But shouldn’t some presentations be more sober?
Isn’t the goal of, say, a weekly sales report simply to deliver information? Does a quarterly budget review really have a story? For us, the answer is emphatically yes. To help us make our case, let’s look at what might be the most sober communication task of all: writing the laws of the land.
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) is the body responsible for drafting the legal bills which are read in Parliament. If a Bill is passed, the OPC writes the Act which then passes into law. For its team of law writers, the OPC publishes Drafting Guidance. As you would expect, this document contains extensive advice about legislative specifics. There are the usual rules of ‘house style’ covering spelling conventions, times and dates and punctuation.
What caught our attention, though, were the very opening words of the Drafting Guidance:
PART 1 CLARITY
1.1 Telling the Story
1.1.1 Take readers by the hand and lead them through the story you have to tell.
Isn’t this remarkable? Even the laws of the land – which surely require a highly sober, ‘informative’ approach – are stories!
Note that Part 1 of the guidance is headed ‘Clarity’. This is the primary goal of legislative drafting, and it should likewise be the primary goal of a business presentation or pitch. Clarity means that the key message is landing with impact. And the OPC believes (as we do) that the best way to achieve clarity is by telling a story.
Before a message can be clear to listeners, it must be clear to the person delivering it.
When planning a presentation, by thinking of it as a story, you start to understand its key features. Who or what might the hero be? What quest are you on? What is the endpoint of your journey? What will it mean to ‘return home’?
Different stories offer different ways of shaping and ordering a message to give it impact. Together with our clients, we look at classic narrative structures to find the one that best fits what they are working on, and to ensure that they hook their audience and deliver a memorable message. The OPC gives its drafters the same advice:
1.1.5 Finding a clear order in which to tell your story is fundamental. This goes for a story which is spread across a whole Bill or for a story contained in a single clause.
This final sentence echoes our advice, too: storytelling techniques work on multiple levels. The presentation has its overall narrative arc, but within it, each point tells its own story, as does each slide in a Powerpoint, each paragraph, and even each item within a list.
With our background as creative professionals, we at MSB Executive are are uniquely placed to share our storytelling expertise with our clients. After all stories are everywhere, even in the Houses of Parliament.