Great storytelling evokes compassion

great stories evoke compassionHow not to present

A while back I heard about a seminar for pregnant women on how an unborn foetus might be affected by a women’s mental wellness. I was keen to learn about this to help a pregnant friend going through a tough time.

The expectation in the room suggested a high level of interest in this emerging and valuable topic. We seem more aware, but not necessarily more knowledgeable, of how much can affect growing babies from conception to birth.

Two keynote speakers took the stage; one an eminent professor of paediatrics from a leading maternity hospital, the other credentialed too, but as we were to discover, driven more by passion than academic rigour.

Death by PowerPoint

The professor who spoke first, put up her PowerPoint display. It came up in tiny type, with her whole address, page, after page, after page.

For most of her presentation she stood with her back to the audience and read it. Delivered from that position, her speech was mostly incoherent for her audience.

We were a room of amateurs, not aspiring pediatricians, so we couldn’t understand the jargon, acronyms, and other slide-borne presentation mysteries.

She had misread her audience.  It was a missed opportunity, as she did not elicit any emotional response in her audience, either for the unborn or its mother.

Stories build trust and empathy

The second speaker took the stage. For 40 minutes he held us captivated. He enrolled us in story after story about pregnancy, unborns, mothers, depression, and anxiety, which evoked in his audience concern for the foetus and compassion for its mothers.

He demonstrated the science behind his stories, tying everything back to the central topic of the mother’s mental wellness during pregnancy. This was good communication and it was riveting.  

In today’s fast and information-overloaded spaces, purpose driven storytelling is a vital skill, we’d all benefit from, both as presenter and audience.

Here are some simple keys to turn a sleep-inducing, dull, and possibly, insulting presentation (you can read blog or proposal here) into one that leaves your audience leaning in, wanting to know more.

5 simple keys to powerful communication

Know your purpose, your audience and your intention. What is your purpose? How is your presentation delivering on it?  Who is in the room. Your words are much more likely to land if your message is addressed to their problems, issues, or interests. What do you want them to think act or do as a result of your presentation?

One topic, three key messages. You have a wealth of information and value to impart.  To often, presenters make the mistake of including everything, cramming it all in, at speed, or in minute type on a slide presentation. Your audiences will catch nothing, not even the one vital point you are so qualified to make.

Become a story teller. Stories that are emotionally charged and character-driven engage and reduce the gap between you and your audience, creating intimacy and trust. We are all designed to learn from them. The science proves that key messages will fall on receptive ears when carried by a tale.

Think about cadence.The rhythm of language and its delivery can move people to think entirely differently about what they’ve heard. It’s no surprise that Shakespeare continues to influence people with his poetic prose centuries after it was written.

Become a critic.You’ll enhance your communications if you learn to listen carefully to others. What moves you, what doesn’t? Why does one speaker engage you and another not? Why do you remember a lot about one presentation and recall little or nothing from another? When do people tell stories and how does it work for you?

Becoming a great storyteller so a better communicator, whose words matter to make a difference requires clarity of purpose and intention, self-awareness, empathy, and a desire to serve others rather than to grandstand, sell or promote. You’ll never regret the shift, or the work to do it.

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