Articles

  • 3 PowerPoint Myths from a Master Storyteller

  • Posted on August 8, 2014
  • I have a great deal of respect for Robert McKee, author of “Story”, considered by many the bible on Hollywood scriptwriting. I hope to one day pen my own novel or screenplay, leveraging some of the great ideas in his book.

    But he is no expert on PowerPoint or its role in business presentations. In this video, he spouts a lot of clichés which are quite plainly wrong. See if you can spot them too.

     

     

    Myth #1: All business presentations are to persuade
    Especially in business, it’s a huge mistake to believe every presentation is to convince the audience you’re right. Some presentations are to socialize ideas and solicit feedback and you need to be more interested in listening than convincing. Some presentations are to choose among many alternatives, especially when one path offers huge rewards but huge risks. These kinds of decisions need to be made by the company leaders, and your goal is not to persuade the executive to adopt your proposal, but to consider the tradeoffs and make the final call.

    There are many other examples: status reports, research read-outs, product feature overviews. I’m sure McKee has never been in any of those meetings.

     

    Myth #2: Persuade with story, not statistics
    While it’s true that storytelling is one of your strongest tools for persuading, it’s a mistake to think an executive will approve a $5 million project using storytelling alone. Someone in that room will ask to see your data. A VC will not invest $20 million in your idea without some data on market size. It’s naïve to think storytelling alone will win over an audience.

    To paraphrase Henry Boettinger, author of “Moving Mountains”, think of story and statistics as the 2 blades of the scissors. Which one does the cutting? The most you can say is both work together.

     

    Myth #3: Facts should be shared in stories, not pie charts
    McKee clearly doesn’t work in business, where graphs easily make up 10% – 20% of slides. Why? Because you can’t summarize every graph easily as a story. A line chart showing sales trends in five geographies can be summed as “Sales are increasing in North America faster than any other region.” But any exec will want to see the graph so they can ask questions like: How much faster is North America sales growing? How are the other regions doing? Are things trending up or down? What predictions can be made about the future? Execs are impatient and want to see visuals that compact a lot of information into a small space, that they can “get” instantly. Graphs do that. Narratives don’t.

    Stories are certainly more persuasive than graphs, and it’s better if graphs support an overall narrative. But you will have a hard time finding an executive who will take you at your word and doesn’t want to see the data visualized as a graph.

     

    As I said, I’m a big fan of Robert McKee’s book “Story”. And I like his observation that you can weave stories into a PowerPoint presentation (fact-fact-anecdote). The research on storytelling is very positive and it deserves a role in your business presentations. And if you want your idea to be viral, it has to be repeatable without slides. But stories without PowerPoint, while they might make sense in a TED talk or sales presentation, work in very few day to day business presentations.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

  • What If Your Presentation Won’t Fit a Story Structure?

  • Posted on June 24, 2014
  • A student in my eLearning program (Speaking PowerPoint Academy) posted an interesting – and important – question on the forums recently. It’s important because so many presentation “experts” talk about storytelling like it’s the easiest thing in the world. But is it really?

    For confidentiality, I’ll paraphrase/disguise their question:

    How do you create a presentation when the topics you want to cover don’t have a past-present-future structure? For instance, my client wants to know three things:

    1. What are the levers of profitability for a certain product?
    2. How can we influence our partners to gain access to a certain resource (eg. shelf space)?
    3. What are some non-financial incentives/motivations for our partners to sell our product?

    Let’s take this step by step

     

    1. Story or Not?

    This common situation brings up two important points: although storytelling is the most powerful structure, 1) not every presentation CAN fit a story structure and 2) not every presentation SHOULD fit a story structure. Not every presentation lends itself to a past-present-future structure. And even if you can make it fit a story structure, you may be crushing some important points down that really need to be brought to the surface.

    In this case, let’s start with the audience. They want to know:

    1. What are the levers of profitability for a certain product?
    2. How can we influence our partners to gain access to a certain resource (eg. shelf space)?
    3. What are some non-financial incentives/motivations for our partners to sell our product?

    Now, for the sake of the exercise, let’s assume we have some answers to those key questions.

    1. Levers of profitability: brand awareness (drives customer preference/store traffic/higher margins), channel marketing dollars (better shelf placement), distribution (expands reach)
    2. How influence channel sales efforts: customer demand, co-marketing dollars, approach individual store managers
    3. Non-financial incentives: personal attention to store managers, manager’s emotional attachment to your product (packaging, brand, few customer complaints/returns)

     

    Now is there a past/present/future structure here?

    1. Past: how we’ve done things before: poor brand marketing, no co-marketing dollars, not enough sales reps to reach out to smaller stores
    2. Present: Channel partners are indifferent toward us. Sales results are flat while competitors are racing ahead of us –
    3. Future: If we invest in better brand awareness, co-marketing dollars and more field sales reps we can grow to the next level

    It’s a story, I suppose, but the important points are buried into the third act. And that’s one problem with stories – the audience needs to wait until the end to hear the punch line. But in business presentations, we need to START with the punch line. In addition, the client’s main questions get crushed into one section and don’t bubble to the surface. So let’s abandon the past/present/future structure and just lay out the main points we have.

    1. Profitability levers: brand awareness, shelf placement, inclusion in channel marketing, distribution
    2. Incentives to channel: customer demand, co-marketing dollars, personal contact with store managers
    3. Non-financial incentives incentives: personal attention, emotional attachment to product

     

    2. Look for Natural Order

    What we have right now is a topic list. And because there is no sequence to this information, it won’t hold together in the audience’s mind as anything more than a list. However, if we can impose some sequential order on it, then it can start to feel more like a story.

    So, can we find a natural order? Is one thing more important because it will help with other things? We might argue

    1. First: brand awareness campaign driving customers into the store
    2. Second: co-marketing dollars. Once stores see we’re serious about driving them (and competitors) traffic, they will want to siphon more of that traffic over to them
    3. Third: increase distribution by approaching individual store managers: Once we have success stories to share, we have some useful information for other store managers

    By finding a sequence, even an artificial one, we can begin to turn a random list into something closer to a story structure.

     

    3. Make it Visual

    But we can still do more. There’s a main difference between a story and a report: a report is something you observe; a story is something you experience.

    Images form the substance of stories because it takes a fact and turns it into something you can see and feel. Facts are dead. Stories are alive because they are visual.

    What visuals can we use to bring these facts to life?

    1. First: examples of what the brand campaign might look like (or what competitor brand campaigns look like), pictures of throngs of customers flooding stores/happy store managers
    2. Second: examples of what the co-marketing materials might look like, shelf placement might look like
    3. Third: Photos of potential store managers meeting field reps

    Of course, you still need to present your facts as text slides. For all their persuasive power, pictures are not as precise as text. They work best together. Dedicate about 25% of your slides to pictures and the other 75% to text. Introduce the idea visually first, then elaborate on it with text slides.

     

    Summary

    Now we have something that looks like a story with a sequence to it. To recap

    1. Don’t bury the important points to force it into a story
    2. Instead, look for a natural sequence to the information. It’s similar to a story
    3. Bring your story to life with images of what it DOES look like and what it COULD look like

     

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

     

  • Viz Cup Winner Makeover – Do You Agree?

  • Posted on May 12, 2014
  • Facebook’s data visualization contest Viz Cup gives me mixed emotions — excitement about the growing interest in smart data visualization, and sadness about the poor data viz practices among the entrants.

    Case in point is last year’s winner, Eric Rynerson, with this entry. Now, to be fair, Eric only had an hour to put this data viz together (he studied the data the night before) and there are a lot of good practices here. But as an educational opportunity for you, dear reader, I want to point out the weaknesses in this data viz and suggest a makeover.

    Here’s Eric’s winning entry:

    1. Bubble Chart

    Let’s start with a critique of the bubble chart in the upper left. What I like about it:

    1. a. The graph title summarizes the main point, requiring less work for the reader
    2. b. It’s a good choice for comparing two groups. You can tell from the slope if there is a bias toward penalizing the Away team
    3. c. The graph is relatively subdued with light gridlines whispering in the background and muted colors for the bubbles

    But here’s the things that don’t work

    1. a. First, the graph title is too small. It’s the same size font as the axes numbers. It should be more prominent
    2. b. The bubbles are different colors but I don’t know why. Is this so you can distinguish the tiny bubbles clustered in the lower left? Or is it to add variety to the graph? Generally, the reader will assume the colors have meaning. In this case, I’d avoid the randomness of the many colors and use red for the refs that hand out more red cards to Away teams, and gray for refs with no apparent bias
    3. c. And I’m not going to just use any red. I’m going to use the exact red on a penalty card because those who are familiar with that red have learned a subconscious reaction to that particular shade of red. And I want to generate that reaction
    4. d. The bubbles are also different sizes. Again, it isn’t clear if this is supposed to mean something or not. If it does, indicate that somewhere on the graph. If not, then keep them all the same size
    5. e. Eric has added a regression line to the chart. But a better option would be to add a 45-degree line, showing the expected position of refs who penalize Home and Away teams evenly
    6. f. You should also add text labels to each half of the chart, so readers clearly understand what it means to be above or below that line
    7. g. The annotation explains there is a similar but weaker bias for yellow cards. But the extensive text clutters the graph unnecessarily. Better to remove that annotation, or minimize the amount of text

     

    So my makeover of the bubble chart would look like this

    2. Column Charts

    The column charts in the upper right are intended to appear as you click on each bubble. I like a couple of things about these charts

    1. a. First, I like that we’re seeing some trend data tracking how a referee’s bias may, or may not, change over the years. The basic format of a story is a beginning, middle and end and so a timeline graph gets us closer to a story
    2. b. Eric shows the absolute number of cards for Home and Away teams, but then he also explicitly calculates those differences and plots them on another chart
    3. c. The mirrored bar chart is generally a good choice for showing how two data series compare

    What I don’t like

    1. a. The text block to the left of the graphs is supposed to invite the reader to click. But it’s too much text to draw attention. Better would be to use an image with a prominent call to click
    2. b. Almost always, time series data should go left to right. The reader intuitively understands this. A top to bottom timeline is less intuitive
    3. c. When comparing two data series, and one is clearly larger than the other, I prefer to use an overlapping column chart
    4. d. The legend at the bottom should be integrated into the graph, where it’s easier to read, and not set outside the graph
    5. e. The two charts should use a similar scale. Right now, the differences look enormous compared to the absolute values, just because that scale is stretched out
    6. f. I’m also not a fan of the monochromatic purple for the mirrored bar chart. The purple doesn’t complement the red and seems to be chosen at random. Better to select from our current red color palette and complement it with a strong but otherwise neutral black.

    We end up with a graph like this:

     

    3. Layout

    Finally, we study the overall layout, including the title, pictures and flow through the piece. I like

    1. a. The attempt to add a (clip art) picture next to the title, increasing visual interest and suggesting quickly the topic of the data visualization
    2. b. The title summarizes the conclusions of the graphs, not leaving that work to the reader
    3. c. The use of faces is especially effective at drawing the reader into the data visualization and adding some human drama and emotion to what would otherwise be emotionally inert data

    What I’d improve

    1. a. This clip art is weak, has no emotion and generally trivializes the importance of the piece. I’d choose an image with more emotion, like a referee forcefully holding up a red card
    2. b. The title is a bit vague. I’d write it more directly
    3. c. The face images below are good, but they are a bit remote from the column charts. In this case, the data in the column charts applies to only one referee — the one in the pictures below. We need to link this more clearly perhaps using a color band

    Adding all these elements together gets us a final data visualization that look like this, and tells a better story too, don’t you think? (Hover over the image to compare with the original).

    What do you think? Is the story clearer? What other changes would you make? Leave a comment in the comments section. And if you’re interested in knowing when my new book “Storytelling with Graphs” is available, just sign up for my LinkedIn group or subscribe to this blog.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

  • Conflict or Curiosity: What drives a story forward?

  • Posted on January 20, 2014
  • Does a story need conflict? We’re taught that the standard story structure is Situation – Conflict – Resolution. And Hollywood has made good use of this story format.

    But it’s not the only story format, and indeed, conflict is not even a necessary component. For example, I love this commercial, which I discovered over the Christmas holidays in Canada. It’s a good example of storytelling, not because it has conflict, but because it has curiosity.

    Curiosity means raising a question for the audience and keeping them hooked: “Will these two people ever get together?”

    Conflict doesn’t necessarily hook the audience. The Seattle Seahawks pounding the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the 2014 Super Bowl has conflict. But it doesn’t have much curiosity. We know how this story will end – the Hawks will win the game. And so it doesn’t hold our attention to the end.

    Curiosity drives many stories, more so than conflict. Think about the great Hollywood movies of our time and you will see they are driven forward by an overall question:

    Rocky: Will Rocky beat Apollo Creed?
    Castaway: Will Tom Hanks ever get off the island?
    Life of Pi: Will Pi and the tiger learn to get along, and eventually be rescued?
    Bridges of Madison County: Will Francesca leave her husband?

    We hear a lot about conflict in storytelling. Conflict is just a way to spark curiosity. But it’s not the only way to drive curiosity.

    The Twilight Zone television series is a good example of how a story can be spurred forward by curiosity. Think of the typical Twilight Zone story: a man wakes up and finds his entire town deserted. Where did everyone go? Are they coming back? What’s happening? Not conflict, but curiosity.

    Watch the first minute of this video. Are you hooked, even though there’s no conflict? What question is raised in your mind?

    So keep that in mind as you’re building a story. What question will keep the audience hooked and drive the story forward to its ultimate conclusion?

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

     

  • Graph Answers the Question: Do Christians Divorce More than Average?

  • Posted on January 6, 2014
  • In 2008, the Barna Group released some troubling statistics: 33% of Christians are divorced versus 30% of atheists/agnostics. This caused some teeth-gnashing among religious leaders as they sought to understand and explain these numbers.

    In theory, Christian marriages should last longer. The bible says “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) and teaches husbands and wives to live together in “mutual submission” (Ephesians 5:21), loving, sacrificing and forgiving one another as God does for us.

    So is it true? Do Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians?

    Well, no. Because that same research also shows that Christians marry more often than atheists and agnostics. 84% of Christians are married, or have been married, versus only 65% of atheists/agnostics. So when comparing marriage rates and divorce rates, you can see that only 40% of Christians who marry also divorce, versus 46% of atheists.

    Research by the National Opinion Research Center confirms this: 42% of Christian marriages end in divorce vs 50% of non-Christian marriages.

    Even this doesn’t tell the whole story. According to the Oklahoma Marriage Study, among those who are still married, Christians say they are more committed to their spouse, more satisfied with their marriage and less likely to discuss divorce.

    The moral: percentages only tell half the story. To understand the full story, ask “what makes up the rest of the 100%”? That may uncover more interesting stories, and the full truth.

    About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

Page 2 of 3412345...102030...Last »