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Finding Your Story: Creative Brainstorming

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Dynamic speaking skills are important to creating a winning presentation, but without a good flow to move things along, your presentation will fall flat. In this chapter, Jerry Weissman presents a useful technique for creating a story for your presentation that will lead your audience where you want them to go.

In this chapter

  • Techniques for connecting with your right brain and the plot of your story

  • Brainstorming a presentation story with a group

  • Figuring out what you've forgotten

As you've seen, a critical component of crafting a great presentation is that, first and foremost, you must get your story right. Although a strong speaking voice, appropriate gestures, and skilled answers to challenging questions are important factors, none of them will yield a really powerful presentation unless your story is clear and leads your audience directly where you want them to go: your Point B.

Creating your presentation begins with the development of your story. Here is one of the first places where traditional methods of creating a presentation can go wrong.

The Data Dump

Remember the MEGO syndrome? It strikes when Mine Eyes Glaze Over during a presentation that overflows with too many facts, all poured out without purpose, structure, or logic. When that happens, the presentation degenerates into a data dump—a shapeless outpouring of everything the presenter knows about the topic.

All too many business-people labor under the mistaken assumption that, for their audience to understand anything, they have to be told everything.

All too many businesspeople labor under the mistaken assumption that, for their audience to understand anything, they have to be told everything—to tell them the time, they have to be told how a clock is built. As a result, they give extensive presentations that amount to nothing more than data dumps: "Let's show them the statistics about the growth of the market. Then we've got the results of the last two customer satisfaction surveys. Throw in some excerpts from the press coverage we got after our product launch. Give them the highlights of our executive team's résumés. And don't forget the financial figures; the more, the better." I call this the Frankenstein approach: assembling disparate body parts.

The audiences to these data dumps are hapless victims. But sometimes the victims rebel. "And your point is?" and "So what?" are the all-too-common anguished interruptions of audiences besieged and overwhelmed by torrents of excessive words and slides. Those interruptions, however, are made more out of self-protection than rudeness. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

The Data Doesn't Tell the Story, But You Can't Tell the Story Without the Data

I hope that you'll never inflict a data dump on any of your audiences. But performing one is vital to the success of any presentation. The secret: The data dump must be part of your preparation, not the presentation. Do it backstage, not in the show itself. (The Greek word obscene originally described any theatrical action, such as a murder, that was kept off-stage, out of the scene, because it was improper to display such behavior in public. In this sense, you can regard a data dump as literally obscene.)

What you need instead is a proven system to incorporate a thorough data dump into the development of your story. Brainstorming is the ticket. It's a process that encourages free association, creativity, randomness, and openness while helping you consider all the information that may (or may not) belong in your presentation. Later in the process, you can sort, select, eliminate, add, and organize these raw materials into a form that flows logically and compellingly from Point A to Point B. At the start, the key is not to apply logic to the materials, but simply to get them all out on the table where they can be examined, evaluated, and sorted. Do the distillation before the organization: Focus before flow.

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