Advice for Presenters: Focus on the Story

I’m lucky to be a consultant. I work with really smart people on really challenging problems that really matter to my clients. But it’s easy to fall into the “let me show you how smart I am” trap. That manifests itself in jargon, building lists, delivering complex analyses and overwhelming a client with data and information. In reality, what motivates people is a good story. Yes, it needs to be backed with fact and have logic behind it, but to convince people and win them over, you need a good story.

Years ago, I went through a training program run by The Actors Institute, now call TAI Group. The directors working with me – Allen Schoer and Twila Thompson – told me one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve received: “Convincing speakers pull in their audience.” They made me stand in front of a room and speak while five people stood in the back. They would only step forward when they felt the business talk I was giving drew them closer. It was painful to see how hard it was to make them move.

They also had me sit cross-legged on the floor, with three other people sitting around me, and start telling a kid’s bedtime story. When Twila clapped, I had to switch to a business speech. I had to make the other people visibly smile as I spoke. Not easy to do when you are used to powerpoint slides, bullet points, and lists of all of your great ideas.

“Pull in your audience” is advice I remember every day, on every stage. I focus on recognizing that there is a real audience out there for every business meeting, chat, or conference. I am always looking into their eyes and sensing how my story connects with them.

As marketers, we pride ourselves on storytelling. I think it’s time we took our own medicine when it comes to communicating to each other as well.


Learn about our ideas on the McKinsey on Marketing & Sales site. Follow us on Twitter @McK_MktgSales. And please follow me @davidedelman.

[Image: Will Marlow, Flickr]