The first time I clearly understood that I should start telling stories, I was in my last year of college.
An accident waiting to happen
I had been working in my final project for about a year and a half, collaborating with a diverse team of doctors, physicists, and engineers. We worked in a hospital, developing some tools for doctors to be more accurate in the diagnosis of some fatal diseases. Engineers, we made the coding. My part was to develop a tool to interpret and make easy to analyze a specific type of medical images of the heart.
After a lot of time and not less effort, my day came. I presented my work in front of a board to get my major. The room was plenty of people: friends, some professors and, of course, many of the members of my team.
I worked my tail off preparing a presentation to explain the project and a demo of the tool I’ve developed. Everything was ready. Surprisingly, nothing failed.
My speech started, and when time was passing by, I realized that both the board and the public were getting deadly bored. My presentation was full of data, facts, and screenshots. Technically, it was perfect. And yet, everyone, including me, would rather prefer being anywhere else.
It was horribly boring. And I felt terribly miserable and insecure.
After what I thought it was a millennium, I received my grade. Fortunately, the board manage to stay awake despite my efforts.
Going through this experience made me think that there should be another way to convey any kind of information and engage people at the same time. I was told to stay professional but, is it incompatible with delivering a truly engaging presentation?
Getting the audience involved
I know now, almost 25 years later, that even conveying the most technical information, there are ways to engage people. Don’t engage people, and they won’t remember anything, or it will be way harder.
Basically, developing a good communication is about to get the audience involved. And there’s only one way to make this happen: making them feel. People never forget how you make them feel. And the felling will let them recall the information.
You might be thinking, I’m an engineer, a doctor, a manager. I deliver quite complex technical information. There are no feelings involved…
But of course, they are! Wherever there is a person listening to you, reading what you write, there are always been some kind of emotions involved.
A good story
We humans love stories. Stories were the way to transmit knowledge and convey information, even before we can write. They still are.
A good story, one that truly engage the audience, is always stuff with emotions. Sparking curiosity, provoking fear, spreading laughter, boosting empathy… these are all ways of introducing emotions in your speech.
It doesn’t have to be long, though. It could be an anecdote related with the topic; a joke to relax the ambient; a tale with a learning; or a shared symbol which recalls the precise emotion you need to bring onto the table.
You can use a story as an introduction to frame the topic. It also works as an ending, to give your audience food for thoughts or simply to share yours.
Looking backwards to that day, I could have done things different. I could have told them what happened the first time a doctor tested the tool and how he smiled thinking of the potential for improved diagnoses. I could have told them how hard it was going through endless days debugging the code because there were real patients behind the images, and it had to be error free. Maybe a joke about how lost I was in my first days at the hospital could have awakened the room by making them laugh. I had a thousand of stories to tell!
I left people’s emotions outside my presentation and missed a great opportunity for them to fully understand what it was all about. Not to mention that we all could have had a better time!