Get heard. Throw out the predictable and get personal.
I just came back from London where I was helping a client company develop a speakers' bureau. We had sixteen people working to develop a presentation, and even though each person was delivering the same message, each presentation was distinct and surprising--saturated with the unique personality of the speaker.
The reason the talks were so effective? We insisted that everyone dig deep to discover personal stories relevant to the messaging.
I'm a speech writer and presentation consultant and I can tell you that most internal business presentations are not like the ones we built in London. Most business presentations are predictable and lack personality.
You know the drill. They begin with a title slide, followed by an agenda slide with a list of topics to be covered. Then each topic is addressed using bullet-point slides and/or data slides, and then at the end, the summary.
These presentations are generally adequate for internal purposes. They allow busy presenters to transmit valuable information to busy colleagues. But they are not suitable for leadership or external communication.
Why? Because, while a predictable format may be efficient for internal use, it is not effective for engaging disengaged employees, or for potential customers who find it hard to distinguish one company from another.
Predictability is a kind of camouflage. When you play it safe and come across like every other presenter, you blend in. In fact, you can disappear.
However, if you create a contrast between yourself and the standard way of doing things, you get attention, get heard, and get remembered.
One way to create a contrast is to make a point by wrapping it in a personal story. The wrapping will make your content special, like a gift, even though it may be simple and mundane.
For instance, I started my company because I was ashamed that my 8-year-old daughter had more courage than I did. I had wanted to strike out on my own for years, but I couldn't pull the trigger. When I drove her to the New Jersey State Piano Championships, I could see she was trembling in the passenger seat. But when her name was called, she climbed on that piano bench and played her piece--not well on that day, but she put herself in play. The next day, a Sunday, I drove to my boss's house and told him I was leaving.
We all know that stories don't take the place of reason and statistics, but they can enliven both. So, yes, you need to read some bullet points and, yes, you need to show data. But you will be more interesting if you also tell stories that are relevant to your point.
There are many kinds of stories. There are stories you've heard, or read, or seen on TV. There are family stories, stories from the pages of history, stories about celebrities, or stories that you have because you experienced an event yourself. Any one of these can be very effective. But I have a bias. I think personal stories are potentially the best because they have the ring of truth when you tell them.
I say potentially the best because the success of a story depends on how it's told and its relevance to your message. So, you need to practice telling it, to keep it short and relevant.
About a mile into the woods in upstate New York, my childhood friends and I found a hillside covered with skinny dead trees. We quickly learned we could knock them down with our bare hands.
So up we went, to the top of the hill. We stuffed leaves into our sweaters to look like the Incredible Hulk. Descending in a row, we felled the trees with our eight-year-old fists. The trees wobbled and cracked. Dead wood fell from the sky, and dust rose in the air. We called that place Super Man Land, and we went back there as often as we could.
I am no longer a child. I do not find adulthood as magical as childhood. I have not knocked a tree down with my bare hands in 39 years, and I'm not sure I've ever felt such pure exhilaration as I did on that day.
But the memory is vivid, the story is real, and every time I tell it I smell the leaves and hear the crack and crash of the wood. I have no hard evidence, but I think it brands me as a passionate guy, and helps me win business.