In a bad presentation, everyone loses. The presenter misses the valuable feedback; the audience, the valuable message. In this two-part series, we discuss the power of storytelling and how you can hone the craft.
For those who have ever been involved in a tech presentation, whether it be as a presenter or as part of the audience, this may sound familiar– a crowded meeting room, someone leading a presentation about what the team is developing next, slide after slide is rotated as a nervous speaker rambles on. Or perhaps you were on a pitch about a great new product idea, but at the end of the day, in most cases, the presentation goes nowhere.
A big part of the reason why many presentations fail pertains to the messaging. Was the message even received by the audience? Likely not. These presentations were not designed with the audience in mind, leaving the information to be misunderstood or completely missed altogether.
The typical presentation
There’s a topic to be explained, so we add all the valuable information we can think of in the presentation, along with some graphics. After all the information is spat out onto 80 PowerPoint slides, we reach our “thank you” slide and call it a day.
Don’t feel bad, we’ve all done this. The problem is that, as developers, we think that what we are presenting is not “rocket science,” and yet we don’t share the information in a manner that is digestible by our audience.
There are many ways to present a concept or topic, but perhaps the most effective method is through storytelling.
What is storytelling?
Through storytelling, a speaker brings elements and practices from the narrative world into meetings and presentations, from the planning phase to delivery.
What separates us as a species is our ability to tell and share stories; our ability to imagine the world, to understand what’s beyond, what’s important, even if it didn’t happen to us. Stories allow us to engage, experience, feel and understand why it is important that we do what we do– and nothing is more powerful than understanding why it is important that we do what we do. This is the way it is because stories talk about problems, and problems are about people.
Stories are a natural and flexible way of communicating. At the same time, they are a powerful tool that allows the storyteller to take a position and present things from a specific point of view. The stories people choose to tell or retell say a lot about their interests and concerns.
What are stories good for?
Stories can serve a multitude of purposes. They can be a starting point for a product idea discussion or help us explore a design concept, and of course, there are stories that simply entertain. Let’s take a deeper dive into what stories can do for us.
- Stories explain: Stories can describe a context or situation, and help us illustrate problems. Most stories offer a description of events—a narrative. They place a set of actions in time and place, arranging them into a sequence.
- Stories engage imagination: A narrator can help the audience make intuitive leaps that surpass linear logic and evoke new ideas. Stories rely on the way listeners create mental images because they fill in the gaps and complete the images to fully create the story. Our human ability of filling the gaps make stories a good way to spark innovation. You start by conceptualizing a new product or an alteration to the environment. Then you tell a story about it, showing how people behave differently in that new situation.
- Stories create shared understanding: Sharing stories about a user can align a team toward a common goal. These stories can be examples of the problems a product will solve or a vision of what life might be like with our solution.
- Stories increase retention: When someone tells us a story, it becomes ours for a moment; we own it. In addition, as many stories contain morals and values, the listener has an increased chance of retaining the information. Always keep this in mind: Stories are remembered, data is not.
- Stories persuade: Because they are so compelling, stories can change people’s minds, at times even persuading others to side with your opinion.
Focus on your audience
As stories can serve different purposes, we do not tell the same stories to everyone. It all depends on our goal as a speaker. So, the question at this point should be: who are we telling our story to?
We tell stories to the development team about our client’s needs and how we can help them solve problems, leading them to build amazing products.
We tell them to marketing teams, so they can broadcast an alluring message and help lead users to the path we built for them.
We tell a story to executives, justifying the ROI of innovation of our product, and the list goes on.
In each case, the story materializes in the minds of the listeners. So, one of the most important things to understand is your audience. Do not include every single detail or motivation. A carefully crafted story contains only the information that would be pertinent or interesting to your audience in a way that leaves the story open to their interpretation. Trust your listeners to interpret some of the story for themselves, and you will find a more engaged audience.
In part two of this series, we continue to discuss storytelling, taking another step toward better presentations by focusing on how to craft a story.
Latest posts by Pedro Laplaza
- Storytelling: How to Craft an Impactful Story - March 12, 2020
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