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The power of story

April 6, 2010

notepad page with "once upon a time" in textThe Heath brother’s book, Made to Stick, is terrific. While it wasn’t written with presentations in mind, it all applies really well.

One of the best points in the book is the power of story. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I like it and the more I realize just how important it is. Recently I took that thought a bit further and it occurred to me that story is a darn good metaphor for the entire presentation process:

  • Your words have the same place as the text in a book–they are the narrative, they carry the story.
  • Your visual aids are like the illustrations–alone, they aren’t the story but they can clarify, amplify and reinforce the story.
  • Like any good story, a presentation needs a strong opening and a memorable ending.

Stories are really powerful ways to connect with your audience and get them to both understand and remember your points. The key reason is that stories are concrete, not abstract. The more that your presentation feels abstract, the harder it is for people to relate to it–and that means harder to understand and remember.

Our brains are “wired” for telling stories, listening to them and remembering them (see Medina’s Brain Rules also). For thousands of generations we lacked a written language, so passing down information had to be done verbally–invariably in story form.  Knowing the stories wasn’t just fun, it was survival for the individual and the culture.

To work, stories don’t need to be dramatic or fancy.  Stories are about someone, doing something, with an outcome.  That’s it. Simple and direct. Naturally, your stories need to be appropriate to both the audience and your topic. Your stories become concrete examples, things the audience will relate to and things they have a good chance of remembering.

Want to have more impact?  Tell more stories!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2010 06:34

    Amen!!

    I read “Made to stick” one year ago. It is one of the books that has had more influence on me in the last years. I recommend it to everybody. And yes, it has many good things to apply to the presentations world (I’m also interested in it).

    One of the things that called my attention was that…

    “[stories] provides simulations (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act) […] both benefits are geared to generating action.” (p. 206)

    And after that paragraph, the authors tell a story about Xerox repairmen working with photocopiers as a good example of stories as simulation.

    The book “A whole new mind” by Daniel H. Pink has also an entire chapter dedicated to Story. I also recommend this great book. There is an interesting concept about organizational storytelling, “which aims to make organizations aware of the stories that exist within their walls”.

    Finally, I’d like to recommend another book that I’m currently reading: “The Story Factor – Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling” by Annette Simmons.

    @carlescv

    • April 10, 2010 09:44

      Carles — agreed. Dan Pink’s book is excellent and on my ‘bookshelf’ as well of course. The organization storytelling has become a significant business for a few folks. And thanks for the pointer to the other book. My ‘to be read’ shelf is overflowing but I always like input for more.

Trackbacks

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