Category Archives: Company Profile

Will storytelling give your presentation the engagement you’re looking for?

In our last blog, we discussed trying to engage an audience with the same charts and bullet points utilized by all the other presenters that day, and how that method actually does the opposite. It’s also why data-overloaded execs are increasingly asking for something different: stories

Execs hope that if people present with stories, they’ll finally see the context that makes the data meaningful. They’re hoping it will give them something to remember so they can use it to lead. And they hope it will make all those presentations they sit through a lot less boring.

The good news is that story can do all of that. But it can also do more—a lot more.

The science

Dr. Paul Zak heads the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Zak and his colleagues have conducted many experiments on the way our brains and bodies react to the delivery of information. Dr. Zak: “Effective stories change people’s behaviors. We’ve shown that in laboratories and field studies we can, through storytelling, induce people to engage…”

What about the power of story to unite a group? Princeton professor Dr. Uri Hasson studied the brains of five people listening to the same story. Before the experiment began, their brains showed different activity, but once they began to hear the story, their brain activity aligned. Story brought them together, not only figuratively, but also neurologically.

That’s amazingly powerful when you think about a multinational company. But on a smaller scale, it means that with story, you can unite everyone at the conference table around your insight and idea.

The timing for story couldnt be better

While execs are clamoring, people haven’t exactly been answering the call. In fact, the bar has never been lower. So if you strike now and bring your stakeholders a story, you’ll stand out and make a huge and meaningful difference.

But are all stories equal?

I’ve been in corporate America a long time and I’ve seen countless examples of storytelling. I’ve seen data visualization, improv, and dozens of “meet so-and-so” slides. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen many presenters get mired in the muck of it all. I’ve witnessed their confidence and credibility crumble in the room, and I really felt for them because they were giving it their best. They just didn’t have a method that fit the information, objectives, and situations unique to corporate environments.

So I decided to find a storytelling method that would work for corporate presentations. One that could give stakeholders what they’re clamoring for, and beyond. One that does what scientists say it will do: align audience brains to be more open to your ideas.

I wanted it to be a natural, easy-to-learn tool. Something that won’t weigh you down or crush your confidence, because when you and your team work as hard as you do, you deserve a method that will get your information heard, while making you look and feel like an expert.

And, as we’ll cover in our next blog, I found this method in a surprisingly obvious place that everyone already knows and loves…

Creativity’s Dirty Little Secret

creativeThose who make their living in a creative profession don’t like to admit it, but here’s the truth: everyone is creative. Everyone. It’s like singing—anyone can sing, it’s just about putting some work and concentration into it. With creativity, it’s the same thing—you just have to adopt the successful traits and utilize the right techniques.

In fact, the main reason I fell into a creative role is completely ridiculous: I was born left-handed so everyone told me “you must be creative.” I also liked that it made me seem a wee bit special, which sometimes got me girls.

But here are two facts that will put this randomness in perspective: while the creative world has a disproportionately large number of lefties, you know what other profession does? Hockey players. Something like 60% of hockey players shoot left (truth be told, I have no idea what the real stat is, but I’m sure it’s at least 60%). And yes, some of them are actually right-handed, but when I look at my teammates, at least 25% of us are bona fide lefties—a far higher percentage than those of us who have all our teeth.

So how are creatives different? Here are some of their traits and techniques:

  • We creatives allow ourselves space to dream and don’t censor ourselves until the very end. We know other people will criticize our ideas anyway, so self-censorship is completely unnecessary. The only reason we pick favorite ideas when presenting is because:
  • We can only present so many ideas (I prefer three).
  • We discard the ideas we know won’t fly, unless we truly believe in them (after all, even creatives don’t want to be seen as idiots).
  • It’s a lot of work to make an idea presentation-ready, and work cuts into our screwing-around time.
  • We creatives also know two axioms:
  • There is quality in quantity. If you want good ideas, you have to let the bad ones out. That’s where the work comes in. You have to pan through a lot of mud to get to the gold.
  • Don’t fall in love. Everyone loves their first good idea, but creatives press on, furiously filling notebooks and decorating walls with Post-its. You must keep creating until you drop, which actually doesn’t take long if you do it with intensity and purpose.

All the best creatives have a process. The legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote about process in her book The Creative Habit, where she outlines her technique flawlessly. You’d think she just starts dancing until it comes to her, right? Nope. Like a true professional, she puts in the work, and reading her book is a revelation. She also agrees with me that everyone can do it. Here’s how she puts it:

Whether it’s a painter finding his way to the easel or a medical researcher returning the laboratory, the routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration (perhaps more). And it is available to everyone. If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is a result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming.”

Here’s the last dirty little secret for today, something we touched on earlier: at least three-quarters of creativity is just making things simpler. I can’t count the number of times my ideas have been called “creative” when I never made it past the simplicity stage. So if you read chapter 8 in my soon to be published book “Get to the Heart” (and put it into practice), you’re already 75% there.

To sign up for our blog and get updated on the book release, click here.

5 Ways to Make Your Presentations Simple and Compelling

risking your babyEveryone loves simple, and yet it’s so hard for us to pull off. So let’s take some cues from the industry that does simple best: movies. Here’s how you can steal from movies to create more powerful presentations by being simple.

  1. Get it down to the core – Movies start with only 3 or 4 key scenes and every other scene has to further the story or it’s thrown out. Ask yourself what 3 or 4 key things you want your audience to come away with? Then, take all your slides out one at a time. Unless you can’t get those key points across without that slide, leave it out.
  2. Kill your babies – That’s the Hollywood expression for having someone else help you cut. The director kills the screenwriter’s babies, and the editor kills the director’s babies. But they all do it to strengthen the story. So once you’re done hacking, get someone not on your project and tell him or her the key things you want your audience to come away with. Then let them kill your babies.
  3. Add context – Every data point or idea can be expressed through the people it affects, the way it affects them, and the places or situations they’re in. In other words, characters, plot and setting. Place your data or ideas in that context and your audience will understand far more quickly.
  4. Show instead of tell – Speaking of quickly – movies communicate so much in so little time because they use visuals and action, not just words. See that big screen behind you? Fill it with images. Use video to show action. Just like a movie, you’ll express so much more in far less time, and you’ll make a bigger impact.
  5. Hit them in the heart – The other reason movies leave out useless information is to fill it with emotion. You can too. Even in business, people make decisions emotionally, and if you evoke emotion, you’ll have believers. To get emotion, turn your characters into heroes by giving them a goal and challenges. Show their pain, show their struggle, and show their desire to triumph.

It will take practice, but once you start your presentations with simplicity in mind, it will actually be quicker for you too. And who doesn’t love that?

To find out more, sign up for the blog. If you do, you’ll be one of the first to hear when my new book Get to the Heart comes out.

Using Emotion to Really Get Action on Your Project

We know that consumers make their decisions emotionally, and yet when it comes to our business presentations and deliverables, we forget about the emotional and speak almost exclusively to the rational. Maybe it’s because bullet points steer us that way.

But the truth is that business people are as emotion-driven as anyone. For instance, when someone interrupts your presentation by saying, “I need more data on this,” it sounds like they’re asking for rational input, right? No. What they’re really saying is “If I buy into this, I’m scared my boss is going to have my ass, so I need you to help me cover it.” In other words, the request is mostly emotional.

Jonathan Haidt constructed the perfect metaphor for the emotional and rational minds in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt says that the rational mind is like a human driver, riding on top of the emotional mind, an elephant for example. The driver (rational mind) can steer and direct, but we all know who really decides if they go anywhere – the elephant (emotional mind). To get people to buy in, your audience needs more than just information. They need to care. They need to believe. That’s what makes actions happen.

Movie-style stories emphasize emotion by using heroes that have a desire for something (to save someone, to feel better, to win the girl, the game, etc.). You’ll see and hear the pain our hero goes through, the courage they must muster, and the thrill of following through.

All these make us care, and actually experience the emotional journey ourselves. You can do that too. Every data point, every strategy, everything can be expressed with emotion – even the seemingly boring. Take the movie Spellbound. It’s about a spelling bee. Talk about boring. But they make these kids into heroes, fill it with emotion, and make you root for them.

We recently completed a short video on a diabetes patient for the BioTech market. You can watch it below. We filled it with emotion to express our hero’s courage and struggle. Those who watch it immediately feel for her and want to be part of the solution.

I’ll bet that’s not too far off from what you’re looking for.



Imagine a World Without Your Executive Admin

We recently had the honor of putting four of Silicon Valley’s top executive administrators up on the big screen where they belong at Silicon Valley’s first ever Admin Awards. The event was amazing –– kind of like the Academy Awards for this often unheralded group, so we were very happy to create the videos for it.

I loved interviewing the admins and getting to know them, but I think my favorite part of making the videos was hearing their bosses and colleagues talk about them. These were some of the most powerful leaders in the Valley and included John Chambers, Doug Britt, Jeanette Colandra and Laurent Philonenko. To see the reverence, respect and emotion they showed was so moving. None of them could imagine, or even wanted to imagine, a world without their admin.

I invite you to watch these four short stories on Debbie Gross, CC Wolfolk, Elizabeth Orlin and Suzan Webb, and feel just how inspiring they are. Then, if you have an admin working with you, take a moment to think about how much he or she brings to you and your organization.

At Backstories we love telling stories about heroes. We’ve found time and time again that for even the most complicated initiative or strategy, or even the hairiest mess of data, telling it through a hero makes it easier for stakeholders to understand and become inspired.

To find out more about bringing heroes to your work and presentations, sign up here for my Blog. You’ll also get tips on how to make your presentations more powerful and our Power of Movies series, delivered to your inbox once a month.