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Book review: Resonate — Present visual stories that transform audiences

This review originally ran in the Jan. 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences

By Nancy Duarte

Mark your calendars.

Say No to PowerPoint Week starts Feb. 7. It’s an annual nationwide event aimed at getting business types to deliver PowerPoint-free presentations.

Now, you may be asking why just a week? How about a month, a year or a permanent moratorium?

We can always dream. But for now, let’s make the best of what we’ve got and spend the week setting some ground rules for presenters.

Rule number one. Don’t be boring.

Rule number two. Don’t read your PowerPoint slides word for mind-numbing word. Give us a handout instead and talk with us instead.

Rule number three. Don’t throw up charts and graphs we can’t read and will never understand.

Rule number four. Resist the urge to tell us everything. Stick to the highlights.

And rule number five. Don’t start putting together your PowerPoint until you’re absolutely clear on the point and purpose of your presentation. Know exactly what you want us to do or think once you stop talking. You may even find that you don't need a PowerPoint.

If you break any of these rules, we reserve the right to completely ignore you without having to look like we’re paying attention.

And here’s one other rule. You’re not allowed to stand and deliver until you’ve read Nancy Duarte’s latest book.  What Duarte has to say will be good for your audience, good for the big idea you’re pitching and good for your career.

“Presentations are the currency of business activity because they are the most effective tool to transform an audience,” says Duarte. “Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can. Yet many presentations are boring. Most are a dreadful failure of communication and the rest are simply not interesting.”

Get it right and you can transform audiences. “Movements are started, products are purchased, philosophies are adopted, subject matter is mastered – all with the help of presentations.”

There are no shortcuts to a great presentation. Be prepared to invest long hours thinking about, working on and finetuning your talk.  Audiences can easily and quickly tell when you’re unprepared. If you're not willing to make the effort, why should we?

Preparation starts by getting to know your audience. It’s not about folks tuning in to what you have to say. Instead, it’s all about tuning your message to your audience. What’s on their minds and in their hearts? What unites them? Incites them? What makes them laugh and cry? Know your audience and your big idea stands a better chance of resonating. “Your goal is to figure out what your audience cares about and link it to your idea.”

Don’t be bland and boring. “The enemy of persuasion is obscurity,” says Duarte. “Don’t blend in; instead clash with your environment. Stand out. Be uniquely different. That’s what will draw attention to your ideas.”

Go easy on the facts and stats and tell us a story instead. Structure your story to have a beginning, middle and end. Lead off with an opening that grabs our attention.  Move into a call for adventure where you contrast what is with what could be. And then wrap up with a call to action.  Tell us how to join the journey and play a part.

“Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form,” says Duarte.

Whatever the story, know that you’re not the hero or the star of the show. Your audience is the hero. Put them in the centre of the action. Make it all about them. And make yourself the mentor. Or as Duarte puts it, the audience is Luke Skywalker and you’re Yoda.  

“Changing your stance from thinking you’re the hero to acknowledging your role as mentor will alter your viewpoint. You’ll come from a place of humility, the aide-de-camp to your audience.”

And drive home the big idea at the heart of your presentation by including something they’ll always remember or what Duarte calls a S.T.A.R. moment.  Aim for a profound and dramatic moment that keeps the conversation going long after your talk. Your S.T.A.R. moment can be a memorable hands-on dramatization, a a brilliant sound bite, an evocative visual, a great story or a shocking statistic.

Once you’ve done all this, think about how you can complement your talk with a few slides. Try very hard to stick to images, quotes and key words that reinforce your story. Always remember that we can't read your slides and listen to you at the same time. It's one or the other. So pick your spots.

There’s a whole lot more in Duarte’s book and it’s great insurance for avoiding death by PowerPoint.  “Passion for your idea should drive you to invest in its communication,” says Duarte. “If you can communicate an idea well, you have, within you, the power to change the world. So be flexible, be visionary and now go rewrite all the rules.”

Book review: All marketers tell stories by Seth Godin

This review was first published in the Dec. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

All Marketers Tell Stories By Seth Godin

Portfolio ($30)

The launch of Hamilton’s Innovation Factory tops my shortlist of local good news stories from 2010.

The Innovation Factory will do more than help entrepreneurs bring new ideas to the marketplace. It will also give Hamilton another great story to tell to aspiring entrepreneurs here at home, coast to coast and around the world.

The National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S. put out a working paper last year showing that young companies, and especially start-ups, create the most jobs. So if we want more paycheques and prosperity for all Hamiltonians, we need more entrepreneurs to set up shop in Steeltown. And the Innovation Factory gives us a pretty cool story to tell aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for a helping hand.

If you want to launch and grow your business, choose Hamilton, the start-up capital of Canada.

A great story is at the heart of all successful marketing, says bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin. “Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.”

When you tell us a great story, we’re far more likely to pay attention, believe what you’re telling us and retell your story with friends and family. “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant,” says Godin.

We’re hardwired for storytelling. Stories make it easier for us to live in a complicated world where we’re too overwhelmed with data to drill down into all of the details.

“We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.”

We don’t buy facts. We buy the story. “The facts are irrelevant. In the short run, it doesn’t matter one bit whether something is actually better or faster or more efficient. What matters is what the consumer believes. It’s the story, not the good or service you actually sell, that pleases the consumer.”

According to Godin, great stories succeed because they capture the imagination of large or important audiences. All great stories are true because they’re consistent and authentic.

“Storytelling works when the story actually makes the product or service better,” says Godin.

Great stories make a bold and audacious promise and inspire trust. Great stories are subtle, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. Great stories happen fast and engage us immediately. Great stories don’t appeal to logic and they’re rarely aimed at everyone.

“If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one,” warns Godin.

Great stories don’t contradict themselves and they agree with our personal worldview. Our worldview is built on our beliefs and biases and it’s the lens we use to look at every decision we’re asked to make.

The best stories don’t teach or tell us anything new, says Godin. The best stories agree with what we already believe and remind us how smart and right we are. None of us like to change our minds or admit that we’re wrong. “Don’t try to change someone’s worldview is the strategy smart marketers follow,” says Godin. “You don’t have enough time and you don’t have enough money. Instead, identify a population with a certain worldview, frame your story in terms of that worldview and you win.”

Godin says the best stories promise to fulfill the wishes of our worldview by offering a shortcut, a miracle, money, social success, safety, ego, fun, pleasure or belonging.

“The organizations that succeed realize that offering a remarkable product with a great story is more important and more profitable than doing what everyone else is doing just a bit better. Make up great stories. That is new motto. “If what you’re doing matters, really matters, then I hope you’ll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.”

We’ve got a great story to tell here in Hamilton when it comes to helping entrepreneurs succeed. Here’s hoping we spend 2011 telling that story far and wide and close to home.