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Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I Wanna Tell You a Story

By on April 05, 2007. Filed Under: business, delivery

How is it that you can sit through a film, even a fairly tedious one, that last ninety minutes to two hours, and yet frequently become arse-numbingly twitchy less than ten minutes into a PowerPoint presentation?

I grant you, even fairly dull movies are vastly more interesting than most presentations on SOA governance, but should they be?

You get paid to do something during the day that for much of the time you (hopefully) care passionately about, and yet when someone else wants to get a message across about it, it all becomes so drearily dull you want to stick a needle in your leg just to check you are still alive.

The answer is story telling. And it’s a surprisingly structured and complex subject area. Maybe there is some brain wiring that harks back to a verbally-powered generation-to-generation handing down of lore, but if you deliver a message around the constructs of narratology (even one that says “we need a centralised repository for our coarse-grained business services”) you’ll have a much better chance of capturing the audience long enough to get your point across.

I discovered this through the good fortune of having a brother who dated a narratology student some years ago, and was intrigued enough to go and by a couple of books on the subject.

Subconsciously perhaps, I started to create presentations using establishing scenes, plots, story arcs, sympathetic characters, dilemmas, and satisfactory endings. I also related them in a narrative voice, walking the audience through each slide of the story as if reading from a book.

There’s a fine line between telling a story, and being patronising of course and unfortunately, as with making movies, there’s no guaranteed recipe for success with your audience every time, but narratology does help you to think about your subject matter in a more objective light and to ask yourself important questions about your audience.

How can you paint an initial scene to create common understanding and grab their attention?

What are the key plot motivators?

What viewpoints in your story will the audience relate to most?

What choices are there to be made?

Start with the links on Wikipedia and take it as far as you are comfortable.

You don’t have to become Hans Christian Anderson, but a little thought beyond another management consultancy pyramid diagram will go a long way.

I suspect I’ll come back to this subject in the future.