It was the best PowerPoint presentation I had ever seen. It happened over 10 years ago, but even now I can remember specifics. What made it so memorable? So effective? In this post, I’ll tell you the simple presentation secret, and how you can use it to add power to your presentations.
Not Looking Forward to This
It was 2006 or so, and the briefing topic was about the values of the Army, what it means to be a Soldier, and how we as leaders are the standard bearers of those values.
I don’t think anyone in the room was looking forward to the briefing. Sure, it’s an important topic. We all need to be clear about our values and stay true to them. But I’m pretty sure I grabbed an extra dose of coffee before heading into the briefing room to ensure I survived until the end.
As an Army guy spending most of the past three decades in uniform, I’ve been to a PowerPoint briefing or two. It was common to see fifty or more slides in an hours-long briefing. Each would be a masterful display of color, data, charts and words painstakingly devised by so-called “PowerPoint Rangers.”
They would spend hours crafting, formatting, even animating slides in an attempt to make the perfect presentation. Yet most were ultimately forgettable.
Not Your Father’s PowerPoint
But this presentation on values was something completely different. The entire briefing consisted of one single slide. The speaker was introduced. The slide came on, and he let it sit there in full view for a moment before saying a word.
It was a grainy black and white photograph of a Soldier in the field. He looked tired and dirty, but also focused, determined.
When the speaker finally began, he started by saying, “The name of this man is Rick Rescorla. Most of you probably don’t know anything about him, but you need to know who he is.”
Then for the next twenty minutes, he told us the story of this Soldier’s life. How he had served with distinction in the military, always caring for his men, leading them purposefully, dutifully. How he retired into relative obscurity, ultimately finding a job as head of security for a financial company in New York.
How in whatever he did, he stayed true to his values. At his job, that meant making sure that all 2,700 employees knew what to do in the event of an emergency in their offices at the World Trade Center.
How sticking to those values brought him into conflict with senior executives, and he was sometimes ridiculed when he insisted on things like regular fire drills.
And ultimately, how on September 11th, 2001, because of his tireless dedication and leadership, nearly all of the employees of the firm made it out of the World Trade Center alive. He was last seen heading back upstairs looking for the last few people. He was not going to leave any of his people behind.
The presenter concluded by drawing the parallels to who we were, what we stood for, and how we should lead. He said that there needs to be a lot of Rick Rescorla in all of us.
By the time it was over, we were inspired, motivated, and recommitted to values like Selfless-Service, Personal Courage, and Duty.
(More of the amazing Rescorla story here.)
The Power of a Story
The speaker that day was General Martin Dempsey, who went on to become the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he knew something that many of us hadn’t figured out yet.
What was his presentation secret? If you want to get your message across, do it with a story.
When you tell a story, we connect on an emotional level. As Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “People will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Many speakers spend a lot of time trying to win their audiences over with facts, figures, and data. But no amount of numbers or charts could have communicated the message as powerfully as that story did.
Carmine Gallo in his excellent “The Storyteller’s Secret,” tells us that the most inspiring speakers use stories to convey their message. Some of the best speakers these days can be found on TED Talks. When Gallo examined how TED speakers presented their messages, he found that they devoted 65% or more of their content to stories that build trust and an emotional bond with the audience.
As Gallo says, “Once they have connected, they can educate.”
Presentation Secret – The Takeaway
Before there was television, movies and books, there was story telling. It’s something man has been doing ever since there were camp fires to gather around. It’s how we have communicated and connected for thousands of years.
Facts and figures are important and have their place, but they aren’t enough to challenge and inspire.
The presentation secret is to tell a story. A story can resonate with the heart of the hearer far more powerfully than numbers. And through that story, you can connect.
So before you start making slides, focus on the story you are going to tell. Think about how it relates to the people in the audience, how it connects to them. Then use pictures to help tell that story.
If you want to reach people, start with a story.