As I stood in chaos about to board my flight to Milan, Italy, I snapped a picture of the crowd trying to board with no direction or organized lines and posted it on FB. One of my close friends, Guy Burns, commented on the photo and told me to be sure I saw Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper, while in Milan. That’s in Milan?
Upon arriving I asked my hosts if there was any way I could see the painting during my visit and was told that you have to buy tickets two weeks in advance. I asked them to please find a way to make it happen, and I prayed. I was excited to hear that they were able to get a ticket for me. Boom. My new friend, Roberto, brought me to Santa Maria delle Grazie (Church of Holy Mary of Grace) where the painting is housed in a special, temperature-controlled room.
After we walked into the Dominican convent, we stepped into a holding room with glass doors. As we waited, our guide explained that the painting is deteriorating, and there have been many restorations over time. When the sealed glass doors opened, we walked into a large refectory, a dining room in monasteries. I was shocked to see that the painting is actually an enormous wall mural! Wow! I had thought it was just a large painting.
What really grabbed me was the story behind the mural. That’s why I love museums and the great stories and analogies in every corner. Da Vinci began work on the painting in 1495 and completed it in1498. Our guide said that before da Vinci, most paintings of The Last Supper depicted Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. Da Vinci’s version, on the other hand, depicts the reactions of Jesus and his disciples when he tells them, “Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Gospel of John 13:21
After this was explained, I looked at the painting differently. It now made more sense. The guide said, “Notice, Jesus is the only one in the painting at peace.” She said that he had just gotten that burden off his chest. He is relieved, but his disciples are in turmoil. Da Vinci depicted his perception of the disciples’reactions based on the writings about their character traits in The Bible. Fascinating.
Wow, so what does this mean to you and me as presenters? Even if you are not a believer, the lesson is still pertinent for what we do. If reaction beings life to a two-dimensional painting, imagine what it can do for you and your audience when you are presenting.
You may have heard me say, “Reactions tell the story.” This is exactly what I’m talking about. As presenters, storytelling is one of our greatest tools. One of the crucial aspects of storytelling is showing, not talking about, the reaction. This is what helps bring your stories to life and helps your audience connect emotionally to you and your story.
Look at each of the stories you regularly tell and see if you are showing a reaction to what happens, the action, and the dialogue. The reaction may take only seconds to show, but it can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your story. Most presenters skip over this moment and go on to their next line. This is also the key opportunity to show a shift in the emotions of a character. It helps creates engagement with your audience.
Why did all the other painters before Da Vinci choose to paint a more static scene? This is big! Take the lesson from Da Vinci. He thought about the story before he painted it. Do you think about your story before you tell it? Step back and look at the key transformational moment in your story, and build your story around that. I’m curious about where the artist learned this lesson; we may never know. Every time we take the stage in front of an audience, we are artists. Preparation is crucial to storytelling. Will you take the time and look for the key transformational moment in your stories? Will you take the time to show the reaction?
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