Using ‘Story’ to Create ‘Presence’ and Be ‘Memorable’
He was an old man when I saw him stand and mesmerize the audience
I was just one of over 8,000 people in the arena yet this one solitary figure on that big stage commanded the attention of everyone. He did not use theatrics or verbose language. He was not loud, pushy or vulgar. He simply did not need any of that.
Og Mandino, was without a doubt one of the most memorable speakers I have had the pleasure of watching and learning from in my career.
He didn’t need flashing lights and blaring music.
He was the flashing lights!
He was the music!
He had the Holy Grail of the business presenter.
He had ‘Presence.’ With Presence a speaker can establish such a strong connection with the audience that even time cannot diminish it.
What I learned from this wonderful man all those years ago was this. A lasting presentation is a marriage between two essential elements, ‘Story’ and ‘Storytelling’ both skillfully fused into one single outcome, ‘Presence’.
Story has long been a part of human culture and can be traced back thousands of years to the days of the shaman around the tribal fire. The shaman was responsible for making sure the history of the tribe, its beliefs, values, and rules was kept alive and he did this with story. He would speak of victories and tragedies as members of the community sat around the fire. He would paint word pictures in the mind of his audience. “We don’t go hunting in the mountain because five of our bravest warriors went and never came back… killed by the mountain beast that lives there. Here’s how it happened…” and the story begins.
In business ‘Story’ plays a similar role. Every corporation, entrepreneur, small business, consultant, and coach has a story to be told.
I recently watched an amazing TED Talk that told an incredible story. If you haven’t yet seen it, I urge you to have a look. Meanwhile, let me give you a quick overview.
In 2012, Amanda Palmer made a video of herself, wearing a kimono and holding up hand written signs on a street in Melbourne. One by one, the signs flipped, explaining that the woman had spent the last 4 years writing songs.
Her story was that she was a musician, and had parted ways with her record label, which had said the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000. She and her band mates were very happy to no longer be with the label, and had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. She needed help to get it off the ground.
She posted the video on Kickstarter. 30 days later she had raised $1.2 million dollars. 24,883 people pre-ordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a real, profitable business.
Amanda Palmer changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. And she did it, not by simply asking for money, but by telling her story.
Amanda Palmer established Presence. She made her story memorable. She made her story transcend the threshold of logic and find a resting place on the seat of emotion. Watch her tell her story for yourself. Here’s a link to that TED Talk.
Why is the Story such a powerful speaker tool?
The answer is found in something called Cognitive Load Theory. Many studies and papers have been published on the topic of Cognitive Load Theory, however the best summary of this complex topic is provided by Ton de Jong in the article, Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: some food for thought:
Just in case you don’t want to download the PDF and read his full article, I will give you a layman’s explanation.
Our minds can easily become overloaded if required to process too much complex information. Once our brains reach capacity, information passes through our minds, but does not stick.
Let me paint two pictures to help drive this point home.
Imagine yourself sitting in the audience, waiting for a business presentation to begin. Just 30 minutes before you were busy responding to emails, reviewing spreadsheets, and analyzing data. You were swamped with facts, stats, and the demands of business communication.
While wading through your daily obligations at work, you let the analytical side of your personality reign, and suppressed your emotional side.
You look up and see the presenter taking the stage, and they launch into their presentation using complex charts and graphs. Within a matter of minutes, you are in overload. It makes no difference that the information being presented may be paradigm shifting for you and your business, your brain simply does not have the capacity to retain all of that logical information.
In fact, when pressed a couple of hours later to recall what the presentation actually contained, you struggle.
If you can’t recall, how can you take action?
Once again, imagine yourself sitting in the audience, waiting for a business presentation to begin. The same scenario as above… long day, a lot of analytical data… swamped with facts and stats.
You look up and see the presenter taking the stage, and they start connecting to your ‘non-technical’ brain. They start telling you a story. You become involved in the content being presented. You are not on the receiving end of charts, graphs, logical numbers and detail.
You are being invited to sit around the metaphorical camp fire and listen to the shaman share a story and you become engaged.
Why did this happen?
Our minds prefer stories to facts.
Unlike data, stories are seemingly effortless to understand, and easy to remember. The story is easier to recall because descriptive tales can activate up to 7 areas of the human brain. With so many areas of the mind engaged, listeners experience the story, instead of process it.
A carefully crafted story will likely inspire emotional reactions from audience members.
Emotion will inspire action more often than logic.
Back to Og Mandino
I will never forget the feelings created by Og Mandino all those years ago in 1994. I cannot recall the exact words but I can give you the intent of what he said in his opening.
He stood for a brief moment, leaned in towards the microphone and quietly said, “I was not sure I was going to be able to make this conference. I have been told I don’t have long to live. I don’t tell you this to be dramatic, I simply tell you this to let you know, when you get knocked down, get back up again. It is important to get back up.”
He then went on to share the story of his illness and that story led to another one, and another and so on for just under an hour. Each story had an insightful point of direction and learning.
From the moment he stood behind that podium to the very end, he had us.
We hung to every word.
We took notes.
We underlined our notes.
His stories found their resting place in our hearts and to this day… I remember.
He was memorable. There was a dozen or more other speakers at this conference and I only remember two of them. Paul Harvey and Og Mandino. The others… forgotten.
Og Mandino used story to establish Presence. Even though I was seated a good 150 feet away from the podium I still felt the intensity of his story.
I felt his Presence.
Story will inspire action.
The purpose of a business presentation is action. If nothing happens as a result of the presentation, then why are you giving it? If you want to generate action, then you need to tap into the emotional side of communication.
It is a well-known fact that people make decisions on emotion and justify with logic. This is where a lot of presenters struggle to gain Presence. They come equipped with a slide deck of logical charts, demographics, psychographics, spreadsheets and every bell and whistle that PowerPoint can produce.
Let’s face it, a lot of business presentations are seriously imbalanced with way too much logic and not enough emotion.
Remember Amanda Palmer?
She used simple hand written flip cards to endear her to tens of thousands of strangers. Flip cards that told a story. Memorable communicators have realized that “what they have to say” is often moot compared to “how they say it.”
As business professionals what we need to grasp is that our presentation is more effective, more memorable, when we use Story to communicate vital, important, relevant and essential ideas.
Not only will your audience remember a story more easily than facts, a story is also more likely to inspire action. Story makes your presentation better. Story makes your ideas stick. Story helps you persuade. Story creates Presence.
The challenge: Be memorable or be forgotten!
Picture two actors who are sitting waiting to audition for the same role in a movie. Both have been given the exact same script and instructions from the director. Both are holding a copy of the same script. Both have the same opportunity to impress… to stand out. 30 minutes later, one leaves a winner and the other leaves… forgotten.
Both actors had the same script. Both had equal opportunity.
The winning actor made it easy for the director to see them in the role. They were able to tell the story better. The winning actor made the words come alive. They used movement, gestures, eye contact and vocal image to bring the script to life, to capture attention, to convince. They left little doubt that they were the right fit for the role. They were memorable. They brought Presence to the audition.
Are you memorable or forgotten?
If you are speaking in a conference, or competing in a formal pitch, or engaging a prospect in a sales conversation the likelihood is yours will not be the only story being told. Others may have the same script as you. They may have accepted the same invitation to come and try out for the role.
What will make you memorable is your ability to distinguish yourself from all the others, like our winning actor above. How you tell your story makes a difference. Presence cannot be attained with just Story, there must be a ‘telling of the Story!’
When you use movement and gestures to create dynamic space and distance, and you combine this with eye contact that ensures attention and direction, and you firmly support the Story with a vocal image that possesses texture, pause, pace and personality… then you create Presence.
When you establish Presence with your audience you take hold of the Holy Grail of presenting. It’s elusive to so many because they struggle to let go of the bullet-points, charts, PowerPoint and an array of technology that has stepped up and replaced Story and Storytelling.
If you are in business, any business… at any level, you will need to establish Presence if you are going to be memorable. With a market full of noisy business chatter, using flashing lights, pulsating music and technology to try and get attention, I urge you to become the Shaman. Create ‘Presence’ with your story around the campfire.
Imitate Og Mandino. Use small, effective movement with a vocal image that is quiet but full of passion and authority and shift your audience from sitting back in their seats to sitting on the edge of them. Hanging on to every word you say.
Here’s my final words!
This is your moment of truth.
Can you recall the last time you created Presence in a business presentation? That moment you connected with your audience in such a way that you became memorable?
Now is the time for you to take it seriously. You and your business deserves it.