Unleash the Power of Storytelling in Your Next Deck by Penning a Narrative First
Stories are one of the oldest forms of human communication. From the tale of Simba reclaiming his throne to the defeat of Leonidas against King Xerxes, stories have existed to teach lessons, warn people, and recount the past.
Likewise, stories exist in the business world in the form of presenting quarterly reports, plans, pitches, and ideas. Yes, data is an integral part of these sorts of decks and presentations, but without wrapping that information into a clear, concise story – the real power of your data will diminish to a slew of confusing numbers and graphs.
Or worse, your audience will just forget what you told them.
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We know that a great deck is founded on a great story, but before you fire away at Powerpoint, you need to know where that story is going.
Would a great author just start tapping away at the keyboard? Or would they sketch it all out first? Okay, maybe the really talented ones would just tap it out - but for the rest of us, we need to sketch it out!
Every story is founded on a solid narrative.
In the world of presentations, I would define a narrative as a storytelling tool that consists of 3-5 sentences. It’s important to note that writing a narrative is for the benefit of the presentation author only. They are not meant to be presented to an audience.
I like to compare a narrative to a synopsis of a movie. Here’s an example based on the movie Moana:
“An adventurous teenager sails out on a daring mission to save her people.
During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui, who guides her in her quest to become a master way-finder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters, and impossible odds.
Along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she always sought: her own identity”
So what does this have to do with writing an excellent quarterly report or annual strategy?
Let’s break down the Moana example first.
The Three Parts of a Narrative
Establish A Purpose
First thing’s first: we need to set expectations with our audience. What are they about to see? No, I’m not talking about an agenda - those are boring as heck. I’m talking about setting the stage, like the opening scene of a movie. Create some tension! What problem needs to be solved?
Establishing a purpose clearly frames up a challenge that you, your team, or your client is expecting you to solve during the course of your presentation.
Starting with this may seem simple, but it will put you in the right headspace when weaving the full story of your deck.
In the Moana example, the first sentence establishes the purpose.
“An adventurous teenager sails out on a daring mission to save her people.”
We know who we’re dealing with, what she’s doing, and how she’s doing it. Lots of information here for our audience.
Show The Journey
Next, we need to show what happens after our purpose is established.
“Showing The Journey” is all about exhibiting the key plot points and the bulk of our story. It contains your findings, key data, vision, or other notable bits of information that are important to make your point. The journey also gets you a few steps closer to actually solving that problem you mentioned earlier. More importantly, it helps the audience understand how you got to that solution.
In the Moana example below, the journey is shown with these two sentences:
“During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui, who guides her in her quest to become a master way-finder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters, and impossible odds.”
Small note: you don’t actually have to start with “During her/our journey” - it’s just a coincidence.
Pay It Off
The third part is the conclusion to your story. This closes the loop by answering the problem or the challenge posed in your first sentence when you “established your purpose”.
To go back to the thrilling conclusion to our Moana example:
“Along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she always sought: her own identity”
Our protagonist fulfills her quest, the challenge is solved, and we know the true meaning of the story.
Example Narrative for an Insights Presentation
Okay, enough about Moana and Disney stories - let’s delve into a more relevant business example. Take the example below for instance. It’s a narrative written for an insights presentation. The insights are for example only - but the narrative still works just the same:
Establish a Purpose
I always like to start with the business objective - “In order to…[business objective].” This sets the stage perfectly and shows your audience you’re thinking about the big picture.
What is the business objective of the study that was conducted?
In this example, the insights team set out to“understand which creative theme influenced young men the most” (assuming the team had several themes they wanted more information on in order to make a more informed decision about which direction to move forward with).
Show the Journey
The next two sentences show the journey the team went on while they were collecting their information for the study. This highlights the most important pieces of information gathered along the way, interprets them a bit, and helps get our audience closer to the conclusion.
Pay it Off
Finally, we get to our conclusion – or in this case, a solid recommendation finishes off the narrative leaving the audience with a clear, actionable recommendation.
Putting it into Action
The power of every story is unleashed by first crafting a solid narrative. It’s amazing what a few sentences can do: set a clear purpose for your deck, showcase a killer argument, and then wrap with actionable recommendations. Not only is this great for the author, but also for a team that needs to add content to the same deliverable. With a narrative, they’ll know exactly what the story looks like and will be able to add to it seamlessly.
Give this a try for your next presentation - spend about 30 minutes on it at the minimum. After, you’ll be on your way to building a great deck.