Persuade with Stories (pt 1)

Storyteller paintingEvery presenter wants their presentation to be a memorable experience for the audience. We want the audience to leave our presentation with new ideas, new perspectives, and new knowledge. If we can affect the audience in some way, allow them to relate to us, and move them emotionally, they are more likely to remember the information we present. What is the secret to accomplishing all of these things? Should we add more bullet points, more images, and more videos to our slide shows? Do we need to add more 3D slide transitions and bouncing text animations? Should we learn to tap dance or juggle? No, of course not. The secret is simple; we need to become better storytellers!

But what does it mean to be a storyteller, and how does this skill apply to a PowerPoint presentation? Let’s ask the experts!


Nancy Duarte: What is the shape of a great presentation? Nancy Duarte is a successful author and the CEO of Duarte Design, a cutting-edge presentation design firm in Mountain View, California. Her 2011 talk at Tedx East is one of my favorite resources for illustrating the power of storytelling, and the power of eliciting an emotional response from an audience. She uncovers the hidden structure that can be found in great presentations, using MLK’s “I have a dream” speech and Steve Job’s unveiling of the iPhone presentation as examples. Do your presentations flow? Do you present the “what is” followed by the “what could be?” Are you motivated enough to change the world?


Ken Burns: 1+1=3. If you are a photographer, or if you have ever made an animated slide show with images, you are already familiar with the “Ken Burns Affect.” Ken Burns popularized the effect in his award winning documentary films, and he knows how to develop a story. His documentaries bring history to life, rather than simply presenting the facts in chronological order, and he “manipulates” the audience’s emotions. In his Baseball documentary, he doesn’t just present the facts about Jackie Robinson and the racial issues that he faced as the first black MLB player. Burns accesses the audience’s emotions by presenting another side of the story, the dilemma of a racist Brooklyn Dodger’s fan and the decision they were faced with – to turn their back on the team, or learn to change themselves for the better. He finds the human side, and his films become something more. Is the whole of your presentation greater than its parts? Are you presenting new perspectives that touch the emotions of your audience?


Robert McKee: Is PowerPoint persuasive? Robert McKee is a highly sought-after creative writing instructor and screenwriting lecturer. He has trained many famous people in his time. He also knows a thing or two about presentations, which he (in my mind, accurately) describes as a form of persuasion. His video below focuses on business presentations, but his words are also applicable to health sciences presentations. We are, after all, trying to convince the audience to believe our data and see things from our perspective. The question is, which of the three general methods of persuasion do we use in our presentations? Do we use rhetoric (typical PowerPoint, nothing more than “data” and “authority” to prove the validity of your facts), coercion (bribery, seduction, etc.), or storytelling? Storytelling is the clear winner and is the most effective because it doesn’t hide anything from the audience, including the struggles or negative aspects of your journey, and therefore, the audience is more likely to trust you and believe your message. You can weave stories into your presentation by including anecdotes in-between the pieces of fact and authority. In his words, “PowerPoint presentations rarely persuade anyone.” But he’s talking about normal, boring presentations filled with rhetoric! How about your presentations? Are you persuading the audience with stories? Or, are you just presenting the facts?


Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, in which I will provide specific ideas for incorporating this technique into your presentations at UCSF!

PS: Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog provided inspiration and links for this post, so head over there and follow his blog, too!

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