I was teaching a class Friday to a group of people who make a number of presentations in a month. Because of this, they had requested presentation skills training but since they are experienced, and beyond the basics I spent more time than usual helping them with some skills that will increase the power of their presentations, not just the clarity.
The best way I've ever found to make a connection with your audience, to make a presentation powerful and to bring down that wall the separates the Presenter from the Presentees is to tell stories.
I know. You're shocked.
Stories are powerful. Stories change attitudes. Stories pull you in, shake you up, affect you. Stories change history and define cultures for crying out loud. A good story sticks with you for days and I know from experience that stories are the best way to create an open environment - one where people can learn and listen and ask questions and be open to make change.
Of course, you can't just tell ANY old story. "One time my toilet backed up and boy was that a mess! Ha ha. You should have seen the plumbing bill. Ha ha." Your story has to be interesting. It has to be emotional and it has to have a (direct or indirect) link to your topic.
Now, you might think it is difficult for people to find a story that does all these things. You'd be right. But, interestingly enough, where most people go wrong isn't that they can't find a story that links to the topic, or even that the story isn't interesting. It's that it isn't emotional. (Note, by "emotional" I only mean it has to have some emotion in it. Not that you have to Jimmy Swaggart it.) Most people don't tell stories. When they do, most people pick the wrong story to tell. They pick the obvious story, not the right story.
Obvious is okay sometimes. I'm trusting my friend, Sam, to talk about this in a post soon. But most of the time, obvious doesn't work.
For example, let's say you are a tree trimmer. Let's say you are talking to a potential client about trimming their trees. No wait, let's say you are at a convention - a home owners convention - and you have this chance to make a presentation on the importance of trimming your trees. Now I know tree trimming is important to you but we - the audience - may not find it so interesting so I'd suggest you tell a story to get us drawn in. But instead of telling the obvious story - for instance, one about tree trimming or about trees or about that time that one guy didn't trim his tree and the tree died or whatever, I'd suggest you tell an UN-obvious story. Tell a story about something else that somehow ties to the tree - or to the emotion you want me to feel about tree-trimming. So instead of getting up there and talking about acorns and oaks, you start by talking about when you were a little boy and you had a book bag that you carried everywhere. Everyone knew you by this book bag. You loved this book bag so much that you didn't even care when people started calling you BookBag Guy - you took it as a compliment. And you'd go on and on about the book bag and how much you loved the book bag and how important the book bag was to you. And then you'd tell about the day your mom threw the book bag away and how you couldn't find it and you were late for school so you went without it and later when you asked about it you found out the trash man had already taken it and it was gone. And you say you never knew how quickly things could change. How you'd taken it for granted. How now that it was gone, you wished you'd taken care of it. You'd tell us how your back felt naked and no one called you anything anymore. You'd be sincere about this. You wouldn't get all misty eyed - that's not you - but you'd laugh a little and you'd say "I swear, it changed my outlook on life - at least until I learned about girls." And we'd all laugh and then .... right then when you had all of us in the audience liking you and listening and thinking about old book bags or blankets or parents or friends or cars or whatever that we'd lost in our lives and missed you'd hit us with
"Trees are like that. No one really misses trees until they are gone. No one thinks about what they provide - shade, oxygen, character - until they aren't there anymore. And unlike a significant book bag which can be replaced by a quick trip to Target, a significant tree takes generations to replace."
Then you'd go into your pitch and I swear I'd sign up then and there for a tree-trimming. And I don't even have a tree.
People want to do business with people they like. I think we all know that. There used to be a time when there was only one of each thing available to us. One car mechanic in town. One Five and Dime. One physician and one tree trimmer. Not so anymore. Do you have a yellow pages still? If so, look up your business in it. Are you the only one listed?
I didn't think so.
I used to work in advertising. In advertising we talk a lot about differentiating. And I get it, I buy it, I know it is important for a business to stand out, to be unique, to offer something exceptional or at least exceptionally different. But people don't do business with businesses, they do business with people.
I think we forget that.
So we put together these amazing pitches or brochures or websites that talk about our businesses. We make them perfect and glossy and we talk about what we do and how many times we've done it and how good we are at it. And we create a great logo and choose the right colors and we practice what we will say a hundred times - and then we get a chance to say it. And we say it perfectly. And it looks amazing.
And we don't get the business.
Because people don't do business with businesses. They do business with people ... people they like.
I'm done with this topic for now.