Guest post by Jim Harvey

It sounds like a presentation trainer’s cliche, but it’s not. In business presentations, the story is the thing. There’s a skill and a structure to creating interesting and compelling narratives. A craft started in the verbal tradition by prehistoric man, developed by the ancient Greeks, sharpened by the French, the Italians, Spanish and British over centuries, is now made into a global, multi billion dollar industry by the Americans. Telling stories with a message is what people have always sought to do. And those who are good at it have real value in the places they live and work.

Children are brought up on stories with a beginning, middle and end. Adults expect a point, a message, interesting characters, love, laughter, joy, tears and pity, and are disappointed if they don’t get them. Then we go to school, university, college and work and all of the joy seems to disappear. And we get talked at. Why? Because people don’t apply the simplest of the story-telling crafts to the most important parts of their life. Story structure? Ignore it at your peril or understand that when you’ve got a strong story, everything else will follow. How do we do it then? Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask ‘if I were them what would be interesting, useful and relevant to know and understand about this subject?’
  2. Brainstorm everything you could say on the subject onto a single piece of paper.
  3. Consult with key members of the audience about what it is they want to know, don’t want to know. Then decide what you absolutely have to tell them.
  4. Go back to your brainstorm and highlight those things that now will feature in your presentation and write your presentation objectives- In this presentation I will show X, Y and Z, and explain how we came to this decision. Then I will tell them exactly what I think they need to do and by when, to make the most of their investment.
  5. Build the storyboard- Act by act (See a classic 3-act structure) and keep on grinding until there’s a real rational, logical path through the presentation.
  6. Create a storyboard that tells the story with key scenes & content from each part.
  7. Create the visuals to support the storyboard.
  8. Add a high impact prologue (introduction) and epilogue (conclusion).
  9. Build your ‘script’ through rehearsal and repetition out loud rather than writing it out.
  10.  Write your script to the level you require (bullet points are best but in some very important or sensitive presentations you have to be scripted word for word).

Jim Harvey is the MD of Allcow Communications, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.

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