Every time you present to a group -- whether that be your colleagues, management team, the CEO, company investors, your customers, or conference attendees -- you have an opportunity to connect.
However, transmission is only the tip of the iceberg. What all great presenters and communicators have in common is their ability to get you started on a journey -- one that will prompt you to do something differently.
What causes this change? One of my favorite visual storytellers, Nancy Duarte, has written a remarkable guide on how to present visual stories that transform. Resonate (Amazon affiliate link) is a must read -- buy a copy for every member of your team and see the impact on results directly.
The book will teach you how to give a presentation and change the world.
Changing the world is hard, and you can do that only when the ideas you present connect with people. Stories convey meaning and resonate with people. They are the hero, not you. Therefore every time you present, you're given an opportunity to plan a journey, tune into the audience's resonant frequency, and move to action. [more on why stories Resonate here]
I had the opportunity to ask Nancy Duarte a few questions recently. Here is our conversation.
Great communicators have the ability to go beyond holding attention to moving audiences. The best literally march words into action as it was said about Sir William Churchill. Many have talked about words that works, and the power of visual composition in public speaking. You actually deconstructed the elements of great talks to help people reconstruct them more effectively. What was the path that led you to that critical insight?
The original premise of my research was to see if there’s a finite set of business plots when companies communicate. In Hollywood, there’s a finite amount of screenplay plots and I thought maybe once I study literature and cinema deeply that maybe I’ll be able to see a structural pattern to how we communicate in business.
And on the way, I made an unexpected discovery. The greatest speeches of all time have a rhythm and cadence to them that kept audiences riveted. Every great story builds tension and then releases it and I noticed there was a form of tension and release that great speeches had too.
After two years studying story, I sat down with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and noticed that he structurally moved back and forth between “what is” and “what could be”.
This pattern created that tension and release that a great story has. Humans are wired to process contrast. So when you contrast “what is” with “what could be” the status quo is less appealing and the future is more alluring.
You have been working on helping individuals and organizations express themselves with purpose for several years. Where do you see people having the most impact?
People can have amazing ideas, but if they don’t communicate them well, the idea won’t become reality. We’ve seen traction for people both internally and externally.
On the internal side, strong communicators tend to work their way up the ranks quicker. People that communicate a vision of what to do and how to get there stand out in organizations where people want purpose to their work.
We’ve also seen organizations get traction and attention as they use their best communicators as ambassadors. There is a lot of power in the spoken word.
On page 15 of Slidedocs you have the most compelling argument for why it is important to use special care in determining whether we are having a conversation or if a presentation is appropriate. That was the hinge for my entire post -- because while negotiating meaning is the path in both cases, in the first case conversation is the tool to get there by building together. So few demonstrate an understanding and/or appreciation that is the case. What makes it so hard in your experience?
Many people don’t realize that even though conversations seem spontaneous, the very successful ones are planned.
During a conversation, in many ways, you’re co-creating toward consensus. You may start on separate pages, but as interactions happen between the two of you, you get to a point of consensus.
That said, difficult and/or high-stakes conversations should be planned. You need to think through the needs of those you’re speaking with and what resonates with them.
Plan out your talk. Even be ready to sketch out concepts during the conversation(that you planned out ahead of time).
What is your business horizon and vision for your work trajectory?
I love what I’m doing right now. There really isn’t a job description for a CEO.
I went to a workshop about 8 years ago that said the role of a CEO is to be inventor, ambassador, investor, student and mentor.
I feel like that’s what I do and what I’ll continue to do. I never thought I’d enjoy writing, but I do. So my role as “inventor” is to imagine where the industry will go and create ideas that take it there.
Or, in the case of slidedocs.com, it was to identify a pain point and help solve it.
Do you have mentors, professionals you look up to? What role, if any, do they play in your work life? How should we go about seeking mentors? And how do we go about understanding the importance of filtering the feedback we receive?
For years, I didn’t have mentors to help me. It was a sign of weakness to me. I thought that if created great work product and delivered great service that the phone would ring.
Then, I met a group of women who rocked my world. About 10 executive women from the Silicon Valley went on a trip to India. Most of us didn’t know each other.
As we bumbled around on buses, these gracious, lovely women poured into me. They advised me on professional and personal facets of my life and two of them are on my advisory board to this day.
There’s danger in having too many advisers/mentors so I make sure that I have selected people where I don’t need to filter much of their advice.
The people I’ve selected have a deep well of wisdom, they pre-filter their a sound and wise perspective so I don’t have to.
If you were to share one word of advice with business leaders, what would that word be?
I want to make a difference. What is your one piece of advice to me?
To make a difference, you have to be willing to change the world in some way.
Pick something that you care passionately enough about that you’d be willing to invest in your communication skills enough to make it reality.
What a gift, learning the art of storytelling.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.