk in his mind and uttered that 6-letter word we hate the most “will get back to you soon”.

 Let’s say he pitched the same idea in a storytelling way. Something like this. Last year one of my close relatives, David, whom I was extremely fond was not doing well. He was bedridden for a few months and ultimately died of a heart attack. I felt like I lost everything. If our product were on the market, we would have saved his life by monitoring the level of essential protein in his blood. We could not save David’s lives, unfortunately, but people like David are many in the world, and you have a chance to save those lives by ensuring we get sufficient funds for issuing of the license. Here is the market demand and it predicts that we can save half a million lives in the first year alone. Your decision to invest in this project can significantly impact those lives.

Notice what we did there in the story. We gave the investor chance to be the hero of the story, Chance to defeat the villain (which is uncertain death by heart-attack) with all our data points intact. He has the power to do that, a decision-making power that can save millions of lives each year. People want to be part of the story to make it finish on the happy note and this is why the chances of getting the message through and chances of people acting on your ideas or appeal are much higher when emotion is invoked. Now the investor will be driven more emotionally with less focus on the numbers.

 If you want to learn more about Storytelling and how to tell a great story in a business context, I suggest reading the below articles and videos as a starting point.

https://hbr.org/2003/06/storytelling-that-moves-people

https://hbr.org/2007/12/the-four-truths-of-the-storyteller

https://hbr.org/2014/07/how-to-tell-a-great-story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA

#Storytelling #presentation #article

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