March is a fantastic month. The temperatures are starting to rise, March Madness is in full swing, and Spring Break gives us a chance to go on vacation and spend time with the kids. So, as we move from winter into spring, where plants and trees begin to bloom once again, it got me thinking about how we human beings can also bloom at work. Spring is a time of transition, and what better way to do that then to analyze our performance at work in order to make some positive – and lasting – changes. There are numerous quotes about how we must change in order to evolve. But perhaps the best quote on change that I’ve heard lately – one that is completely counterintuitive - is the one from Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, who said in a recent interview about what Microsoft must do to stay on top: “We must change to stay the same.” Wait. What? He went on to explain that in order for the company to maintain what they’re good at, some things change, but others stay the same.
With that being said, this month we’re taking a good long look at a few ways that we can change to stay the same. First up, we take a look at our communication; specifically, we’re looking at how we can go beyond PowerPoint to enhance the messages we’re sending to colleagues, customers, and whoever else may be our audience.
From monologue to dialogue
At the heart of an effective presentation is engaging the audience. I’m sure that I’m not the only one whose been sitting in a conference room or meeting hall where the presenter simply reads the text off of the PowerPoint slides that are up on the screen. No matter how many animations, pictures or transitions they use to jazz it up a bit, it’s still a boring lecture where the presenter is speaking at us, not with us. And certainly there is no chance for us to respond to the presenter in real time. The secret is to change the presentation from a monologue like in this example to more of a dialogue, where there’s a conversational feel.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “That sure sounds great, but how am I going to have a conversation with 10, 50, or even 300 people all at once?” My answer, it’s easy! Because, after all, what is the heartbeat of a conversation? It’s storytelling. Storytelling has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. Before PowerPoint, computers and even the written word, storytelling was the way that humans passed along information to one another. When we use PowerPoint or other slide presentation software, it tends to replace storytelling. It can become not just our crutch, but the heart of our conversation…a heart which is on life support! It’s fine to use slides and other visual aids to enhance our conversation with our audience, we just can’t make it the centerpiece. To engage the audience, good storytelling must be the center of our presentation. But, like many things that are subjective, good storytelling is more art than science. Fortunately, reacting to good storytelling is in our DNA.
Consider the following from a recent Forbes article: “In a series of lab tests Dr. Paul Zak discovered that compelling narratives cause oxytocin to be released in the brain, which affects our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Narratives that cause us to pay attention and also involve us emotionally are the stories that move people to action. Zak was experiencing what persuasion research calls narrative "transportation." When you are engaged in a story it can feel as though you are living the life of one of the characters. But there’s a difference between a story and a good story. When two conditions are met—likable characters and their struggles— it’s nearly impossible to turn away. A compelling story makes it more likely that customers will want to buy your products, invest in your idea or hire you.”
Right Said TED
Perhaps there is no greater example of how to connect with an audience with storytelling than by watching how speakers do it in TED talks. Standing for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). Both somewhat-known and unknown figures in those industries have given TED talks which have made them maybe not household names, but have upped their street cred tremendously by going viral on the Interwebs. One only needs to watch the TED talks of Amy Cuddy, Sheryl Sandberg and Bryan Stevenson to watch three people that know how to use storytelling to captivate their audience. As Stevenson said in that same Forbes article, “Narrative is everything in communication.”
Power up your presentations
While storytelling should be the heart of your presentation, never underestimate the added power of a good visual aid. And so, if you want to go beyond PowerPoint slides for your next presentation, might I offer a few names that might interest you:
Google Slides - for real-time collaboration with Google Docs
Slides – a suite of modern presentation tools
Prezi - for animated, non-linear presentations
Canva - more of a graphics design tool for creative presentations
Swipe - another platform that allows collaboration and audience engagement
Slidebean - Presentation software that designs the slides automatically
PowerPoint Online - for Microsoft Office compatibility and real-time collaboration