9 Steps to Better Presentations: Part 6 – Tell a Story

9_-_A_Simple_Guide_to_Better_Presentations.020NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of posts taken from our guide 9: A Simple Guide to Better Presentations. Can’t wait and want to get it all now? Download the eBook for FREE here.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain that stories inspire us to act. We love hearing about a team that overcomes impossible odds to win (the 1980 USA hockey team) or someone who crosses boundaries to make a better world (Rosa Parks) or people who solve a problem in an innovative way (NASA engineers on the Apollo 13 mission).

Why? They motivate us. In the stories of others, we visualize ourselves overcoming the odds, making a better world, and solving the problem.

Stories are also emotional, and we remember what we feel.

Stories engage us in ways that facts and figures don’t. Don’t just give a talk; invite your audience into a story.

Why Presenting = Marketing = Storytelling (Borrowing a Riff from Seth Godin)

At their best, presentations are really marketing pieces.

And marketing is simply getting people to know, like, and trust you. Marketing is building relationships and helping people with their problems.

Isn’t that what you do when you give a talk, lead a meeting, or meet with a prospect?

And the best kind of marketing (and presenting) is really storytelling.

When you tell a believable, emotional story that resonates with your audience, you can get them to move.

Seth Godin riffs on this in his post today:

On the path from awareness to a sale, the marketer has to create a vacuum.

The goal of that short film or that sales letter or that invitation to a seminar shouldn’t be to answer every question and completely describe what’s on offer. No, effective marketing amplifies awareness of a problem or an opportunity, a problem the product or service solves or an opportunity it creates.

I know it’s tempting to sell with bullet points and an overwhelming amount of data. It gets you off the hook and requires little in the way of creativity or guts. Storytelling requires both.

When you put your presentation together, you need more than data. Yes, the numbers are important–but more important is making a connection. Numbers don’t connect; story and emotion do.

Want to see this illustrated? Check out Seth’s TED Talk, “How to Get Your Ideas to Spread.” It’s ten years old at this point but it’s still true.

How to Write a Joke (And Make a Presentation) Like Jerry Seinfeld

You remember Jerry Seinfeld, right? He was the star of that hit TV show back in the 90s and he’s still doing stand up, movies, TV, and commercials from time to time.

Seinfeld recently disclosed his approach to writing a joke, in this case a story about Pop Tarts, in a New York Times video.

Since stand up comedy is really another form of making a speech or giving a presentation, there’s a lot of application here for presenters. Here are a few observations.

Spend time planning. Seinfeld reveals that he’s worked on this joke for about two years. The close-ups of his handwritten notes evidence many revisions and edits. No doubt, since stand up is a performance art, the joke changes from one gig to the next. Seinfeld probably incorporates these iterations into his revisions as well. You may not have two years before your next presentation, but you probably don’t have to deliver it tomorrow. Give your presentation time to simmer–it will be better. And did you notice that he does all of his writing on paper?

Get attention quickly. Seinfeld says he likes “the first line to be funny right away.” Since most of us, by experience, have learned that most presentations are going to be boring, capture your audience’s attention with something unexpected. Like this pastor who drank three beers at the beginning of his sermon.

Include concrete details. Seinfeld paints vivid pictures with his words:

  • “When I was a kid and they invented the Pop Tart, the back of my head blew right off.”
  • “We had orange juice that was frozen years in advance that you had to hack away at with a knife just to get a couple of drops and it felt like you were committing a murder before you got on the school bus.”
  • Eating Shredded Wheat was like “wrapping your lips around a wood chipper. You had breakfast and then you had to take two days off for the scars to heal so you could speak again.”
  • “alien spacecraft”
  • “chimps in the dirt playing with sticks”

Avoid business-speak and jargon in your presentation. Use real words that paint pictures for your audience. Steve Jobs’ presentations, in fact, were notable for their refreshing lack of jargon (but perhaps also for their overuse of superlatives).

Set up a contrast. The joke works because Seinfeld draws an exaggerated contrast between the bleakness of breakfast before the Pop Tart and the awesomeness of life after. Contrast is an essential component in a presentation since it helps make your points memorable. Seinfeld mentions that, in comedy, the “wronger something feels, the righter it is.” That’s contrast.

Finish strong. Seinfeld says, “the biggest laugh has to be at the end.” Many presentations end with… nothing. That’s my last point, thanks for coming. Any questions? When you finish a presentation, you have an opportunity to challenge your audience to do something. Finish with a call to action, an invitation to make a change.

Now that you’ve seen how Jerry Seinfeld wrote the joke, watch the video below to see him deliver it. The Pop Tart joke starts at 1:17 (and notice the transition from the first story into the Pop Tart joke–very smooth). This appearance was recorded two years ago and some of the parts Seinfeld mentions in the NYT video aren’t included–more evidence that the joke has grown and changed over time.

Three Ways to Improve Your Presentations in 2013 (and Beyond)

2012 is coming to a close and you’ve probably given a presentation or two this year. How did they go? Were you well prepared? Was your audience captivated? Did you see dramatic change take place?

The new year will be here in just 11 days (assuming the world doesn’t end tomorrow). Want to see your presentations do more this next year?

Here are three simple changes you can make to improve your presentations in 2013.

Don’t give information. Do tell a story. Many (most?) presentations are long on facts, details, and information but short on persuasion. Why should all that data matter to me and what should I do about it? Here’s where stories can be your best friend. Stories are emotional and memorable; they enable us to insert ourselves into the place of the characters and simulate their experiences as our own. If using story in a presentation or meeting seems silly or unprofessional, see Spielberg’s new film Lincoln. In several scenes, the president skillfully uses stories to instruct, remind, and defuse. Find ways to incorporate story.

Don’t use a PowerPoint template. Go minimal. Start with a blank slate. Try a plain white, black or gray background. Use photographs, not clip art. Experiment.

Don’t “wing it.” Do rehearse. If there’s one thing you can do that will improve your presenting and public speaking instantly, this is it–and yet it’s the one thing that most people fail to do. When you practice your presentation, you’ll find ideas that you thought would work but don’t; you’ll also surface good ideas that hadn’t emerged in your planning. Rehearsing is also a great way to build your confidence, control your nerves, and combat stage fright before you present.

Change your presentations for the better this next year. Your audience will be glad you did.

Speaking on International Adoption :: Ethiopia

Michael Gowin talks about adopting children from Ethiopia - Renovate Communication Design, LLC

One of the best ways to gain and keep your audience’s attention is to tell stories. Our eyes glaze over and our heads droop at fact after fact but a good story captivates. And the audience is in for a special treat when you, the speaker, are passionate about your story and have tuned it especially for them.

My wife, Suzanne, and I recently returned from a fourth trip to Ethiopia with our sixth child. We have three children in the, ahem, “traditional manner” (hat tip to Scott Simon for that term) and three adopted, all from Ethiopia. The latter three have joined our family in the past two years.

Last weekend we spoke about our adoption journey and international travel experiences to a group at Lincoln Christian Church in Lincoln, Illinois. I didn’t talk about statistics or a hundred facts about adoption. It’s not that these things aren’t important, especially since they represent the lives of children. But it’s difficult to make people care about numbers and data points, to make them meaningful. Instead, I simply showed photographs and shared our story. And since Lincoln is our home church, our story is intertwined with those who came to listen. They’ve dropped us off at the airport and then came to greet us when we returned from 30+ hours of travel. They brought meals in the hectic and exhausting days after we came home. They babysat our kids while I was working and Suzanne was finishing her master’s thesis.

Interestingly enough, Deanne and her husband have also adopted children from Ethiopia. As you might imagine, these are stories we love to share. Either of us would be happy to speak to your group about international adoption–just drop us a note.

PS – If you’re especially curious, hop over to my family blog to learn more about our adoption experience.

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