PASS – Present A Simple Story

trombone by FaceMePLS
Nonprofit Presenters: What are your best tips for preparing presentations?:
[Via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media]

Humans often deal with a complex world by using simple stories, simple rules of thumb (or heuristics for the technobabblers). We use stories to teach us how to behave, how to react, etc. Almost any ad tells some sort of story.

The presentations that stick with people long after the talk are almost always based on a storytelling tradition. The same tools and tricks used by the teller of the Iliad still work, even in front of a small audience using a digital projector.

Beth Kanter gives a lot of presentations every year. Here are some of her thoughts:

Earlier this week, I was inspired by my good colleague, Alan Levine (aka Cogdog), I visited Save the Words. It’s an interactive flash site that lets users find and adopt words that are in danger of being removed from the dictionary.

I adopted the word archiloquy. It’s the first part of a speech or presentation. That’s the most important part of your presentation because you need to grab the audiences’ attention. I use a variety of techniques to do this, but one of my favorites is to create a story. I learned this from Andy Goodman — I’ve taken his workshops and read his books.

Andy is a master at storytelling. In his workshops, he offers the following formula for a storytelling based on Hollywood script writing:

  • Introduce the central character
  • Inciting moment: something bad happens to the character that will prevent them from achieving a goal related to the goal of your presentation
  • Barrier to resolution #1: Character tries to solve the problem, but can’t
  • Barrier to resolution #2: Character tries to solve the problem, but can’t
  • Resolution: What you’re going to share in your presentation
  • Widen the Lens: The bigger picture

I’ll have to help revive archiloquy. There are only 41 hits or so for the word on Google but it is a really useful term. The beginning of a presentation is the most critical to get people on board for the story you are about to tell.

Putting real thought into the start of a presentation, and to what sort of story you want to tell, are very important items to check off when preparing a talk.

As with any story, if you can make it personal, and make the audience connect with the narrative, you have engaged their attention. But remember PASS – Present A Simple Story.

You do not need to make the presentation a Shavian critique or a Swiftian satire. There is a nice legend (another way of saying story) that suggests there are only two types of narratives: a hero goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town.

Andy uses the former mode – the hero goes on a journey to achieve a goal that has been stymied. The latter also works quite well because the stranger coming to town almost always brings change. Here is one mode of this story:

  • Introduce the town (perhaps in Iowa), which does not realize it yet but it is about to change forever
  • The stranger arrives, bearing the tools of change (say 76 trombones, or perhaps only a novel way for communicating with others)
  • Describe how the town reacts to these tools (perhaps by thinking the stranger is a fraud or by not understanding why they have to change)
  • Show how a member of the village, perhaps a previously neglected member of the town with a lisp, finds the new tools open up avenues of success unseen before
  • The town is changed forever by these new tools and the stranger moves on (or he can stay and marry the town’s librarian/piano teacher)

Which of these two stories you use really depends on whether you want the audience to adopt the viewpoint of the hero or of the town. But using just one of only two archiloquies helps you Present A Simple Story.

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