Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

Story Season – The Tightrope of Authenticity

Friday, February 27th, 2015 by Simon<

Those who have been following Eyeful’s Story Season over the last few weeks will have spotted a theme.

Yep, we truly love the power of story in presentations. We love the heightened levels of engagement they bring, the spark they create in audiences and the unforgettable images they create. In the right hands, they are a very powerful tool.

Yet we’re also consistently cynical about those that claim that ‘story’ is a presentation panacea. Stories fall flat on their faces when used inappropriately, out of context or as a short cut to a properly thought out proposition. They are also bound to fail if they are inauthentic.

AuthenticityOutside of all the science, the scenarios and hype, there is one simple truth – powerful stories rely on authenticity. They work because they connect, forming a bridge between the storyteller and the audience, sharing emotions, experience and ideas. In short, you have to ‘feel it’ to effectively share it.

Inauthentic = Ineffective (To The Point of Being Pointless)

We see inauthenticity everywhere, from the singer who mimes their way through an old standard to the stand-up who ‘phones in’ a performance. It just doesn’t work – the connection is lost.

It’s this authenticity issue that is one of the flaws that those with blind faith in ‘business storytelling’ seem to conveniently overlook. Marketing folk beware – foisting a pre-canned, generic and inauthentic story upon a business presenter is bound to fail for the simple reason that they don’t ‘feel it’.

Too Authentic?

The power of authenticity can, of course, go the other way – some stories are simply too emotional, too heartfelt to work effectively in a business presentation.

By way of example, allow me to share a personal presentation flaw. Shortly after the publication of The Presentation Lab, I shared a story to illustrate the power of visuals. I talked about how I felt as a spotty teenager seeing the extraordinary and shocking pictures of the Ethiopian famine for the first time. I recalled the emotional rollercoaster of Band Aid, from singing along to Spandau Ballet one minute and then sobbing with millions of other viewers as we watched the harrowing CBC news report of a skeletal child, near death, struggling but determined to stand (to a devastating soundtrack of ‘Drive’ by The Cars). And then, 20 years later, that incredible moment when she was introduced, fit and healthy, to the audience at the Live 8 concert.

The story was powerful and helped audiences understand the point I was making…but was frankly too personal and emotional for me to deliver. I choked up each and every time I shared it – the story simply proved too raw for me to tell without going to pieces so in the end I dropped it. It was too authentic.

So where to draw the line? In the world of business presentations, the power of stories come from the connection they make with an audience. Authenticity is a key element in ensuring that connection is made so treat it with respect.

Oh, and as ever, put yourself in the shoes of your audience – what would help you engage better? When traversing the tightrope of authenticity, I’d take a heartfelt but shoddily told story over a slick but inauthentic one every time. Or, like Don Draper, you can strive to get the mix just right:

Story Season – Science and Stories

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Matt<

We continue our journey through Story Season now by taking a dip in the mysterious pool of Science and Stories. You’ll come out refreshed, thinking differently and in more detail about your presentations in the future.

Which in turn will lead to you becoming a better presenter, who has a higher chance of getting the end results that those other ‘death by PowerPoint’ presenters can only dream of.

In short, to avoid these horrible gut-wrenchingly awkward situations, we respectfully suggest you use parts of ‘story science’ to help you construct more engaging and compelling presentations.  Here’s how…

THE SCIENCE OF SUBTEXT

Subtext is the story within the story. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or receiving a presentation – subtext is right there.

Think of it as levels.

Level 1 is the story being told out loud. The words we actually hear and the visuals we actually see.

Level 2 is the subtext. The story underneath this that the audience creates based on what they experience.

In regards to the subtext in presentations specifically, our very own Simon Morton’s book, The Presentation Lab, has a chapter dedicated to ‘The Super Powers of Visual Subtext’.

In this he focuses on how slide visuals, such as a photograph or graphic, can illicit different emotional undertones with the audience. The choice of visual though really depends on your audience – more on this in a moment.

In regards the context in stories, in story development consultant, David Baboulene’s blog, he discusses subtext using (allegedly) the shortest story ever written by Earnest Hemmingway.

“For Sale. Baby’s Shoes. Never Worn.”

Ok, so ‘War and Peace’ it isn’t, but for such a short, nay minute story it certainly evokes a strong response from the reader.

There’s the melancholy interpretation, where you think that a baby has sadly passed away – or there’s the more positive humorous assessment, where you might think the baby was born with huge feet and grandma and granddads first gift was just way too small!

It all depends on how youthe audienceinterpret the story and create the subtext.

AUDIENCE CENTRIC STORIESheatmap 3

And this is where when it comes to presentations you need to be so careful and really consider your audience (and when we say ‘consider’, we mean more than just a passing thought – truly ponder what makes them tick, the dynamics within the group and why they are listening to you in the first place).

Again the ‘The Presentation Lab’ book recommends that you need to consider the type of personality the key members of your audience are and which group of Visionary, Factual or Emotional they sit in – in the book Simon uses something called Audience Heat Maps which can help build this picture for you easily.

Once you know what makes your audience tick it’s time to start thinking about what you are going to say and what you are going to show in order to create the right message and subtext.

THE SCIENCE OF STORIES

And this is where the science of story really comes into play…

Your audience, for the most part, will be living, breathing, heart pumping, brain controlled human beings. And it’s in the grey matter department that your presentation needs to be the equivalent of a Red Bull overload.

There is a part of our brain called Broca’s area. This gets switched on when we either hear someone speak or read some text, as it interprets and makes sense of the words.

Now that’s nothing to get too excited about. More interesting things start to happen when we get past this area to the Primary Olfactory Cortex (linked to smell) and the Motor Cortex (which is for planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements), with more and more areas of our brain working we start to really listen, understand, engage and get excited about whatever it is we are experiencing.

To get these areas started though, you need to really think about what’s coming out of your mouth and what’s written on your visuals.

Boring, flat, uninspiring words won’t get much past the Broca…

But start thinking a little bigger and adding more meaningful content and using words that really mean something then this is when things start to happen.

Talking about things with odours such as describing the smell of fresh coffee, or the smell of a new-born baby’s head – these will get the Olfactory Cortex activated, whereas the Motor Cortex is stimulated by words relating to movement, so perhaps relating to sport, or as specific as kicking or running.

Now it’s merely a case of marrying up the right words to get the audience’s brains going and turning it into presentation content that’s relevant…get the mix right and you’re onto a winner.

And if you package this up in a story, the audience will find it easier to digest and the scientific content of your presentation will see them constructing the information and subtext you want and heading towards the target outcome of your presentation.

Net result?

Improved engagement. Increased message retention. Presentation success.

You are now a million miles ahead of those presenters currently sitting in front of the TV creating tomorrow’s death by PowerPoint.

If you need a hand in putting this all together, just give us a call, we’re ready to help keep your presentations ahead of the competition.

Story Season – Talk About Who Did What To Whom

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 by Simon<

65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about who did what to whom…

Dunbar, R (1996), Grooming, Gossip & The Evolution of Language, Harvard 

Businesses thrive on successful communication. A simple concept but incredibly difficult to pull off. For it to work, it has to be clear, engaging and have a purpose but, a cursory review of the e-mails, presentations and meetings that swallowed up your diary last week will demonstrate that the ideal is a long way off the reality.

In my opinion, much of the problem lies with the way we’re conditioned to behave at work. Armed with impressive sounding TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), an unquestioning adherence to business etiquette and ready access to technology like PowerPoint, Keynote and Excel, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of speaking as business robots whenever addressing an audience. The net result is that we gum up the cogs of business communication and ultimately grind to an unsatisfying halt. 

Story Season 1So how to ‘un-gum’ communication to your audiences, be they internal or external? Well, one of the options is the use of story. Used carefully and selectively, story can break down the barriers built up through corporate waffle and engage your audiences in a refreshing and effective way.

Let me share a very personal story to demonstrate my point…

A couple of years ago, my business went through an unprecedented and, frankly, unplanned growth spurt. On paper it looked like great news – the numbers were growing at a truly remarkable rate and we were winning new customers left, right and centre. The reality within the business was somewhat different – the stresses of demanding customers, changing goalposts and ever tighter deadlines made working at Eyeful less than fun for a while.

The first casualty was communication – and in retrospect, the signs were there for all to see. People began resorting to email more and more. This inevitably led to people misconstruing one another’s emails more frequently, which resulted in some tense conversations. The consequence was that, in a frighteningly short period of time, key people were not really communicating or engaging with each other at all. It was horrible.

I knew I had to address the issue. So I did it with storytelling.

With so many people now dotted across the world, we had no alternative but to schedule a conference call. Not my preferred method of communication, but necessity compelled us to do so.

We had no formal agenda. No slides. No spreadsheets. No visuals whatsoever.

I also set a limit of ten minutes for the entire call.

I started by thanking people for joining the call and then recalled the vision I had for the business when I started it back in 2004: to build a company that would deliver the best possible presentation services to it’s customers through a mix of great people, smart thinking and the need to ensure that each and every member of the team feels valued, respected and engaged with the business. 

I told a few short stories of how we convinced longstanding team members to join us in the first place – Sally over a cheap pizza in London, Liz through a series of increasingly bizarre interviews and the embarrassment of having my dog pee on poor Vicki when she first visited the office. I spoke of the excitement we all felt when moving to our company headquarters, “Eyeful Towers”, the peculiar novelty of our own dedicated server and the buzz we all felt when winning each new customer.  

I underlined that these everyday things defined “Eyefulocity” and made our company a special place to work. Our customers frequently commented that they felt this in the way we supported them and each other on projects. We were living the dream.

I then shared more recent and slightly less uplifting stories – when a team member was reduced to tears as a result of receiving an angry e-mail from a colleague; when a team felt demotivated by unrealistic deadlines; and the awful feeling of fear I had one morning when arriving at the office and sensing that we were slowly morphing another “normal” company.

Ultimately the presentation was little more than a series of heartfelt but authentic stories – stories that, frankly, I’d chosen to pull at the team’s heartstrings and ensure they felt the same pain and disappointment I was feeling.

IMAG0148_1It’s all too easy to overlook the importance of authenticity in the stories I chose to share – they were stories that everyone could relate to immediately. The raw sense of disappointment expressed through the stories allowed the audience to reflect on how the changing behaviours described had impacted the business’s culture, and their colleagues and friends’ happiness. With authenticity and emotion comes real power.

Without a solitary PowerPoint slide, the presentation touched everyone on that call and set the more positive agenda going forward, something we still feel today across the business. People still refer to the “Eyefulocity presentation” today as a crucial point in our business’s development —one that, appropriately, relied totally on authentic storytelling.

So ask yourself one simple question – how can you incorporate story into the next communication you share with your audience?

For more insight into the use of story, structure and visuals as part of improved communications, check out The Presentation Lab: Learn The Formula Behind Powerful Presentations

The Presentation Lab gets a Winning Edge

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 by Matt<

Presentation lab soft copy
Since the release of ‘The Presentation Lab’, we have received some great feedback and it’s always nice to hear lovely things said about the book (even though it still makes Simon blush like a proud Dad!)

However, when Journalist, Marc Beishon, from the magazine Winning Edge put pen to paper it was not just a quick 30 seconds saying how great the book is, blowing Eyeful’s trumpet and pointing you to your nearest bookstore. Marc has written a great article so, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, wondering whether or not to get the book, then hopefully this will help you decide.

Here is just a snippet from Marc’s in depth review;

Morton homes on what is undoubtedly the core business of today’s ‘presentations’ — how to construct engaging messaging using storytelling and conversational styles that suit the audience and situation you are dealing with at a particular time, which more commonly now are not ‘formal’ situations at all.

It also talks about the changing world of sales, interactive engagement and sales enablement.

If your appetite is duly wetted, you can find the full article in Winning Edge magazine which is part of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management. ISMM provide lots of information and tips on sales and marketing

Or simply click here to view the article on our website…

An Open Letter to all Business Presenters

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 by Simon<

Hello you…

How are things?

We’ve been meaning to drop you a line for a while now but held off sending anything too close to the chaos of Christmas and New Year for obvious reasons. The festivities are now likely to be a dim and distant memory… as are the long list of New Years Resolutions (don’t sweat it – we think a little bit of extra padding looks rather good on you, if we’re honest). Now all of those pressures are out of the way, we’d like to ask you a favour… actually, three favours. And they all centre around that one part of your job that you find uncomfortable to the point of palpitations – business presentations.

Don’t worry – we’re not after the world… just three small things that will make all the difference to your presentation, and thus to your audiences.

1. Go on, go 16:9

Let’s start with an easy one – it’s time for you to move over to widescreen. Your laptop, your screen and your projector have all made the leap over to 16:9 ratio – it’s time you took the plunge too.

Have you noticed how old films and footage looks, well, ancient on TV when it’s shown in the old ratio and has big black bars down each side? Sorry to break it to you, but if you’re stuck using 4:3 ratio for your PowerPoint and Keynote, your presentations are going to look equally old fashioned.

But it’s more than simply keeping up with the Joneses. Blog picMaking the move over to 16:9 gives you more room to play with on your slides – create white space and let your slide breathe! Use the extra width to develop visuals that engage your audience! Heck, deliver slides that look like they belong in this decade!

If you’re responsible for stuff like corporate PowerPoint templates at your workplace, sort it out pronto and your colleagues will love you forever more. If you’re one of the users stuck with ye olde PowerPoint 4:3 template, harass the marketing team until they see the error of their ways (perhaps send them a link to this blog to speed things up) and make the move over. If they dig their heels in, whisper in their ears that the default ratio on the latest version of PowerPoint is now 16:9 – the world has changed and it’s time for them to catch up.

 

2. Don’t lose your nerve

We’ve spotted a bit of a pattern on important presentations. At the very start of the process, presenters (yep, you) are full of good intentions. You embrace the concept of ‘less is more’ both in terms of content on a slide and slide count, full of vim, vigour and determination that this time it’ll all be different – no bullets, valuable visuals and a clear audience-centric message. It’s shaping up to the best presentation you’ll ever deliver – happy days.

The problem is that as time marches on, you start to lose your bottle. You start to sprinkle a little more detail here and there, sticking in a complex diagram to demonstrate that you’ve really put the hours into the research and tweaking your message so as not to rock the boat.

Often, because the stakes are so high, you make the fateful mistake of opening up your presentation to committee. This truly is the death knell to any chance you had of developing a powerful presentation. By all means, call upon your colleagues for feedback and collaboration but never EVER rescind control – it’s your presentation… own it.

Collaboration = good

Committee = unmitigated disaster

Now don’t get us wrong, friend – we know that standing up and delivering a presentation this important is gut-wrenchingly stressful but don’t fall into the trap of compromising and diluting it as D-day approaches. Go back to the ideas that were the catalyst for version 1 of your presentation – the structure and message, the carefully chosen supporting content and the simple but effective visuals. Granted, they may not have been perfect but they’re likely to be a much purer more focused set of slides than the watered-down, ‘safe’ and ultimately homogenous presentation you’ve ended up with.

Go on – be brave, have faith and don’t compromise (your audience and your message deserve it).

3. There’s more to life than PowerPoint

Granted, this one might require a small leap of faith (call it a leapette). PowerPoint is not the only tool available to you as a presenter. There – we’ve said it…

Presentation Landscape WheelArmed with nothing more than a good understanding of your audience, a strong message and structure and, when required, the ability to visualise key elements of your story, you can deliver a presentation armed with nothing more than a pen and napkin/whiteboard/notepad.

If you wish to get fancy, you might want to dust down the tablet you were given a couple of years back in a pique of technological excitement (it’s not just for Angry Birds). Or you might want to try the multitude of other options out there (Prezi, Powtoon, Keynote, SlideRocket…the list goes on).

We’ve never had so many options to consider as presenters so have a look around and see what works for you and your audience…and what doesn’t. And it’s this last bit that is soooo very important. Whatever option(s) you choose, it is imperative that it works for your audience.

Not you – your audience.

Playing with new technology is always fun but if the net result of your experimentation is a presentation that bamboozles your audience or leaves them thinking more about the animation effect you used rather than your message, you’ve messed up.

So there you go…three simple changes to the way you approach presentations that will make all the difference. A difference to the way you engage with your audiences, a difference to the clarity and impact of your message and a difference in the results you’re likely to get from all your hard work. What’s not to like?

Have a wonderful 2015…

The Eyeful Team x

The Power and Privilege of Presentations

Friday, January 16th, 2015 by Simon<

Ours is a ruddy wonderful job. Every day is different, every project a new opportunity to do something extraordinary.

But sometimes, certain projects jump out at you… We get the chance to work with amazing individuals who are making a massive and palpable difference to the World and the people in it. We also get a chance to flex our creative muscles, think outside the corporate box and develop something that does more than make us proud – it brings a lump to our throats.

Our recent work with MRC Technology is a case in point. Their unstinting energy and enthusiasm to work alongside peers to address the spectre of dementia is awe-inspiring. The fact they came to us to help them spread the word to the most influential medical professionals and government ministers is a privilege we don’t take lightly.

#thepowerofpresentations

The Power of Story – An Alternative View

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 by Simon<

Book iconHave you noticed something..? For the past few years, blogs, magazines, video experts and books have all extolled the virtues of story within business presentations.

On one hand, we applaud it.  Grabbing the attention of your audience is a good thing to do.
On the other hand, we’re frankly a little worried that presenters are getting the wrong idea, confusing themselves and their audiences in the process.

Panic not!  In early 2015 Eyeful will be unveiling our Story Season – a series of blogs, articles and videos to debunk the somewhat over-hyped topic of Story in Business Presentations. In the meantime, enjoy this tongue-in-cheek shot-on-an-iphone instructional video courtesy of a few of our delivery team.

(Don’t say you weren’t warned…)

Seeing The Wood Through The Trees

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by Justine<

Regular readers will know that our (borderline pathological) obsession with presentations leads us to find inspiration in the oddest of places. In the past few months we’ve found help and inspiration for presenters on the Moon, behind the paint on a Picasso and on the side of the road.

Today’s inspiration is a little more accessible than a trip into space. Unless you are currently sitting in a windowless room in the very centre of a city there’s a good possibility that you can see a tree. If not, I’m almost 100% sure that you have, at some point in your life, seen a tree, so I shall press on.

There are, largely speaking, two types of trees, evergreen and deciduous and it’s the deciduous ones in particular that have got me thinking.

A well-established tree is, by and large, a sturdy, reliable kind of thing, and while it initially appears unmoving, it is actually in a constant cycle of change and adaptation.

At this time of the year deciduous trees are going through one of the most dramatic annual changes in nature. Their leaves are moving through a fantastic spectrum of colour before finally giving it all up as a bad job and falling gracefully onto the ground.

There’s a lot of complicated science going on here so please forgive my simplification. The leaves change colour because the tree takes back from them all the nutrients that they are producing and storing during the summer, this renders the leaves themselves useless and they are shed.

What’s left looks completely different, but leaves or no leaves the essential ‘treeness’ remains.

Great presentations should be planned, designed and updated in a very similar way, your key messages are the trunk and they create a solid base for everything that follows. So far so good, but it’s worth noting at this point that just a trunk does not a tree make (an attractive set of nesting occasional tables maybe, but not a tree.)

The next thing you need are stories, they act like the branches of the tree creating interest and providing a basis for further growth and adaptation.

Whatever happens from here on, if you have your messages and your stories sorted, you will always have a tree.

How your tree evolves should be up to your audience and understanding them can make all the difference to your success.

In the same way that different people find beauty in different stages of the annual cycle of change, different audiences will need to see and experience different things from your presentation. There are a thousand and one different types of audience but they largely fall into three distinct but not mutually exclusive categories:

Factual Audiences might be more than happy with the basic, essential tree, unadorned by buds, leaves or fruit.

Emotional Audiences could well respond better to an early spring version, with the captivating prospect of new life with unknown potential.

For Visionary Audiences you’ll need the whole kit and caboodle – leaves, blossom, fruit and colour in a time defying ‘all at once’ extravaganza.

Recognising and adapting to different types of audience can be quite a challenge at the beginning but as long as you take the time to identify and develop your key messages and stories you’ll always have a core presentation that you can rely on and adapt.

To find out more about how the Eyeful approach can help you make your presentations as reliable and adaptable as they need to be, simply take a look at The Presentation Lab book or pick up the phone and give us a call on +44 (0)1455 826 390

autumn

Is Short and Sweet Here To Stay?

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Justine<

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of getting to the point here at Eyeful (although last weeks Ig Nobel 24/7 challenge was a bit much even for us).

Verbose business communications are fortunately becoming a thing of the past and while the odd 200+ slide, text heavy presentation still exists, you can be sure that we’re doing everything we can to consign them to history.

Keeping an audience engaged with relevant, understandable, information is the key to great business communication and nothing encapsulates this better than the ubiquitous elevator pitch.

While I’m personally a little sceptical as to whether an elevator pitch has ever been successfully delivered in and actual elevator, the concept of compressing your whole business into a few minutes clear communication can be powerful.

Our specialist presentation consultants work with our customers to achieve a similar level of clarity and purpose in their presentations and with all the opportunities that wearable technology could bring, we might not be far away from the elevator presentation.

But for those of you who still think that it’s not possible to cram everything into an easily digestible, audience friendly format it seems that a Japanese construction firm might just have the answer.

They predict that by 2050 they will have built a space elevator. Each elevator car will carry 30 people and its 59,652 mile journey into space is predicted to take seven days.

So in 36 years from now a 168 hour elevator pitch will be a perfectly acceptable option – until then our advice is to stick with a much more concise and audience focused approach!

space lift

Improbable Research and an (Almost) Impossible Brief

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by Justine<

Later today the winners of the 2014 Ig Nobel prizes will be announced, for those of you not familiar with the Ig Nobel awards they are given every year in recognition of scientific endeavour that makes you laugh and then makes you think.

To give you an idea of the scope some previous winners include:

2013 – Biology and Astronomy – Dung Beetles Use The Milky Way For Orientation

2012 – Anatomy – Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?

2011 – Literature – How To Procrastinate And Still Get Things Done

2010 – Peace – Swearing As A Response To Pain

All thought provoking (and often completely bamboozling) stuff, but that’s not what got me thinking.

Tonight’s award ceremony will be a food themed extravaganza that includes a mini opera entitled ‘What’s Eating You?’, not one, but two ‘Grand Paper Airplane Deluges’ and a selection of key note speakers delivering 24/7 lectures.

A little odd maybe but not too far removed from a thousand other award ceremonies, until you look a little deeper and find out exactly what a 24/7 lecture involves.

Fortunately for all involved, it’s not a lecture that lasts a whole week, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Every speaker has to cover their subject in two parts – a complete technical description in twenty-four seconds and a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words.

You might want to take more time than that to simply ponder how this can even be possible…

We’ve talked before about the KISS principle and we’re all in favour of clear, concise messaging. There have been more than a few occasions where we’ve helped people compress over 100 slides to less than 20 and created presentations that were all the better for it. But this (in keeping with the whole Ig Nobel vibe) is something quite different.

Before we dismiss the 24/7 notion as something almost as improbable as the research these awards promote, I think it’s worth digging a little deeper.

After all modern communication is becoming more and more sound bite orientated. When so much information is readily available at the tap of a keyboard, we’re keener than ever to get down to the important bits quickly.

A few years ago nobody had ever heard of an elevator pitch and it was standard practice to produce lengthy and detailed proposals, brochures and presentations. Times have changed and business communication has become all the better for it, but I’m pleased to report that I can’t see 24/7 coming to a boardroom near you anytime soon.

But the next time you settle down to consider a presentation it might be worth giving it a go, just to see whether you can, you might find the results quite surprising.

If it all seems a little too intimidating for you, our specialist presentation consultants are always on hand to help our customers define and refine their messaging to create presentations that get straight to the heart of their audiences thought and concerns.

IgnobleFor those of you panicking that your presentation might be a little too verbose it’s also worth remembering that you’re never going to have to present in the face of the Ig Nobles very own Miss Sweetie Poo, who, as can be seen above, takes to the stage when acceptance speeches run over their allotted one minute and repeats the phrase “please stop, I’m bored’ until they do.