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When you have an important presentation, you always aim to impress. Sometimes we think that we must wow our audience with our intelligence, and that the best way to do so is to dive into technical terms and throw a lot of information at them.
That is often not the right approach. Even if your audience understands the information you throw at them, it doesn’t mean it’s engaging or convincing.
Sometimes, using simple stories can be more effective. In this episode we dive into a case study from Colleen Stewart, author of The Story Compass, on how simplicity can get your point across in a memorable (and replicable) way.
In this episode I introduce a key tool to use in your storytelling toolkit to design effective personal and business stories. And that’s because not every story begins with “Once Upon a Time.”
Welcome to upSkill Talks brought to you by McGraw Hill. I’m your host, Michel Shah lead UpSkiller at UpSkill Community. UpSkill Talks is a podcast for leaders, leaders who are actively seeking innovative and creative ways to interact lead themselves and others. In every episode, through real life stories and enlightening conversations, we will explore the challenge. And opportunities real leaders face in today’s everchanging workplace. We will present you with real strategies for you to leverage your soft skills and produce transformative results. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Let us begin.
In a previous episode Colleen Stewart shared the four-phase story structure: Setting, challenge, solution and outcome. In this episode she’s going to take you through a story that may not necessarily follow that structure, and in fact doesn’t even begin with a setting. Here’s Colleen Stewart.
Now stories don’t always have to be an anecdote
Years ago I was working with a geologist who was in one of my courses. He worked for a data-mapping software company in Calgary. And these are the companies that produce the maps that would tell the oil and gas companies where the oil and gas was.
And at the time — this was about eight, nine years ago now — big companies like Suncor and Shell were trying to produce these maps themselves.
So you know, Cadeem already had a full-time job at Suncor and they’d ask if he could put together a map of northern D.C. And he would have to go and do that.
So my client, when he would go in and talk to companies like Suncor, his job was twofold. Number one, he had to convince Suncor to stop trying to do the maps themselves and hire an expert. That part of his presentation was great. Kind of simple.
But he had three or four competitors who produced maps themselves and so the second part of this presentation had to communicate how and why his maps were better.
And that part was confusing. He was basically going into way too much detail. Nobody could follow it. I had another geologist in the room who couldn’t follow it, so again it wasn’t just a Colleen problem.
So he came up with this. He kept saying, and kind of nailed this part. It’s a really important part of your presentation.
So he told this story and all of you are going to imagine with me. Imagine I’m holding an orange and I do such a good job that I can pop the orange out and set it over here.
So what do I have in my hand? I have this curved, star-shaped orange. You can see that right?
If I turn my hand over onto a table flat, and I push real hard, do you think that peel is going to stay flat when I lift my hand? Maybe, maybe not.
It’s going to pop back up. It wants to end as it begin, a sphere. If that peel is the earth’s crust, we can’t have it popping back up a bit.
So what we do to get it to sit flat is make all these little stretches.
Well for Suncor one of those little stretches could mean spending millions of dollars drilling a well that’s 20,000 feet away from the sweet spot. My company has solved the orange peel problem. So what do you think of that?
Why does it work? Any ideas?
Well you know where the issue is. It’s going to save them tons of money, tons of time. Will save tons of resources. Great analogy.
And it’s simple right? All that happened in 90 seconds. And it’s visual. So what we all need to remember is we have this powerful tool and it’s a way for us to literally share our imagination.
So what happens? So the next day my client brought in an orange, and he had it pre-cut and all that. But it was too much. All of a sudden it was distracting. There was juice everywhere.
Our brains are so powerful, we can see the orange. And what does he do? He goes to Suncor and he tells a group of engineers the orange peel story and he gets so excited they go up the elevator to the senior VP and they say “Oh my god, you’ve got to talk to this company. They solved the orange peel problem.”
Well what does the senior VP say?
What’s the orange peel problem?
You can all tell that story. And I guarantee if I bump into any of you next week, and I say “Hey, remember the orange peel story.” You’d probably be able to tell it.
So any time you structure your information, and that wasn’t a “Once upon a time” right? He set us up. He demonstrated the challenge. Now what’s interesting is what he did with that story. He said “My company has solved the orange peel problem” but he left us with a cliffhanger.
Then the company wants to know “Wait, hang on, what does that mean for us?” He let them imagine what the impact of that is going to be. And it works. Because we know instinctively what that outcome can be.
Anytime you structure your info like this and keep it really simple, and use vivid, concrete language you are actually giving your audience and your listener a little gift that they can take away and tell to somebody else. And then that person takes away and tells to somebody else. And maybe the little details change. But you know what, it’s kind of like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” they’re not going to change all that much. Because we all have the jist of the story.
So that simple structure is a go-to for planning presentations, for figuring out “How am I going to present this idea” and make it land. This is what you can work on and practice out loud. Practice with any family friend. With strangers. That’s a good test that you’ve nailed the language in the story.
That’s Colleen Stewart, emphasizing the importance of intentionality and practice around storytelling. First, decide to use stories. Then be intentional in creating them for different purposes.
Once you’ve created them, practice sharing them, incorporating feedback to modify until you have compelling stories that you are confident in sharing. That’s how you get the maximum impact.
Thank you for listening to this episode of UpSkill Talks brought to you by McGraw Hill. We bring you new episodes every Monday. Please take a moment to subscribe, leave a five star rating and a written review at apple podcast. Or follow us on. By Google podcast or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, don’t forget to share UpSkill talks with other leaders like yourself. So they too may gain the skills and insights to produce amazing results. Please go to UpSkillCommunity.com to review show notes and learn how you can join a community of leaders from across the globe. Collaborating to lead in a more meaningful and impactful way. I’m your host, Michel Shah. And again, thank you for joining me on this episode of UpSkill Talks.
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