Greater Impact Through Storytelling

Director at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, Paul Zak, shares how leaders can create a greater impact in their work through storytelling.


Paul Zak: [00:16] PowerPoint's dead. If you're going to go into a presentation, and have slides and bullet points with a 10 point font, everyone will fall asleep. We know that. Everyone knows that. What's the alternative? The alternative is to illustrate the analysis you're doing with a story.

[00:33] My lab has found that stories are among the most effective ways to transmit information to human beings. Not to robots, but to human beings. What do humans care about? We care about mysteries, we care about conflict, we care about other people.

[00:47] Think of all the movies and novels fiction or nonfiction that we read. They are stories of triumph, of overcoming odds.

[00:55] If you can cast what you're doing, the presentation you're doing, into the story structure—create a narrative arc, create some drama—and do that at a human scale so there's a particular person—maybe a named person, a customer, a colleague, a potential client who has a particular problem...

[01:13] Cast that information as a story, and then we all understand it because we understand human scale stories very easily. Where graphs, and data, and bar charts, same information potentially, but is cast in a way that our brains are not designed, as social creatures, to really understand.

[01:32] If you want them to understand the information, remember it, and act on it, story is the most effective way to do that. When you give a presentation, you have a goal. You're trying to persuade the people in the room to do something—to be happy with the product you've delivered, to buy something from you, to have another meeting...

[01:50] There's a reason for the presentation, you're not just randomly talking to people. The story structure is a way to get those people to remember the information and to act on it. Great.

[02:01] Also you want to know internally, as the presenter, how well that presentation's going. If you're able to tell some form of a story, you can begin to read the room. Watch the emotional component. If I'm just showing PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide with data, it's pretty hard to get a read on how people are responding.

[02:21] The story structure—because you're building tension—allows you to see people's emotions in their faces. When you get good at this, you can actually watch the room as you're talking because you've practiced so much, you know what you're going to say, and begin to pivot the story towards the highest impact.

[02:38] When I give presentations, I always put in pivot points. If it's not going great in minute seven, I'm going to move to a new tack—or I'm going to give a different slide, or put a different slide up that I've hidden, or I'm going to move to a different part in the room.

[02:53] Because story structure plays on emotions, and emotions can be seen in the face, it gives you a chance to really be the most effective presenter. You're reading how well your presentation is going in real time, therefore it can pivot and really have the biggest impact.

Filmed April 2018 at ICAM in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.