Happy New Year, everyone! I’m back from a little skiing, a little overeating, and a little doing nothing. The perfect holiday break, in short.
Every year I publish a list of New Year’s Resolutions for speakers in an effort to get us all thinking early about how we can improve our presentations in the coming months. This year I’m focusing on storytelling.
1. I resolve to find the story in the data. We’ve replaced the old problem of a generation ago – information scarcity – with a new one: information overload. That means the single most important gift an expert can offer an audience is to sift information and tell us what’s important. But it’s not enough to merely tell us facts, because information overload has become so severe for many of us that we can’t remember facts unless they’re contained within stories. It’s the package that makes the information memorable. So don’t give us any more data; give us stories.
2. I resolve to tell stories, not anecdotes. Most speakers think they’re telling stories when they’re only telling anecdotes: I met this customer who said bad things about our product….. Real stories have a hero, conflict, and a story arc – the hero faces a conflict, or an ordeal, or a test, and changes in some way as she meets the challenge.
3. I resolve to use more emotion in my stories. Because it’s emotions that people find memorable, a speech lacking them is inevitably forgettable. Or, as the rhyming mavens would say, “if you don’t care, don’t share.” If you don’t have strong emotions to go with your stories, they will only be marginally better than data.
4. I resolve to use video to tell my stories. While nothing will ever replace a human storyteller, video is the medium of the age, and you’re killing your audience by not using it and instead using slides. So put away the PowerPoint, the Keynote, and the Prezi presentations and get out the video. If a picture is worth the mythical 1,000 words, then a video is worth 10,000 pictures.
5. I resolve to tell stories that make the audience the hero, not me. Give a speech to change the world, nothing less. And that means showing the audience how it can change the world, not boasting about how you did once. So figure out how to tell your stories so that the audience can imagine itself as the hero, and get inspired to act accordingly.
The gift of attention is an increasingly precious gift. Let’s all resolve to treat the gift of an audience’s attention with the respect it deserves in 2013.