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Apr 14

Dump the Data – Tell Me a Story!

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01: Musician Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at the Bridgestone halftime show during Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Bruce Springsteen puts life on the stage. Every song – is a story, a slice of life through which he draws pictures, and unites us. His tough times, togetherness, sad songs, and raucous ones create a picture of the economic and emotional landscape of America. His songs are his life, events he lived or observed. His stories bring understanding, evoke emotion, and pull you right out of your seat.

All the economic data in the world cannot express, nor move us like a well-told story. We all have a story to tell that builds our ability to relate to others. Making your point through your own story outweighs any PowerPoint ever created.

And what happens if just one little gremlin sticks his toes into your presentation?

I stood before a boardroom filled with disgruntled television executives and top level employees who wanted this disparate team to come together. So I began my pre-presentation with a strong introduction and plenty of promises. I hit a key on my computer and turned to the large monitor to begin. Nothing! Blank screen. I hit the key again. No picture. No brilliant PowerPoint. Groans! Coffee. Eye rolls.

The chief engineer spent fifteen minutes on the problem. No picture! And no more confidence in my ability to pull this team together!

Following my survivalist instincts I went to the flip chart. Colored markers in hand I started drawing, telling and engaging. Soon the disparate team in Flint, Michigan saw an old Dodge truck. The general manager appeared at the wheel and sitting in the back were all of the key people sitting in the room. (They were, of course, stick figures.)

Cartoon balloons floated over their heads holding funny remarks from the disillusioned group in the room. Finally they were laughing, coming to a common conclusion – they were all in the truck together, they each had their own challenges, but a common goal. Make better television. To do that they had to come together.

And guess what? No one missed the PowerPoint presentation. We created a story with pictures and made data fun. They walked out laughing. Together. United.

In the months following, a number of people who had been in that room told me that allowing them to be part of the fix, and seeing themselves all together in a truck that represented the tired auto industry, had made them see themselves as a team. They worked together to solve problems rather than point fingers.

The dreaded missing PowerPoint had forced me to be creative, to rely on training, experience, and my storytelling ability. It worked. The client still talks about the day the data died! And I would add – the day the presentation came to life!

A picture and a good story is worth many spectacular PowerPoints. After all, our brains think and remember in pictures, colors, and emotion. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, humans, “process visual information automatically and independently of what we know, think or expect.”

Light trails coming from African American's head

Well-told stories paint pictures and dress the facts in emotion. Go back to your childhood. Did you ever request a PowerPoint when you were ready for bed? How about an extra helping of data for dinner? I didn’t think so. Just because we grew up does not mean we are not hungry to hear stories that help us understand, entertain us, and help us relate to each other.

Connie Timpson is a speaker, author, and trainer specializing in the power of story, the psychology of teams, and bringing teams together. http://www.extraordinary-leaders.com