Manage episode 380601191 series 2950797
We often mix up words like metaphor and analogy, using them in the wrong context. Anecdote is another word we often use, but sometimes are not sure what it means. Basically, it is storytelling about a real incident or about a person. I was reminded of the power of the anecdote the other day, when listening to a presentation to a select private group, by an international captain of industry. He was going through what their firm was doing globally and particularly here in Japan. As presentations go, it was mostly the “inform” variety with a few sprinklings of the “impress” dimension. That is to say, it was fairly dry, except for a couple of occasions when he related an anecdote about what they were doing and what they had found.
These brief interventions lifted the whole proceedings up into the “insight” category of communication. That is a much richer dimension and as listeners, we feel we are getting real value here from this speaker. The speech basically followed the guidelines of a similar speech he had given recently and he was using slides as his navigation. The rules of this private study group is that we don’t use slides to show what we are talking about. We just speak and then take questions in depth on the topic. He was allowed to use the slide deck as his personal navigation for the talk. Interestingly the anecdotes were not in the deck. They came out spontaneously as he searched for illustrations and examples to further flesh out his points. What a contrast. We were getting fed corporate pap for the most part and then “bingo”, out pops a valuable morsel.
This tells me that he had not planned his talk to maximise the insights they had learnt from running their business globally and in Japan. Why would that be? This is a very common problem with presenters. They are in the “inform” mode of presentations and think that reeling off data and facts is all that is required. These accidental sharings were the most valuable part of the whole talk. We should try to eliminate the accidental nature of these sharings and actually plan to inject them into the talk from the very start.
I am sure his approach was to take a chronological survey of the company and then just build on that, to highlight the main iterations over time. What if he had said, “right, I am going to sit down and draw out what we have learnt from doing business here in Japan and gather the widsom together”. Following that he could arrange the structure of the talk around these learnings and present the context and background, so it would be easy for the audience to follow. We still need the “inform” part, because that context gives the insights their power. It makes them stand out from the ordinary and trumpets the learnings. Business audiences, in my experience, are always hungry to learn. In particular, they love to hear about disasters, so that they can make sure they don’t replicate the same issue in their world.
It is hard to be bursting with insights, so we are not talking about a talk with wall to wall insights flowing constantly like a massive waterfall. However, we do things and we do learn what works and what doesn’t. The difference is the speaker has a mind to capture these and store that information away for when it is needed. Most people just forget about the insight and move on, because there is always so much more data and information coming at them. That endless supply dilutes the key points we the audience need to retain. So from now on, if you hear a good insight or you discover one in your business, find a place to capture that and have it in your mind to use in a future talk.
One other thing is to be excited about the insight and frame it for the audience. Our speaker on this occasion never got excited about the insights and spoke throughout with the exact same energy when describing something terribly mundane and when talking about something much more breakthrough. We need to raise our energy and enthusiasm when we get to the juicy bits, so that the audience knows – here comes something very valuable. We can frame it too. We can say, “Let me tell you about something which proved to be such a valuable lesson for us”, or “I came across this understanding which really transformed our business here in Japan” or “let me tell you an insight which saved us from disaster”. The audience will be guaranteed to be on the edge of their seats to hear what is going to come next and that is exactly where we want them.
So, start with the insights when designing the talk and wrap them up in a clear context. Make sure the audience can fully appreciate the value they are receiving. Seize those anecdotes and put them to good use.