By explanation, let’s first dig into why stories actually work. At the heart of it stories are a tool for distance management. You see when it comes to getting an audience to listen and take action, the most important thing that you need to do is get them to the optimal distance.
I train in both Kung Fu and Jiu Jitsu and in both creating the optimal distance for what you are trying to do is a critical skill. It’s no different in presentation or public speaking.
If your audience is too close to a topic they lack perspective, you need to create some distance. As my friend, author and speaker Howard Mann always says, “It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.”. When your audience is too close to a topic you use story to create space. If I’m talking to a bank around innovation, I want to get them to embrace a beginner’s mind, so the case studies I give them may be from the airline industry. Once they agree and nod around why something will work there, they will find it a bit more difficult to believe that it can’t work in a bank. However, if I just tell them what they should do I will meet with insider’s-resistance.
Equally, if your audience is too far from a topic, we use stories to bring them closer. I remember watching J. Craig Venter talk at TED and POP!TECH about how he and his team mapped the human genome. The only reason I was able to understand anything at all that he said is that he closed the distance using metaphors. I still don’t understand genomics, but I get his point – and that is the point!
This is where so many speakers fail, they start with the story that they want to tell and not the point that they want to make.
I did a video in this topic that you can watch below:
Look, I hate to break it to you, but generally speaking, unless you are an Olympic-level athlete in whatever field you are in, or you did something so different or out there that we simply need to hear it to believe it – the audience doesn’t care about your story.
As I explain in Here Be Dragons, our job is not to tell our own story, but to sell them a new story in which we play a part.
At Missing Link we see this all the time with our clients. They are invited to do a big pitch so they want us to help them prepare a credentials deck i.e. tell their story.
What we need to do first is understand their customer’s story. What problem do they need solve, and then we build the presentation around the key points that will help them do that. The job of the stories, or in this case, case studies, is to prove the validity of these points.
So yes, story is important but that doesn’t mean that you have to show up and tell yours. It means that you have to find the case studies, metaphors, and anecdotes that will help you drive home the points that you have to make.
In summary, the mistake that we make is that we forget that presentations are not generally a story (although they do follow a structure that you can see here) but rather they use many stories to help create the right distance and as such make the change that we need to make.