We go to movies and watch stories unfolding on the big screen. We sit on our couch and watch stories unfold on the small screen. We pick up a book, magazine or newspaper and read stories.
Weeks, months, years, even decades later we remember those stories.
We trust stories to amuse us; but we also trust stories to make us reflect on issues like justice, freedom, equality, living and working together harmoniously, and – of course – love.
But what happens when we have to make a presentation at work, or a speech on stage? In my experience working with executives and professional speakers, we sometimes lose our faith in the power of stories. Instead we pin our faith on facts.
It’s as if, subconsciously, we believe stores are for recreation – not information. A lot of executives – and professional speakers – are more comfortable reciting facts than they are telling a story. And it rarely occurs to them to wrap their facts in a story.
Many years ago, I had a banking client who developing a web program for customers. The VP of marketing wanted buy-in for the project from the bank managers and executives. So this is what she wanted to present – complete with a slideshow of bullet points, graphs and pie charts:
If a farmer with 300 acres makes $50,000 per annum, they will go online maybe once per week. If a farmer with 500 make $75,000 per annum, they go one line about twice a week. If a farmer with 750 acres make $100,000 per annum, they go one line about twice a week. If a farmer with 1,000 acres make $150,000 per annum, they go one line about four times a week. So the more acres, the more income annually, the more times they go online.
You can imagine the slide deck. The stats were important, because they would determine the customers the bank would target. But delivered in a data bomb like that, they were impenetrable.
I suggested wrapping the facts in a story. Then showing selected stats to reinforce the message. The bank had surveyed their customers to get all these facts, but for the purpose of this exercise the VP and I made up a fictional customer:
Joe Kowlaski has been a farmer for over 50 years. He has over 1,000 acres of wheat. He’s Ukrainian and pretty traditional. His wife Anna runs the their home. There’s always plenty for Joe and Anna to do, especially now their 3 kids are all in university. They live comfortably on the $200,000 they make a year. Most days after supper, Joe takes out his laptop, puts it on the kitchen table and goes online. We found that farmers like Joe who have over 1,000 acres and make more that $150,000 per annum go online at least four times a week. We also found the less acreage, the less income, the fewer times a week a farmer goes online.
After the story, we would show the graph to reinforce the facts. The story of Joe puts a human face on the facts. It sets the scene for the rest of the information the bank found. It makes the case for the web page – which is the buy-in the VP wanted.
So story is not just for recreation. It will deliver information, fact, figures. But it does it subtly. It’s way more effective than a data dump. It makes facts digestible and messages memorable. It’s the most important tool you have in your speaking arsenal to get your message across and make it stick.