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Presentation skills for your big-screen blockbuster

Posted on April 23, 2015 by Leslie Dickson

man with lantern

“Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”. “I believe in the church of Baseball”. “I owe everything to George Bailey”. “Rosebud”. Recognize these? They’re the opening lines of some really great movies. Star Wars, Bull Durham, It’s a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane.

Imagine if these movies had started differently. “In a past scenario, the troop strength of corrupt military-industrial complex had a 500-to-1 equipment advantage over a small but vocal group of dissidents…as you can see in this bar chart on my PowerPoint slide.” Movies show us the power of storytelling to engage and persuade people, don’t they? I got a reminder of this from a great interview with screenwriter and creative writing teacher Robert McKee on Screenwriting for Executives. Whether your interest is in sales presentation, public speaking or simply team communications, this Hollywood advice applies to you.

Of course, storytelling doesn’t replace facts and logic. Its role is to help bring your information to life and make it more persuasive. It helps people understand complex ideas. It inspires, motivates – and gets remembered.

So how do you start developing the plot line of your next presentation? Storytelling is built on examples, metaphors and analogies. Is your story about the battle for market share? Then the hero may be you and your department. Maybe there’s a metaphorical “damsel in distress” who was rescued by the new training in customer service. Or, perhaps you’re explaining major management changes. Is the analogy the exploration of an undiscovered planet? Or getting a hard-case kid onto the championship football team? Or like the two little nuns who made all the difference when they yanked the carburetor out of the Nazis’ chase car in The Sound of Music? Now that’s a story about innovation and initiative!

Once you’ve decided the plot of your story, how do you put it all together? Here are a few speaking tips:

  • Use powerful, concrete words and phrases. For example, in a sales presentation, it’s easy to talk about a new product “providing increased effectiveness.” But it’s more compelling to talk about “no more Saturday catch-up work” or “make a difference to three more people every day.”
  • Laughter is good medicine. It helps people remember. It lightens the weight of a tough message. Of course, make sure it’s relevant and appropriate.
  • Think visually. This isn’t radio – you’re on the big screen. What would be a great prop to convey your message? A black hat and a white hat? A letter from a customer? A tiny pebble, a melted DVD, your grandfather’s pocket watch, the contents of your organization’s lost and found box? Extra credit: make this the only visual in your PowerPoint – or replace it all together.

Presenting your ideas in the form of a story is an emotionally powerful way of sharing the picture you have in your mind’s eye with your listener. If you and your listener are seeing the same picture then you have truly succeeded in conveying your message.

Image by David Sandell

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