For you and me as presenters, stories are our inventory. They are the heartbeat of our presentation. They are the part that brings the presentation to life. Wouldn’t it make sense then that the more stories you have to choose from, the easier it can be to make a point? The more stories you have to choose from, the easier it can be to customize your presentation for a specific audience. If you have many stories to choose from, you probably realize that some are stronger than others, and some are more memorable. So, where do you look to find more?
Recently Mark Brown, www.MarkBrownSpeaks.com, and I presented to a group of executives in Kyiv, Ukraine. During the training session, Mark came up with a brilliant idea for where to find and how to identify stories. They are all around us, and the key to finding them is closer than you think. Check your parents’ photo albums and your phone!
First, look though your parents’ photo albums. This is a picture of me growing up in the middle of my first shave. It is right out of Mom and Dad’s photo album. Not only can it be fun to look at these old photos again, but when you have a mission of intentionally looking for stories, you can also find absolute gold. These pictures will remind you of stories from your youth that can help you make some powerful points. Younger people may laugh as they see the fashions from days gone by, and older people will reminisce about their younger years. Either way this type of image could help you make a memorable point.
This innocent-looking picture, when accompanied by a well-told story, could even make a powerful business point. The point could be about a company change that is coming up. It could be about growing before you are ready. Thank goodness there wasn’t an actual razor blade in my little plastic shaver! A first of anything can make a universal point. It becomes an analogy that stems from the story behind the picture.
You could also sit down with your siblings or parents and an audio recorder and ask them questions about some of the pictures. They could add some cool insights that could spice up your story even better than you remember. This simple exercise could be fun and yield golden story fodder for your presentations. Because pictures decades ago were expensive to develop, those old pictures have more meaning behind them than the simple selfies of today.
They say “a picture paints 1,000 words,” but it can also reveal 1,000 stories. Look at the recent pictures in your phone and ask yourself, “Why did I take that one? What’s the story behind it?” We usually take each picture for a reason. Now, every one of them may not have a perspective-changing story behind them, but Mark and I bet that if you sit down and go through your pictures with the intention of finding some good stories, you will.
When you took each picture, something struck you. Something stood out enough to make you want to capture that moment. To find your hidden stories, Mark suggests you look for one of the following:
Was there something that you found astonishing? Why was it amazing to you? Had it been your first observation of something new? When Mark and I were presenting to the executives, I was amazed that the event coordinators pulled out a large clear fish bowl and walked around and started collecting cell phones. What? That was crazy to me. I could not see that ever happening in the United States. It amazed me, so I took a picture because I believed that no U.S. presenters would believe me. Collecting participants’ cell phones was done very professionally, and everyone seemed to comply without questioning.
What makes you laugh or snicker? Whatever cracks you up may have a story behind it. Maybe you even thought something was cute. It is your perspective and your choice through which you see things. This is the same perspective in which we see your presentation. We see your subject through your eyes.
As Mark and I took a walk through the city of Kyiv, I kept taking pictures of the cars parked on the sidewalks. Not next to the sidewalk; actually on the sidewalk. That’s crazy. It cracked me up so much that Mark started laughing every time I took out my camera to take a picture around each new corner. There could easily be a story idea there, either to make a personal or professional point. This idea may or may not make it to the stage, but if it does, the cool bonus is that I now have my own unique picture to add to my slide presentation instead of using stock clip art that will make me look boring or unoriginal.
When we walked though the square in downtown Kyiv, we saw the memorials to over 100 innocent people who were killed just a couple of years ago. Seeing the fresh flowers and photos of the innocent lives lost made me slow down a step and reflect. I couldn’t help taking several pictures, not really knowing why I was doing it. I know I was moved.
Later, as we were in the middle of the city approaching our hotel, a smell in the air turned me around. In my mind I went back to my childhood. I could smell my dad’s woodworking shop in our basement where he spent hours creating his masterpieces, like Gippetto carefully smoothing each edge. When I looked up, I saw a carpenter on a ladder working on a wooden doorway.
Mark says that the important thing to ask yourself is this:
For you and me as presenters, it is the lesson learned by the story that matters. Interesting facts are just that, but stories move people, and they can provide a new perspective when they are well told. I realized I had to take a picture of the carpenter in Kyiv because it was a real-life example that I can use to show people the power of smell when telling stories. The smell of the burnt sawdust in the air took me back to my dad’s workshop when I was a little boy, even though at that moment I was half way around the world from my dad. A strong aroma has power for setting the scene of a great story.
As presenters, stories are our inventory. They are the heartbeat of our presentation. Want more heartbeats? Find and develop more stories. What is the difference between an average storyteller and a great one? Great storytellers take the time to search their lives for story ideas and then hone that idea until it becomes so good it can move an audience. Most presenters won’t take the time to search their own lives for the gems that lie just waiting to be discovered. Seek through your own pictures, and you will find more gems than you will have time to develop.
Remember, the idea is just the starting point for creating a great story. Without ideas you are at a standstill until another one comes along. Going through your pictures, both past and present, should bring you a plethora of ideas. Once you have ideas, you can turn them into masterpieces. In each picture you can find several stories if you look close enough. A picture may paint 1,000 words, but a great story can change 1,000 lives.
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