1: As business professionals, we’ve been trained how to prove our point. To win the day, we are taught to find the right data and evidence to support our desired outcome.
“Proving is mustering the strongest analytical processes and evidence to support your conclusion,” writes Esther Choy in Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success.
There is, however, a powerful complement to “proving” our point. As leaders, by learning to tell powerful stories, we are also able to “persuade” our audience. By using our words in addition to data and numbers, “we can boost the impact of [our] message dramatically,” writes Esther, and prevent our “audience from drowning in an ever-rising sea of information.”
Our brains are wired for stories, Esther tells us. When we know and use the elements of storytelling, we dramatically improve our effectiveness.
To be a compelling communicator, we must not only be the scientist who “must prove the rigor of their findings,” but also the politician who “persuades and rallies voters through carefully crafted communication that uses strategic messages and selective facts to arouse emotion and support,” observes Esther.
2: We begin by seeking to understand our audience. How and what we present will vary according to who we are talking to. Before any presentation, Esther recommends asking three questions:
o What is the makeup of the audience? What do they need to know?
o What is it I want my audience to remember? After listening to my presentation, my goal is for my audience to remember _________. Esther recommends no more than three major points expressed in 10 or fewer words each.
o Outside of my topic, what are the most pressing challenges my audience is currently facing? What keeps them up at night?
3: To understand our audience, Esther references a Harvard Business Review article which outlines five different types of people or groups:
o Intelligent Outsiders: “These are people who have no previous exposure to [our] area of expertise or in-depth training in data analytics. They are, nonetheless, intelligent, and oftentimes are well-educated and demanding audience members who are both familiar with [our] industry and do not appreciate material being dumbed down,” Esther writes.
o High-level Cross-functional Colleagues: “These are [our] organization’s ‘A-Team,’ colleagues from marketing, operations, finance, accounting, sales, human resources, and other areas, who are familiar with [our] topic and seek more refined understanding and especially knowledge about how your topic could impact their areas.”
o The Boss: “As in, [our] boss. This is [our] direct manager, the person who not only has to understand but also stand by your work.”
o The Head Cheese(s): Our “manager’s managers, or people sitting even higher up in [our] organization. These are extremely busy executives with little time or patience.”
o Fellow Experts: “Especially in academia, think tanks, or research organizations, it is possible that those in the audience seats are fellow experts who know just as much about [our] topic as [we] do, if not more.”
Each audience type requires a different mix of proving and persuading.
Reflection: What is my “go to” presentation style – proving or persuading?
Action: Be intentional about using both approaches in an upcoming meeting or presentation. Journal about the experience afterward.