December 19, 2017 • 3 minute read • by Saeed
“All of us contain music and truth, but most of us can’t get it out.” ~ Mark Twain
Professionals love data. Audiences don’t.
We love to present data. Power Point presentations are full of data. We love charts and graphs and analytical data. Presenting data makes us feel smarter. It says we’ve done our homework and we know our stuff.
But guess what? Nobody cares.
For the audience to make a connection with you, your product, your client, or whatever you are presenting on, they have to have a reason to care. That reason to care is emotional, not analytical. Even master orators like President Obama can put people to sleep. So how do we make the audience care? The answer is story.
What is story?
The term story means “connected account or narration of something happening.” A story, then, has five basic but essential elements that connect the narrative.
The setting is the location of the action. This could be a city or inside a one room school house. Unusual settings can be interesting but everyday setting can help audiences better visualize the story and feel connected to the plot. Sometimes, the setting is so strong, that it becomes another character in the story.
The characters are the individuals that the story is about. Every story has a main character which is called the protagonist. The protagonist determines the way the plot will develop and is usually who will bring the story to resolution (another story element).
A story has a plot. A plot should have a very clear beginning, middle, and end. This allows the audience to make sense of the action and follow it from start to finish.
Every story has a conflict to (re) solve. The plot is centered on this conflict and the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the conflict.
Finally, every story must resolve. It’s important that the resolution solve all parts of the conflict. It’s also important that the solution is not implausible. The resolution should make sense to the rest of the story.
A final Word…
The above elements are by no means exhaustive. There are other elements to a story such as the narrator (storyteller), the time, the sequence, the climax, exposition, point of view, rising and falling action and the moral of the story. But every story must contain at least the 5 elements to connect the narrative. For a story to work, each of these elements should be present and developed fully.
Story is not for everyone. When first exposed to story, hard core data wonks think it’s ridiculous. None of this “touchy feely” stuff for me, they say. “I was trained as a researcher,” they say. “I was trained to look for facts, and evidence, and to think analytically.”
All I can say is keep an open mind. The story framework has benefited me in my work in countless ways. I’m not suggesting that you replace data with story but that you compliment data with story. I’m suggesting that you explain your data through stories. The success of your presentation is, after all, determined by how compelling it is.
The power of a story will appeal to an audience in a way that data does not. People relate easily to stories and therefore they will be more easily able to relate to you. You’ll appear more human when telling stories. You won’t bore your audience if you tell your story well. You won’t need as many notes and you can be spontaneous. Stories make facts more digestible. Stories help us connect to the data on an emotional level. But keep it brief and keep it simple. A great presenter is made not by what they say, but by what they choose not to say.
Take it from me. I know from my experience that when I am telling a story to an audience, the music and truth are coming out.
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