Why Is It So Difficult to Make Your Presentations “Stick”?

Throughout my 27 years as a corporate executive and seven as a corporate coach, I have attended far too many business presentations that tried to convey several messages, were delivered in ways that did not engage the audience, were difficult to understand, and were forgotten the moment the speech was over. In fact, I must confess that in my early years, I was the one holding the microphone in some of them. In my quest to continuously educate myself on this subject and be able to provide helpful advice to the executives and teams I coach, I recently read an excellent book that complemented what I have learned throughout the years: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This is one of those rare books in which the content is not only exceptional, but the writing style is highly engaging. In fact, the way it engages the reader proves what the authors claim is needed for a message to “stick.” Rather than summarizing the book’s many lessons, I am going to highlight one of the authors’ key suggestions: using inspirational stories. This is probably not the first time you’ve been told about the importance of telling stories in your presentations. However, when was the last time you used one in a business context? Or think about the business presentations you attended last week: What was the most memorable piece of information you can recall? If any of the presenters used an inspirational story, chances are, that’s what you remember the most. Inspirational stories come in three plots:

  1. The Challenge: If you want to motivate the audience to embrace a difficult business feat, consider using a plot where the protagonist faces a formidable challenge and comes out victorious (think David conquering Goliath, an underdog sports team beating the undefeated contender, etc.).
  2. The Connection: If you are trying to forge cooperation between distant teams, inspirational stories about developing a relationship that bridges a gap between people may be helpful. An example is the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, who helped a Jew in dire need despite hostility between Samaria and Judea.
  3. The Creativity: Stories with a MacGyver-like plot are useful if you want the audience to “think out of the box” and create a breakthrough way to address an outstanding issue. If your goal is to inspire and energize your audience, consider using inspirational stories that incorporate one of these three plots.

Count on me if you want help in developing business presentations that stick.


Percy M. Cannon Corporate Coach www.cannon.consulting

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