In the last part of this Presentation Management series of posts, we looked at how it could be beneficial to create short and memorable presentations to allow audiences to recollect your content better. In this part, we look at how stories for business presentations are not exactly like stories in a novel or even an autobiography. They are so much more visual.
How to Create a Story for Business – Formatted to Present
One of the elements of presentation management is that all content is visually available in the slide format. Whether it’s an actual PowerPoint slide, a four-page brochure, a white paper, or even a video, all content is ready for presentation on a screen. When you write your next presentation, which is synonymous with telling your business story, think of story elements from a visual perspective. In presentation management, that’s your end game. That means you need to think about content in a different way – a visual way.
Really? Are Business Presentations Like Children’s Storybooks?
When people run large businesses, they believe that their visual senses are far different from those of a kindergarten child looking at picture-filled storybooks. Yet, it would help if to remember that we humans are programmed to recognize pictures from the day we are born. We did not have to go to school or learn to recognize or write alphabet characters to understand visual content. And that’s the reason why picture-filled storybooks are a classic communication idea that works for all ages. Let us repeat this part:
We are programmed to recognize pictures from the day we are born.
However, you are creating business presentations for a larger age profile that does not include kindergarten children. And that’s a blessing because you can now use both visuals and text. You can quote numbers, and you can also use info diagrams to combine visuals and text. The artists who create children’s storybooks can only use pictures and small sentences with everyday words. Should we not have a higher sense of respect for all artists, teachers, and parents who work with content created for children?
So, in your business story, you can take advantage of the fact that the sumtotal of using visuals and text is more effective than using visuals alone or text alone. In part 3 of this series of posts, we explored Visual Storytelling. We featured Dr. Richard Mayer and his research-based principles.
And even if your business presentations need not be as overly visual as a children’s storybook, be aware that stories are remembered more if they contain pictures–even business storytelling needs pictures.
PowerPoint is an outline. Typically, you open up PowerPoint and start typing in slides, including a headline and some bullet points. When you write a presentation today, you are just filling in an outline. To create better business stories, get out of outline mode and get into story mode.
Here is a five-step approach to help you create better presentations by penning stories that engage your audience and tap into their emotions. We are using PowerPoint as an example because that’s what most people use to create presentations. But you can apply these principles to any medium.
1. Close PowerPoint
Don’t start creating a presentation by opening PowerPoint and filling in slides. Instead, figure out your story as if you were talking to someone about it over coffee. Once you’ve come up with a good story, track down someone — a colleague, a spouse, or a friend — and practice telling them the story to see what they have to say. Working this way forces you out of outline mode and ensures that you can whittle the story down to the essentials that can impact the audience.
While you are telling your story, be imaginative. Try and describe visually using analogies so that your listeners start looking at pictures in their minds.
So, is Story Mode Better than Outline Mode?
We are not saying that you should not create outlines and go completely free-flowing with your thought processes when we say that story mode is preferable to outline mode. We are just saying that you should already have done your research in outline mode.
Now, you know your message and how you will sequence your narrative effectively to bring the audience to the solution or resolution you are proposing. However, it is time to move on and weave a story around your outline. In many ways, getting to story mode is the natural evolution of outline mode to make your presentation more compelling.
How easy or difficult is it to get into story mode? And are there any analogies that can help? You’ll find this analogy by James Ontra mentioned later in this post as well:
Every presentation is a story. Every slide is a scene.
2. Imagine a Three-act Play
Every good story has a setup, a climax, and a resolution. You could also call these elements a beginning, a middle, and an end. Let us explore these elements in detail.
- Setup: Establish the characters and the setting. In business, the characters are the products or services you are selling or the objective of the task or project you are planning. The hero is the main driver of your presentation. The setting is your marketplace, situation, or use case. It’s the environment or the world in which your hero operates. Describe the hero, his situation, and why the hero is important to your audience.
- Conflict: A good setup will lead the audience right into the big problem or obstacle to overcome. These would be the pain points, market analysis, product challenges or failures, and successes for a business presentation.
- Resolution: This is the happy ending — a problem solved, a product sold, a project completed. The outcome should feel meaningful for everyone in your audience. It should answer the question, “So what?”
3. Ask Yourself How Your Story Feels
Emotions drive behavior more than logic. Our friends in the ad business live by this, but the rest of us in the corporate world tend to forget it.
As noted in the previous section, we get so mired in our self-imposed ideas that we forget about the sensory aspect. Attach the corresponding emotions to the So what points in your deck. While you want your stories to connect to your audience’s emotions, you need to make sure that you’re correctly tapping into those emotions. If you tap into the right emotions, you’ll ultimately get them to “act” the way you want.
4. Visualize the Emotions
What do these emotions “look” like? Once you have a handle on how your story feels, it’s time to visualize the content. Match the image to the emotion and use descriptions with images that trigger the senses and activate the brain. Just keep in mind that you support your story and move it forward with the visuals and emotions you choose.
5. Now, Open PowerPoint and Fill in Your Slides
You have the story, you have the motivating emotions, and you have the triggers to make it memorable. The hard work, the thinking part, is done. PowerPoint is merely a conduit to communicate that story. It does not drive your story. The story will drive the slides – words, images, charts, and videos.
Every Presentation is a Story. Every Slide is a Scene.
We went through five steps to create a great presentation. If you followed these principles of presentation management, you would understand that presentations are corporate assets with long-term value – not just one-and-done.
So how do you take the principles of good storytelling, combined with visualization, emotion, and sensory stimulation, and create presentations that any employee can take apart and repurpose for his or her use? After all, in a large organization, many different people are making presentations with different purposes. Every presentation could very well have a different beginning, middle, and end. It’s not one-size-fits-all. We want to empower everyone to be able to create great stories with the library of slides provided.
Make sure every slide is a scene in the bigger story. Each slide should be able to stand on its own. Think of a slide as a subplot within the story. That way, when your team starts mixing the slides in ways that you never dreamed of, they will still create a professional, branded presentation that’s on message.
In the next part of this Presentation Management series of posts, we will look at organizing your slide content.
Presentation Management Series: All Posts
All posts from the Presentation Management series are listed on this page, Presentation Management: The Entire Series.
First, try and answer these questions. Feel free to read the post again if needed. Then, scroll down to below the author profiles to find the answers.
Q1: To create better business stories, get out of outline mode and get into design mode. Is this statement true or false?
Q2: Why should every slide in your presentation be a part of a bigger story?
AlexAnndra Ontra, co-founder of Shufflrr, is a leading advocate for presentation management. She has been providing presentation technology and consulting services to global enterprises for over 15 years.
At Shufflrr, Alex advises Shufflrr clients through the process: from trial to content architecture, through the launch, training, and then on-going software upgrades. She’s hands-on. She is a leading expert in presentation management strategy, implementation, and adaptation.
James Ontra is co-founder and CEO of Shufflrr. His 30-year career has focused on the highest profile presentations for world class companies. His clients have included: American Express, Bloomberg, Epcot Center, Mercedes Benz, NBC Olympics, Warner Bros. and many more.
His vision and strategy have been driving Presentation Management to become a recognized communication discipline. James combined this passion with technical development to build Shufflrr. Presentation Management is smart communication strategy.
Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional), and has been designing and training with PowerPoint for more than two decades. He heads Indezine, a presentation design studio and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India.
Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements–these elements include abstract elements like story, consistency, and interactivity — and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. He explains how these elements work together in his training sessions. He has also authored six books on PowerPoint and Microsoft Office.
A1: False. The answer is to get into story mode, and not design mode. Typically, you open up PowerPoint and start typing in slides, including a headline and some bullet points. When you write a presentation today, you are just filling in an outline. To create better business stories, get out of outline mode and get into story mode.
A2: Make sure every slide is a scene in the bigger story. Each slide should be able to stand on its own. Think of a slide as a subplot within the story. That way, when your team starts mixing the slides in ways that you never dreamed of, they will still create a professional, branded presentation that’s on message.