Monday, 28 April 2014

Ditch the storytelling structure for your business presentation, but use personal stories to bring corporate messaging alive

I had a little rant recently, suggesting: There's too much talk about Storytelling, not enough about how, when and when NOT to apply storytelling principles’.  Well, last week a nice example of what I was talking about came up when I was coaching a PR executive in Presentation Skills.

The brief was to create a presentation about her agency with the objective of encouraging other bright young executives that this was the agency to join.  So, in true Lewis Carroll ‘Begin at the beginning…’-style, she started off thus: “First, a bit of background: we were founded in 1984 by….”.

“Hang on a minute”, I said, “what was the brief?” “To encourage young PR executives that this is the best place to come and work”, she responded.  “So why are you starting off with ancient history?”, I said, “none of them were even born until some years after that date!”

As with the construction of so many business presentations, all the information was there; it was just in the wrong order to work as a truly engaging piece of communication. In this case we thought again about our audience. They were people who were keen to progress their careers and wanted an exciting place in which to work. So a bit of excitement should be first on the agenda. We re-constructed the presentation as follows:

1.  Open with three of the most high profile and dynamic pieces of work recently undertaken recently by the agency; the examples also display a broad range of different types of work.  This should engage the audience immediately – hey, this is the kind of work I would like to do!

2.  A little bit of background – we were founded in 1984 etc. Placed here, this is designed as reassurance that it is also a ‘robust’ agency – they do great work and it looks they can offer job security too.

With the audience now actively and suitably engaged, you can relax a little, show some case histories, encourage discussion etc. 

Then you need high focus once more for the all-important ‘Call to Action’ at the end – the moment when the presenter spells out what she wants the audience to do as a result of her presentation. My client was very clear that her big message was ‘this is the place for the best young PR people to come and work’ and she chose to wrap this up in the company’s stated values. My view was that this was a good approach, but if she simply ran through the words, that is how it would probably be perceived – as a bunch of words. To make it work for her she needed to pick one of those values and tell a story about how it related to an experience she had had while working at the company. As well as making the values come to life, the audience would be able to relate to those values, through the speaker – here is someone like me, living a life that I would like to live myself.

By thinking strategically – and rather ruthlessly - about storytelling structure, but then building in personal insights at key moments, your presentation really can remain ‘happily ever after’ in the minds of your audience.

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