I want to expand a little on Mark’s post and on the communication structure we’re proposing. I hope you don’t mind, but let me start with how the idea emerged.
My first real job back in the 1980s was to work for Oracle Systems, the database company. One day my manager asked me to give a presentation to a group of customers who were coming in that afternoon. I went into the boardroom, sat up my slideshow and then realised I had no idea on how to give a presentation. I called my manager in and confessed by ignorance and he gave me a crash course. At the end of his instruction he suggested I join a Toastmasters club, which I did.
At Toastmasters a meeting often starts by the chair asking someone to give a little 3-minute impromptu talk on just about any topic the chair nominates. You have no time to prepare, you just have to talk. Thankfully Toastmasters provides some strategies to structure your response and one that I remember was called PREP: Point, Reason, Example, Point.
Wind forward to the 21st century. After working with stories for some time now we’ve learned that telling a story before giving a rational argument can be effective in helping your audience to really hear what you’re saying and perhaps even influence them in a new way of thinking. We came to this view after learning about the confirmation bias which tells us that if someone has a strong opinion, and your offer an alternative opinion, your attempt only serves to reinforce their strong opinion. Telling someone a story first, however, seems to loosen them up to hear your argument. We think this has something to do with the fact that stories provide a pull approach (the listener pulls the story to them) rather than a push approach (the teller pushes the information at the listeners).
So rather than Point, Reason, Example, Point (PREP) we are suggesting you should rearrange your responses to be Point, Example, Reason, Point (PERP); a small but significant change. And of course your example should be a story. And if you are uncetain what we mean by a story, please check out the story test.
This change to PERP will require us to change the way we present in organsations. The common approach goes something like this:
20 slides with lots of opinions, research, and clever argument.
“Now I would like to show you some examples.” Well, you’ve already kicked off the confirmation bias and if they felt strongly against the idea they are just digging in their heels.
“Welcome everyone. I would like to share a couple of examples that go to the heart of what we are facing and where we need to get to.”
You tell a couple of excellent stories
Now you make your argument.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: