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.