Strategic Storytelling

"I want to read a public speaking book that is about the real speaking situations in which I find myself at work every day.”

- Strategic Storytelling, page vi

Have you ever wondered how to create a persuasive presentation? Is there a smart approach to telling your story so you have maximum chance of getting your message across? Has anyone ever researched what an effective presentation should look like? It turns out that there is research and excellent findings laid out in this book.

Dave McKinsey has taken his years of experience to do a case study, dissecting 3 presentations related to a public project. Along the way, he talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of each presentation in order to demonstrate strategic storytelling best practices through the use of presentations. McKinsey covers everything, from simple things like page numbering and logo sizing/placement, to rules for content, visuals, data representation, and several dos and don’ts.

One of the most useful takeaways from McKinsey’s book is that there are a few basic, clear formulas for delivering most categories of professional presentations. This is not about keynote addresses; this is about the sort of presentations that are given in meeting rooms every day of the week; the sort of presentations many of us need to make in our professional lives. This book will give you insights into how you can be successful with your strategic storytelling in the future.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

There is a Best Way to Tell your Story Effectively

"Use the Approach-Findings-Implications framework for informative presentations."
- Strategic Storytelling, page 84

Stories all follow a basic framework or pattern. The beginning provides context for what is about to happen to the protagonist. The body of the story is what happens to the protagonist, the ‘journey’ they take. The finale of the story is the lesson to be learned and a wrapping up of loose ends.

Every good story starts with an introduction to the situation the protagonist is in as we begin.  Every good presentation should start in a similar way. In the ‘Approach-Findings-Implications’ framework, the Approach section of the presentation provides the introduction needed for the story. The Approach is about describing the situation that will be addressed. The situation is often the problem or opportunity the business faces. The Approach also includes any methodology applied to research the problem or opportunity, as well as the solution space explored. It is about providing the background your audience will need to understand the story you are about to tell.

The middle of a story is about the protagonist’s journey. The Findings section of your presentation should be about the journey taken to get to your recommendations. This section shows the results of your research and your data, which should be formatted in an easily consumable way. The way your research data is presented should lead your audience inexorably to the implications you are going to ultimately present. Make sure what you present in this section is aligned with the Approach you’ve described as well as the implications you will provide. Failure to do this will cause your audience to question your credibility.

Every story has an ending (even “The Never-Ending Story”). A good ending has a climactic event: a moment of epiphany for the protagonist, followed by a tying up of loose threads.  Implications of your Findings should provide your audience with that same level of closure.  You need to provide an unambiguous single result/answer/solution/way forward, while also showing that alternatives have been investigated and rejected for valid reasons. Ensure that your Implications directly lead from your Approach and Findings. Your audience needs to believe in the validity of your Implications even if they can’t anticipate it directly from the previous sections of your presentation.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Explore Variations on the Framework

"Each of the three strategy consulting organizations presented its findings to help the United States Postal Service find a path toward profitability using a different framework."
- Strategic Storytelling, page 114

As mentioned above, every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end; context, journey, and climax. The Approach-Findings-Implications presentation framework allows you to effectively tell your story in a presentation. It is not the only effective framework, though.

The Situation-Complication-Resolution is a variation of the framework, useful when trying to show how the current state will be impacted unless action is taken. The impact may be positive or negative but either way it will be significant. Either way, the business needs to prepare for it. This type of presentation should show the business what the appropriate preparation should include.

The Situation-Opportunity-Resolution is useful when the business has an opportunity to potentially take advantage of if it is prepared to do so. This form of presentation focusses on pros and cons, the projected Return On Investment (ROI) of taking advantage of the opportunity. The business should be able to make an informed decision about the opportunity under discussion.

The Pilot-Results-Scale is another useful variation on the strategic storytelling framework.  You would use this version of the framework when a decision to change the business has already been made and now you are proposing an approach to implement the change and prove its effectiveness. In this case the Pilot section describes the implementation of the change ‘in the small’ (a subset of the change, a subset of those impacted, a subset of expected outcomes). The value of a Pilot is to prove the value of a change before fully committing to it. The decision to fully commit or not comes from the results achieved during the Pilot. In your presentation it is important to capture the metrics that should be captured in judging the Pilot, as well as capturing what would constitute a success for each of the metrics. Finally, your presentation needs to set the proposed scale of the Pilot. This provides a boundary around what is in the Pilot and what is out. Think of how much of the change is involved, who will interact with the change. Think also of the justification for the Scale you are proposing. The Scale will ensure the right things are being tested during the Pilot to make a Go/No Go decision on completely implementing the change.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Engage your Audience with Intelligent, Authentic Conversation

"In strategic storytelling, you simply need to allow your knowledge and your authentic, confident belief in your ideas to flow into your conversation."
- Strategic Storytelling, page 241

‘Keep it real!’ Your story needs to be one that your audience can relate to. Stick to factual data. Ensure your story flows logically from beginning to end. Ensure your audience are unlikely to be totally shocked by a part of your story that you thought would not be contentious at all. Lead your audience through the presentation in such a way that they will validate your credibility.

You want to shape your presentation I such a way that there are controlled points where conversation with the audience is expected. This keeps them engaged and increases the chance of getting buy-in. This is a good way to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and your authority. You will need to control the conversation so that it does not derail your presentation or take the audience toward a different conclusion than the one you are going to present.

Many of us are asked to create and/or deliver presentations on a somewhat regular basis. This book provides a detailed set of Dos and Don’ts to increase the impact of your presentations and help you get the desired results every time.

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Chris Reynolds

ABOUT Chris Reynolds

Chris is a long time Business Analyst and Business Architect. He's passionate enough about it that he regularly speaks at conventions on these topics. Chris even wrote a book about Business Architecture because he was frustrated that far too few people knew what it was...
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