“Stories are tools for life.”
So opens the book, Story, by Hollywood guru Robert McKee. And these few words effectively summarize one of the main functions of storytelling: the stimulation of thoughts and attitudes that can generate transformation.
In the corporate world, taking action can be viewed in many different ways: from small everyday acts, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, to the big strategic decisions that can impact the future of a company.
But regardless of the level of impact of an action, a story can serve as a model for what action(s) to take.
In the movies, this is easy to see:
- In Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire is a superhero who learns a most painful lesson: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And this teaches us that major responsibility comes with leadership.
- In the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith is a man whose business is so bad he ends up living on the streets with his son. But by trying hard and working to realize his potential, he is able to re-establish himself and open a successful business. The lesson? Never give up in the face of hardship.
- In Black Swan, Natalie Portman is a ballerina in pursuit of artistic perfection. But she’s daunted by her technical limitations, her doubts and her fears. The lesson here is the life-changing value of self-knowledge.
Stories are made to teach, inspire and entertain, but, above all, they’re made to change us. Change the way we look at the world, and so change our attitude toward the world and other people. This is true as well for companies, whose stories are told in business presentations, among other things. If people are going to gather for a presentation, something has to happen, something has to change. Otherwise, there’s no reason for that meeting in the first place.
So in your next presentation, remember that your main goal is to change your audience so they leave the room with more good tools than they came in with, and with a mindset to act differently from then on in certain situations.
Also, in the same way that films convey universal values, a presentation should do the same:
- A product launch is about something that will make consumers live better. It can be about time-saving, productivity and/or entertainment.
- An IPO is about seizing an opportunity and promising investors a solid future.
- A B2B communication is about conveying what’s missing for that audience. The main point here is: What do they need that they don’t have?
- A fundraiser is about interesting people in a story of need and encouraging them to invest in a happy ending for that story.
The most important thing to do in your own story is to address added value and the opposing “forces.”
To do this we give you 2 examples:
- If your objective is to add something new to a company, explain how not having this new thing is going to prevent the company’s main goal from being achieved.
- If you’re dealing with increased productivity, explore the aspects of non-productiveness that may be preventing a company from doing more with less.
Bottom line? No good movie has a protagonist getting what he/she wants without having to deal with conflict, obstacles, opposing forces. And no good presentation is the same.
So beware of the corporate cliché: “Everything is fine; if you want to improve, we’re your solution, and in the end everything will be just fine.” This perfect dream world just doesn’t exist. And cliché is the absence of story. Clichés don’t deal with life as it actually is; nobody ever buys into them!
So get busy: kill the clichés, get creative and tell a good story.