What is the most common complaint we hear from people sitting through ineffective slide show presentations? There’s no story! It’s just a bunch of data. The speaker has given us the “show up and throw up” version of the presentation. It’s as if they opened up a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle box and dumped it on the table, expecting us to see the underlying story.
Data alone doesn’t make a message.
What’s the problem?
In every workshop I teach, I’m willing to admit my presentation and speaking mistakes (and there are a lot to pick from!). I’m willing to admit that I’ve done the show up and throw up. Of course in sales we called it the spray and pray. But if you were to ask me, “Why did you do that? Why didn’t you spend more time creating an effective message instead of just dumping data on the audience?” I would have a reason.
Do you want to guess what my reason is? If you’ve done this same thing, I’m guessing we have the same reason… I’m busy! You’re busy! We’re all busy! I just don’t have time!
So what do we do instead? We open up PowerPoint and proceed to dump our thoughts onto the screen. Once on the slides as text, we realize we have other things stacking up on our to-do list, so we hit save and close and decide to just present the ideas.
We’re all busy.
How can we overcome?
We need tools. We need simple, effective, powerful, easy tools!
Most students attending our Visual Storytelling workshop are expecting a class on how to make their PowerPoint slides more engaging. And, of course, that’s what we give them. But, we give them a little surprise lesson at the end too. Something they were never expecting.
Since I’m not a big fan of spoilers, I’ll give you an opportunity to look away right now. I’m about to give you the spoiler of our Visual Storytelling class. It’s the big “a-ha!” the students get at the end of the workshop.
Here’s how it works…
While I would love for each and every one of you to attend our workshop, I also realize you’re busy (we’ve already established that fact!) So, instead, I’ll give you the abbreviated version of the fun way to train your brain to think in stories.
Step 1: Find a Busy Slide you’ve used in the past
Look for a slide that is busy with text or data. Think back to the actual presentation when this slide was presented to the audience. If you left that slide up on the screen for 5 minutes or more so you could talk through some of the material on that slide, you’ve found the right slide!
Step 2: Simplify the slide
You can do this in a few different ways, but here are some thoughts for simplifying. You will want to remove as much extra text on the slide. You will provide the content when you’re speaking. It doesn’t need to be on the slide itself.
The second part of simplification is to look at the slide and determine the key points. Sometimes we provide the metaphor of Where’s Waldo and ask our students to think about their Waldos. How many Waldos do they have on this slide and where are they hiding?
Step 3: Build additional slides as needed
In almost every case, our students take one slide and end up redesigning about 3 or 4 or more slides to take it’s place. With each slide progression, they might just change one element on the slide. So when you show the presentation, it guides the audience from one Waldo to the next. It almost looks like one slide, with several movements or animations to guide the progression from one Waldo to the next.
That’s it! You’re done!
Now check this out…
We ask our students to now think back on the process of what they just did. It is impossible for you to create the slides with a progression through the complex data without first determining the points you wanted to make and how you are going to progress through that content.
That, my friends, is a story. You just created a logical narrative to take all of your data and weave it into a story for the audience. How do I know this is happening in groups? Because as I walk around the room checking in with each group I hear someone in the workgroup say, “What’s the point we’re trying to make with all this data?” or maybe they will ask, “What’s the message we want them to take away?”
My students are asking themselves these questions, not because I taught them a template for a story. It’s only because I asked them to look at their slides of data and simplify the visuals while creating a logical visual flow through the data. What’s the result… a story.
So what can we do?
The next time you are plagued with the exercise of turning your data into a story, look at the data and think about it in two steps:
- Where are my Waldos? (key points or discoveries)
- How will I flow from one to the next? (what’s the narrative?)
We’re all trying to be better presenters and better speakers. It begins with creating a narrative and a story. Remember, a coffee table full of jigsaw puzzle pieces isn’t a story.
Still trying to give my audiences what they came for…
Russ Peterson Jr.
Co-founder of iSpeak
Co-Author of Corporate Ovations