The world today is full of distractions. Technology, work practices and the general hubbub of life means that attracting and engaging an audience has never been so difficult.
However, there is a way to break through the white noise of modern life. We, as humans, love a great story. We like telling them, we like hearing them and we have an uncanny ability to find them everywhere. In short, stories can be the key that unlocks a connection with an audience. They're powerful stuff...
No surprise then, that in recent years, 'storytelling' has become a business buzzword... As is the way with such 'fads', when applied correctly, it's a creative method that allows a presenter to connect and have influence over an audience whilst delivering a message effectively. Equally, when done badly, they are a sure-fire way of losing your audience.
A vital starting point is to ensure your story is relevant to your audience to allow your message to be fully absorbed. After all, what's the point of planning, preparing and living through the nerves of delivering a presentation if the correct message is not being captured by your audience?
So, how do you determine a story is going to be right for your audience?
The first step would be to understand them. Now this can be a daunting task - the most common mistake that presenters make is stereotyping an audience based on job function (you know the sort of thing - all CEOs are maniacal directors, all marketeers want are pretty pictures and all financial people are obsessed with numbers). These stereotypes run the risk of you losing the interest of an audience before you’ve even started.
At Eyeful, we use a tool called an Audience Heatmap to help us analyse an audience at basic level by splitting audience type out in three categories: Factual, Visionary and Emotional. Identifying a personality type helps determine how an audience interacts with one another and the presenter. This builds a solid groundwork for a presenter to start building a 'Storyflow' for a presentation.
So, where to start..?
Naturally, looking close to home and sieving through your own experiences should be your first port of call. Find the transformational moments in your life where something fundamentally changed and new realisations were formed. Equally, an effective story can also be a relevant example of a situation where you helped deliver a difference packs a punch (this is why case studies are such a great addition to sales presentations).
Remember that creating a compelling story doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tell a story like a Blockbuster movie- simply using a story to backup key points and show concepts in action can deliver the result that you’re after. Of course, the opposite applies - if you choose the wrong stories, they run the risk of being self-serving and lose the interest of an audience.
For example, a few years ago a global software provider approached Eyeful to work on a sensitive project; after acquiring a smaller competitor, management were looking to lose 15 percent of the workforce as they merged the two companies. The audience shared many of the internal characteristics of businesses in this sector, full of smart, well paid and opinionated individuals.
Our stakeholder, the European MD, was keen to approach this in a very pragmatic and business-like way – share the facts, demonstrate sound business principles and allow the audience to process the impact after the event.
We took the approach of looking beyond the obvious when reviewing the audience profile using the Audience Heatmap tool. Although it primarily comprised of Factual individuals (working in software can do that to you) the nature of the message would elicit an Emotional response. Pushing ahead with a purely ‘matter of fact’, data driven story would have had a hugely negative effect on the audience. We had to create a story that not only recognised the sensitivity of the message but also painted a positive future for those left.
A tricky balance to achieve… but one that was addressed by turning the focus of the message on the next stage of a longer-term journey. There’s no getting away from it – this was always going to be a tough message to share however by making the story audience centric and by recognising and celebrating the positive impact of everyone involved thus far, the focus was on the next set of challenges that they, as a team, faced.
Therefore, the Audience Heatmap changed to reflect the nature of the message and the volatility of the audience. This allowed us to develop the tone of voice for the presentation accordingly.
So, what's the point?
The fundamental goal for presenters is to prompt their audience to follow a Call to Action; therefore, it is vital to keep them in mind when selecting a story for a presentation. An authentic audience centric story has the power to bring colour and life to a presentation, leaving them with the right message and a Call to Action that delivers results.
So, the next time you are tasked with delivering a presentation, spend time understanding the varying layers of your audience. In most cases, there’s usually more than meets the eye when it comes to people, therefore put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and adapt your story so that it is relevant to your audience.