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Trying to make a point? Tell a story

I’ve talked a couple times about different tools that I use including Powtoon. Last night I was pulling together a Powtoon trying to capture the story of why I think there should be a premium put on decision making, particularly within the federal space as we go into these more austere budget times. Every little decision counts. It’s important to be able to evaluate everything that you have, identify areas where you can save a little bit here so you can give a little bit back there, and make better use of your resources to support the mission.

So this is a problem I’ve briefed for years at a high level using traditional mechanisms like PowerPoint decks, but it’s really something that I think lends itself to telling a story. In general, one of the things that makes Powtoon so great is it forces you to tell a story almost by the very nature of the tool set. The tool is centered on the idea that you’re making a cartoon.

I think one of the big failings of PowerPoint decks is they let you be very conceptual. I’ll find myself starting to put the elements together of something and so I’ll begin to talk conceptually about whatever problem I’m trying to address at the moment. It takes a lot of effort to tell that story across a PowerPoint because you have to go back later to the notes so you can remember what your thought track was supposed to be. What I like about Powtoon is that it allows you to do all of that at one time, roll it together, and have something that you can show in a repeatable fashion.

I’ve found that if I focus in on something, you can cut down a lot of the abstractions that might go into a PowerPoint deck. It enables you to focus on the story elements. You may not get in all the nitty gritty details in there the way you would have in your busy PowerPoint deck, but you get the heart of it in there. What I found is that it resonates more with people even though you get a quarter of the data that would be in a PowerPoint presentation. The fact that you pulled it into a story means that people retain it better as well. I’ve had people watch a two minute video and tell me that “You know I watched that and I finally really got what you were talking!” Now I take that as a compliment on the one hand. On the other hand, if it’s somebody that I’ve spent an hour with presenting out of a deck and I found out all I really needed to do was show them a two minute video; I’m not quite sure how to take that. I don’t know what that says about my presentation skills but I do think that there’s something to be said for that tool, specifically meaning Powtoon.

I think there’s a bigger lesson that is you really have to focus on telling stories when you give presentations. It’s what drives the response that you want to get out of your audience. It’s what drives audience engagement and it makes people remember things. It’s very hard when you’re just hammered with facts and data to pull it all together yourself and remember all the pieces that were important. If you put in a story, people will remember the same way that they remember the stories that come out of the books they read and the movies they watch. It just makes it much more digestive. So the next time you’re trying to make a point; tell a story.

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Mary Yang

Great post, Joshua! I’ve never heard of Powtoon, but I’ll be looking into it. I do think that PowerPoint can help a person tell a story, as long as you choose to use PPT in that way. Many times, it’s really the presenter that needs to believe in the power of storytelling and PPT can support that goal. But I also understand that it’s almost too easy to go with bullet points.

With storytelling gaining such prominence again, my company is actually hosting a free digital communications event for government communicators (event will be held in DC) around “the power of the message.” Our keynote is the author of Lead with a Story, and he’ll be talking about why & when to bring storytelling to the table. I’ve read his book, and it’s got some great tips!