feature article

Will that be FACT or FICTION? by Trish Green
published Sales Promotion Magazine February 2001

How did it happen? Another pointless presentation. The presenter was a gifted storyteller. She had wonderful stories, spoke dramatically, told endless jokes, which she laughed at uproariously, and never got to her point. Certainly, we were entertained but that feeling of what to do next lingered on.

Her mistake was having no structure. She admitted she didn’t know where she was going, and certainly we didn’t either. A missed opportunity — perhaps. She saw it more as an opportunity to learn more about building structure into her next presentation. And she did.

I explained to her there are two basic approaches to presenting – both work – both require structure. You can create a dramatic structure by Telling a Story or you can create a straightforward structure by Telling the Facts.

Why Tell Stories —

Make facts come to life
Stories have a natural structure — an intro, a plot, a climax and a resolution. You can use these natural elements of a story to carry your introduction, main points and conclusion. Stories provide inspiration, drama. They're about need and conflict and people can’t help but get drawn in.

Second that emotion
Stories tap into emotions better than anything else. Our most profound decisions are made emotionally, not rationally. Good presenters are instinctive storytellers.

Motivate without intimidation
Stories are a way to establish common ground between speaker and audience — a way to motivate without intimidating. A true presentation looks toward its own outcome (what the presenter wants the audience to do) and is designed accordingly.

Create a memory aid
Stories connect ideas with an individual's passion. People remember stories and when they do - they remember you.

Why Tell Just the Facts — they provide information

There are times, of course, when you need to provide facts. Facts are plentiful, so plentiful that many presenters overwhelm their audience with data dump. What’s valuable is the perspective you bring to the facts – your POV (point of view). A straightforward structure allows you to inform in a way that is easy for all to understand. I call it “filtering the facts”. To do this:

Find the facts
Perform your research. Find the “who, what, where, when, why and how.” Answers to these questions provide the information base you need.

Use relevant facts
Avoid getting caught up in details. You want your listeners to be armed with new information that is valuable to them. Knowing your audience needs will determine which facts you use.

Order the facts
Arrange the relevant facts in order from most to least important. Interpret and present these facts in ways that will be meaningful to the audience. Think of your presentation as a "story" that you're going to tell.

Include your POV
The key to successfully presenting Just the Facts is your POV. It doesn't matter if you are talking about the details of a new product or persuading them to fund a new initiative, your success will count on your ability to inspire enthusiasm. Be sure to provide:

  • facts and supportive data;

  • examples or analogies that add meaning and

  • context to the data and reasons this is important to your listeners.

The two approaches to structuring a presentation are critically intertwined. An informative presentation that does not inspire is as ineffective as an inspiring one that lacks meaningful content.

All in all, it's perfectly OK to speak without notes or an outline and see where inspiration takes you—but then it's a good idea to analyze your structure and decide, will it be fact or fiction.  

©2001 Trish Green www.trishgreen.com Toronto-based presentation skills specialist, public speaker, trainer, columnist and publisher t'greetings, an electronic newsletter for business presenters.


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