Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte

“The public is composed of numerous groups whose cry to us writers is:
‘Comfort me. ‘Amuse me.’ ‘Touch my sympathies.’ ‘Make me sad.’
‘Make me dream.’ ‘Make me laugh.’ ‘Make me shiver.’
Make me weep.’ ‘Make me think.’”
(Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant)

Nancy Duarte owns an award-winning presentation design firm. Her first book, slide:ology, examined visual presentation techniques. Her second book, Resonate, demonstrates how we can apply storytelling techniques to our writing and presentations to help us share information more effectively.

Why stories are important
“The structure and significance of stories transforms information from static and flat to dynamic and alive. Stories reshape information into meaning.”

People love stories – from a James Bond movie full of action and adventure to the latest gossip. Unfortunately, we often fail to apply storytelling techniques to our business writing – and that’s a shame.

Resonate is aimed primarily at applying storytelling techniques to oral presentations. And yet I found much that would apply to business writing of all kinds. Here are some of the key themes.

One big idea
“Don’t parade in front of the audience spewing every factoid
you know on your topic. Only share the right information
for that exact moment with that specific audience.”

We so often fail to write effectively because we haven’t clearly defined our purpose and our audience: Who is my audience? What information do I want to share? What do I want the readers to do as a result of receiving this information?

Duarte says that there are three components to your key message. It must articulate your unique point of view rather than generalizations. It must convey what is at stake. And you should be able to articulate it as a complete sentence. To state that your presentation is about the company’s profits in the third quarter lacks action and meaning. ‘Innovative sales initiatives dramatically increased our third-quarter profits.’ has characters with a story to tell.

And, as Duarte explains, “People love stories because life is full of adventure and we’re hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy, so we empathize with characters who have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face.”

Call to action
Duarte recommends making the audience the hero of your story.

“Screenwriter Chad Hodge points out in Harvard Business Review that we should ‘[help] people to see themselves as the hero of the story, whether the plot involves beating the bad guys or achieving some great business objective. Everyone wants to be a star, or at least to feel that the story is talking to or about him personally.’”

Your purpose as the writer or presenter is to safely guide your audience as they step away from the safety of their old ideas and make changes in their actions or ways of thinking. Duarte reminds us to recognize that there are risks that will be met with resistance and can be overcome by offering rewards.

“Be cognizant of the sacrifice the audience will make when you ask them to do something, because you’re asking them to give up a small – but still irretrievable – slice of their lives. If you consider the potential risks that the audience will face when you ask them to buy into your big idea, you will be prepared to manage their apprehension and respond effectively to overcome it.”

“Structure allows your audience to follow your thought process.
If you don’t have clear structure then you end up jumping around
making random connections to ideas that are unclear to the audience.
Solid structure causes ideas to flow logically and helps the audience
see how the points connect to each other.”

Resonate identifies three key tools:

Destination – The audience needs to have a clear picture of the current situation and the proposed destination. By creating a “dramatic dichotomy between what is and what could be,” you provide the incentive for moving forward, despite the risks and resistance.

Ebb and flow – Stories have a rhythm that moves the audience forward and keeps them listening, wanting to know what will happen next. The plot consists of challenges that are resolved before moving on to the next. Duarte says that “Your job as a communicator is to create and resolve tension through contrast” and lists three types of contrast – content (moving back and forth between what is and what could be), emotion (from analytical to emotional) and delivery (traditional and non-traditional delivery methods).

Sound Bites – Duarte recommends developing and repeating key phrases that people can easily remember and then repeat.

Head and Heart
“You can have piles of facts and still fail to resonate.
It’s not the information itself that’s important
but the emotional impact of that information.
This doesn’t mean that you should abandon facts entirely.
Use plenty of facts, but accompany them with emotional appeal.”

We so often steer clear of emotion, particularly at work. But conveying nothing but the facts often fails to demonstrate why those facts matter. You can list all the features of your new product, but the customer will only buy it if you successfully show them that this new product will make their life easier, save them time, be fun to play with, etc.

1 comment:

Nancy Duarte said...

Thank you for your support, Penny!