Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making a Powerful Presentation -How story telling helps

Presentations have been used as a powerful tool to persuade your target audience in a business environment. The earliest written work by Aristotle called ‘Rhetoric’ (~ 367 BC) is being referred quite often by people who want to study Public speaking. I have not attempted to read the entire works by him but got to read the summary of same.

The end result of a presentation is to persuade the audience to say “YES” to what you want as an outcome. The YES can be a decision or a call to action. Aristotle says that you can persuade by appealing to “logos” -rational mind, “pathos”-emotional mind or through “ethos”- by the personality or character of the speaker. These principles are timeless and still hold as much true as they were in fourth century BC.

Now take a moment and think of few situations
-          a situation when you bought something from a shopkeeper or a salesman
-          You arrived at a decision while attending a business presentation
-          You took actions after being advised by your boss

In my experience, the guiding energy behind all my decisions or a call to action was logos, pathos and ethos. I have been into situations where I am being persuaded by people who I like or I have respect for – we all go for it actually. Sometimes we bypass logic or emotions as well because he says so. Many times I have seen presenter making use of his position and personality to persuade or influence audience. In my two decades of corporate experience, I have seen business presenters making use of logos and ethos as their persuasion method .I have seldom seen presenters using the “pathos” or emotional mind .This is a bias which exist till date and may need a correction in coming years.      

The bias may have come because historically corporate honchos unconsciously relate the emotional mind/pathos to artistic/poetic things and business to logos/rational mind. I see a bias in corporate thinking that they have always given a preference to thinking mind over feeling mind. We forget that people sitting in the room are human beings first & businessman later. We should also not forget that in the total history of life on this planet earth, human beings exist for a relatively shorter duration and have a longer history of being animals and other living beings but not human beings.

When I look at presentations being used as a means to motivate or call to action, emotions play important role in getting a person motivated towards taking action. Even for a presentation that involves decision-making, you need to go beyond numbers…to be more effective.
Presenters sometimes confused “story telling” as “telling stories”-both are different.
“Story telling” is not in conflict with “fact telling”. In fact it complements. If you put all facts in a sequential connected way than the “whole” becomes bigger then parts. Stories are like a soul to the presentation. Stories live forever .They live beyond the life of presenter and their impact goes out of the room beyond presentation. Storytelling helps you to engage with your audience in a much better way, Storytelling is also not about using stories in your presentations.
It was interesting for me to see some case studies where people have used statistical data to prove that use of statistics can be more persuasive. I think story telling makes facts more memorable. When I discussed this with a friend of mine who is a neurosurgeon, what he told me was quite interesting. He told me that our long term memory and our emotions come from the same part of brain called limbic system of our paleomammalian brain. Studies have been done that by invoking feelings, we can improve recall of facts.
If presentations are dull or difficult to follow and do not answer the question of Why? I do not think they will be effective in conveying their message clearly & effectively. The advantage with a story is that it is convenient for the presenter to share, it is pleasant to listen for the audience and last but not the least you can remember it easily as it has high recall value.

Yes it does mean that when you create a sequence, you will ignore some facts as not all facts will be in sequence but ignoring facts is not same as hiding inconvenient truth or facts. Also story telling means that there is a surprise element in there for the audience. A good presenter will take his audience together with him for that surprise element.That's all for this post.Please let me know where are you with your presentations?     

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