Story is the way we understand the world. The way we form memory. In fact, it is around the age of three that we can understand story and so our two year old memories tend to consist of no more than our grandmother’s carpet or our favourite shoes. At three we understand narrative – by which I mean cause and effect, as in “I leaned over the side of the boat to get my teddy back and because of that, I fell in”. That’s a three year old’s memory.
As we get older we start to enjoy books, films and TV shows where the “because of that” mechanism is more surprising. We don’t see it coming that Darth Vader is Luke’s father in Star Wars but when it’s revealed – it’s a revelation. Expert storytellers hide the ‘cause and effect’ to make plots more exciting but it’s at the heart of every narrative. Because of the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella can go to the ball, she meets the love of her life. Because she has to leave in a hurry, she loses her shoe and so on. If she leaves with everyone else and happens to pick-up her umbrella in the cloakroom on the way out and the prince sees her in the queue so he doesn’t have to track her down, it’s not as compelling because it feels a bit more ‘matter-of-fact’….like life.
Most business presentations feel like information presented in an arbitrary order. They’re easier to tune out of than a great movie, because they lack cause and effect. They’re just a series of facts or ideas with no ‘’because of that’’ linking them. If you miss the first ten percent of most PowerPoint presentations, you’ve missed exactly that – ten percent of the information. If you miss the first ten percent of a blockbuster movie, you’ve missed much more than that – you’ve missed the cause, so the effect won’t make sense. It’s much harder to catch-up.
Do you have to go to Hollywood and take a screenwriting course to become a powerful communicator? Not really. We’re all great storytellers; in the pub with our best mates sharing our holiday debacle or the traffic incident we just witnessed. We know precisely which information is important to our audience to buy into our story. We know exactly what to hold back till the most exciting moment. What makes us leave these things out when communicating with colleagues or clients? A combination of feeling a slave to our corporate culture, an idea we must do things ‘the way everyone else does them’ and the fear of getting things wrong.
We need to find ways to override these pressures so we can transfer our excellent, instinctive storytelling skills to the boardroom. We all know compelling corporate speakers who we can’t help but listen to and quote to others. We need to inspire our audiences.
The first step to being that kind of dynamic communicator is to look for the opportunities to say ‘’because of that’’ which will make your audience want to know……”what comes next”.