3 PowerPoint Myths from a Master Storyteller

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.

How to Handle Clod Questions that Take Your Presentation Sideways

There he is, smugly watching your presentation and eager to interrupt. His hand often shoots up, or he simply interjects, with questions that take your presentation sideways.

If the questions were germane to the presentation, it would be okay. You could answer the question and everyone in the room would appreciate hearing the answer.

But sometimes these miserable clods just want to show off their superior knowledge. Or maybe they have an axe to grind. Or they just like to be contrarian. Whatever the case, the question is only important to them.

How do you handle these clods?

Easy! Turn to the highest ranking officer in the meeting and ask him “Mister executive, how would you like to use this time? Would you like me to answer questions as they come, or would you like me to continue with my prepared presentation and hold questions until the end?”

It’s possible the executive is also bothered by the clod’s questions, but didn’t want to embarrass him by scolding him in public. Now, though, the executive has an opportunity to say something like “guys, let’s hold the questions until the end if we can.” Now the clod has been put on notice by the exec, not you.

If the executive AGREES with the clod (or, worse, the executive IS the clod) then you’ll have to just answer the questions. But maybe these aren’t clod questions at all. Maybe the executive is dealing with an issue and your answers are helping them, even if they aren’t germane to your presentation. You might even ask “You seem to have a lot of questions about this topic. Is there something you’re working on that I can help you with?”

Now you can stop feeling annoyed and attacked and instead focus on answering the questions as fully and helpfully as you can.

Photo (c) blakeemrys

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.

Win the Audience Over by Using Reluctant Agreement

In a business presentation, you are often trying to persuade the audience to agree with your analysis, support your program or approve your budget request. Most presenters use a logically sound, but persuasively poor argument. They present the facts but don’t really know how to persuade.

For instance, they may say:

“Since our competitor dropped prices, you can see their sales have increased 4% while ours have remained flat. I suggest we match their price drop to avoid future market share losses.”

Okay, great analytic approach. But the audience is stuck in analytic mode, mulling things over and thinking of alternate explanations. Did the competitor have a promotion during this period, in addition to the price drop? Partner incentives? What is the margin of error on these numbers? And so on. Your purely analytic recommendation may get rejected.

One alternative approach is something called the “reluctant agreement”. In this approach, you state you used to hold the opposing viewpoint, but the evidence is so overwhelming that you have to reluctantly agree with the new conclusion – your recommendation. It might go like this:

“I’ve always believed we need to hold onto our premium price strategy. I’d like to think we can maintain our price premium and regain market share. But after viewing these numbers, showing our competitor’s 4% market share increase after they dropped their price, I have to say I’m beginning to change my views. I’m becoming convinced if we want to increase market share we have to reduce our price.”

 The audience may still have some of the same questions they had previously. But they also have a view of you as an objective presenter, a careful evaluator of both sides of the argument and someone who has already been persuaded – reluctantly, of course. It may give you an edge the next time you have to sway an audience.

The “reluctant agreement” is one of many rhetorical approaches discussed in the book Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrechs. It’s a recommended read.

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 American Idol Can Teach About Presenting to Execs

Want to wow your boss with your next presentation? In Oct 2012 I developed the SlideShare deck 5 Tips for Presenting to Executives where I compared executives to Simon Cowell – difficult judges who were always on the hunt for talented presenters.

I was therefore flattered when Dirk Hannemann, a communications trainer in Berlin, Germany, took that metaphor and developed this inspirational video. I love the use of contrast, showing the skeptical judges at the start and then their shocked and amazed faces at the end.

That’s your goal. Not merely to inform – but to wow. Now, go nail your next exec presentation!

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.

5 Tips for Presenting to Executives

I have a lot of clients contacting me lately interested in learning how to build SlideShare decks for marketing their business. So I jumped at the chance when Kit Seeborg at SlideShare asked me to write a blog article and include a SlideShare deck.

And how successful was this deck? Very. It has been the most downloaded (over 1,000 downloads) and most favorited SlideShare in August 2012. So I must be doing something right.

I’ll be writing more about developing SlideShare decks, especially for marketing your business, in future posts. Subscribe to my blog to receive blog posts in your inbox.

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.