“I learned a long time ago that reality was much weirder than anyone’s imagination.” – Hunter S. Thompson
The most influential people move us with a powerful story. The art of storytelling has been used to control, liberate, manipulate, entertain and enlighten. We all have free will and choose to listen to, watch and interact with people that capture our attention and somehow address our inner most desires. But in our modern society with technology as the prominent vehicle that delivers much of our communication; how can we make our stories more effective?
In the good old days of three martini lunches and big expense accounts, there were big marketing departments to find the compelling stories and refine presentations for the executive to deliver like a revered sage of all-things-business. But with today’s ultra lean organizations; we need to find more new & efficient ways to make our stories stand out.
Define Your Objectives
What is the desired outcome? Why are you valuable? What is the best way to deliver your message with impact? Those were some of the questions we revisited when we recently updated our website and sales presentation. Along the way to defining the objectives of our message, we were reminded of the importance of providing meaningful content that was relevant to the needs of our ideal audience and to demonstrate the quality of our work in a more experiential way.
Just as we would go through the client needs analysis process with our prospective clients, we need to sit down and be thoughtful about our motives and goals when it comes to telling our story.
Who is your ideal audience? Before trying to feel out the room or even entering a room, create a profile of your ideal audience. Start with an exercise with people you already know. Let’s say your goal is to convince a decision-maker to invest in you and/or your services, you can think about your friend Ethan, the venture capitalist or your colleague Cynthia, the chief marketing officer and ask yourself these questions:
- How would they respond to this aspect of this story, this anecdote, etc?
- Is this concept familiar to them or would it require some explanation?
- What are the two or three most important objectives they have right now?
If you have any colleagues or personal friends that are in a similar role as the decision maker to whom you will be presenting, set up a meeting to do a mock presentation. You can also offer to treat them to lunch as a token of appreciation for their time and feedback.
Sometimes you may have to get creative and make them up. You might consider looking to market segmentation profiles for inspiration. Market research firms have put a lot of resources towards studying lifestyle demographics. We had some fun with Prizm Lifestyle Segmentation for some of the work that we’ve done in the past. As another exercise, discover what you can come up with using this wealthy, “Young Digerati” as your muse:
Keep developing your personal credibility. In her Lynda.com course: Public Speaking Fundamentals, author Laura Bergells advises us to build up credibility in a few seconds by demonstrating confidence and competence. Prepare to be dressed as the expert that you are. Keep up or develop the habit of standing up straight and making eye contact with an audience member. Get into the habit of making the first words that come out of your mouth carry the tone of boldness, clarity and strength with a focus on assertiveness rather than aggressiveness.
Continue to enrich yourself both professionally and personally. Lifelong learners stay sharp and current. We have found that subscribing to Lynda.com, has been a good investment towards professional development. You can also explore this useful list of 20 places to educate yourself online for free. Another useful piece of advice is to explore a few strong openings such as a compelling open-ended question, a bold statement that has their minds working immediately or by guiding your audience to imagine something. You can also see this at work on the provocative headlines on Buzzfeed.com or the captivating titles on The Verge.com.
After being thoughtful about your direction and making sure your content is relevant, it’s time to put those ideas into action.
Involve Your Audience to a Higher Degree
“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.” – Confucius
Engagement. Connection. Interactive. The impact that social networking has made in the lives of the masses and the fact that the video game industry has recently surpassed both the movie and the music industry in revenue is proof of this. There are a few things to consider such as their business model but on a simple human level, many have demonstrated that they want to be a part of the story.
Here are a few things to consider as part of your content and delivery:
Stimulating the modern, sophisticated and tech-savvy audience. When investing time and attention, many if not all of today’s audience want to be awed or be educated and learn something useful. After all, there are many other distractions we can choose from. So tap into your natural enthusiasm and bring the energy. Be straight forward and transparent about your intentions and try to add some levity to the presentation. If you aren’t a natural comedian, try including personal references of the people you know that are going to be a part of your meeting. You can also do this verbally but it’s even more powerful when you include it in your visual presentation, such as pasting their social media profile picture within the presentation to illustrate a point. The point being, you are including them into your story. This should go without saying but be respectful and put them in a favorable light.
Does your content address how to meet their goals? Depending on the stage of your relationship, you may have to discover that on the spot by simply asking them. Try asking them about general goals that you have solutions for such as sales growth, awareness, or expansion. If you don’t have something that fits, you either need to spend more time uncovering the benefits of your offerings or be ready to accept that this relationship may not be the right fit and allow everyone to move forward with mutually-beneficial partnerships.
The wisdom in play. Find a way to have your audience experience what you are talking about such as including an audience participation segment. For example, if you have invested in give-away premiums, have a quick and simple trivia game that rewards people for remembering the most salient points of the presentation. Or have an interactive component to your visual presentation such as Poll Everywhere. This is used in classrooms to engage 21st century learners by using a real-time polling app. The audience can answer via text message. The answers can be displayed on the web or on your PowerPoint presentation.
Start Strong, End Strong
Leave a lasting impression that demonstrates your integrity, intelligence, confidence and competence. People feel safe in the hands of someone who personifies respect, success and evolved being. So align yourself with these qualities as you leave them with one more story of how you can contribute to their business’ as well as their own well-being and growth.
Remember that you share the same core human drives as your audience, leave them feeling inspired and empowered but most of all deliver on your promises with honesty and genuine care.
So how do we make sure that our story is worth listening to? Know your goals, know yourself, keep learning, know your audience as best as you can, inspire them to get involved and end strong leaving a sense of connection. In other words: Put some love into it.
With much gratitude to our sources: Lynda.com | Business Story Telling with C.C. Chapman Lynda.com | Public Speaking Fundamentals with Laura Bergells Lifehack.org| 20 Places to Educate Yourself Online for Free Claritas.com | Prizm Market Segmentations