it’s not always what you say, but how you say it


Last week, a co-worker and I met up with a former Best Buy colleague to grab a drink and catch up.  When he worked at our office, our former colleague was known as one of the best presenters in the department.  He had a knack for being able to pull together seemingly disparate pieces of information and weave them together in a story that would be insightful and easily understood.  If you wanted to get feedback on a presentation, then this was the guy you wanted to know.  To this day I still keep an archive of some of his PowerPoint decks on the desktop of my computer.

Now he works for one of the big three consulting firms and over happy hour he told us about the crazy amount of resources that consulting firms have on hand to support the creation of PowerPoint presentations.  If you are looking for a particular slide template, just dig into their humongous  archive.  If you need some number crunching done on an Excel document (that has thousands of lines of data) to help prove a point, then you just get the analytics team to run the numbers (which they can do in their sleep) and turn around in no time at all.  If you need someone to clean up the presentation and perfect the timing for all of the animations, then hand it off to the team whose entire role is just to produce client facing PowerPoint files.  On the surface it seems pretty wild that companies have teams that are dedicated to cranking out that kind of work, but it makes sense when you realize that some of the primary outputs for big time consulting firms are presentations and recommendations.

Now while there are mixed opinions about consulting firms (including my own), I do appreciate the effort they put forth when it comes to creating a compelling presentation.  No, I’m not in love with building PowerPoint presentations nor am I in love with that computer program.  (Sadly, it seems like PowerPoint is the default medium for sharing information in many organizations.)  But I think there is something to be said for the art of storytelling within the corporate environment.  At times, I think it is an underappreciated skill yet one that can be very powerful.  At their worst, presentations can be mind numbing experiences.  I sat through my fair share of those.  On average days, presentations meander all over the place while trying to land a point.  At their best, great presentations create “aha” moments.   I think that “Marketoonist” Tom Fishburne does a good job of capturing some of the humor on this topic in one of the cartoons from his blog.

For me, it gets to making the most out of the opportunity to tell a story that is strategic and worth remembering.  That’s one of the challenges that I really enjoy in marketing.  If you are trying to motivate someone to focus on a priority or to make an investment in a marketing program, you better be buttoned up.  You better have a tight story that ties your argument back to customer insights, business issues and a strategy.  And you better have a story that captures that person’s imagination.  Otherwise, I don’t care how good the insights or strategy look on paper.  Without a compelling storyline behind the argument, there’s a good chance your presentation will fall flat.

In the back of one of my notebooks I keep a running list of workplace thoughts that I’ve developed over the last few years – my rules of the workplace road.  This is the list I would pull out of my pocket if a college class ever asked for tips on how to be effective marketing within a large organization.  Near the top of this list is a line that I think best captures what I believe on this front:  how you tell the story is just as important as the story itself.

(photo courtesy of Creative Commons license: Eric Andresen.)


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