Provide your example before your reasons—introducing PERP

Posted by Shawn Callahan - May 13, 2011
Filed in Communication

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:

“Welcome everyone.

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.

How about:

“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 is one of 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:

2 Responses to “Provide your example before your reasons—introducing PERP”

  1. Patti Scaramuzzo Says:

    Shawn: I love your point here…one I have been making awhile when trying to get experts to share their expertise. There’s much more memorable knowledge hidden in the nooks and crannies of stories than there is on a PowerPoint chart.
    Another interesting perspective, too. Often, when teaching someone a new concept, it’s much better to give them the opportunity to create their own story before showing them new knowledge or convincing them of a new point. To achieve this, I like to put the exercise BEFORE the learning point, whenever possible.
    Very little knowledge is new to us, when we get it. We just have to reframe what we’ve learned. When presented in that way, learning is much swifter, has more relevance, and tends to be retained longer, because we repeat our “stories” over and over in our heads, making the knowledge pervasive.

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks Patti. I like what you are saying about the exercises. My sense is that we need to help people create new stories for themselves and this comes about by having experiences. I guess the challenge is in designing an experience that they can really feel and one which gives new insight. I shared an amazing example on my personal blog just the other day which I think you will find interesting. Here’s the URL http://shawndcallahan.com/people-remember-what-they-feel