March 31, 2016

Stories vs. Numbers – Enter the Minds of your Audience

For weeks, Jacob prepared his presentation for the conference crafting precise diagrams and learning his data by heart. At first, Jacob was satisfied with his presentation, but the next day when he talked with some members of the audience, he realized in horror that most of them barely remembered what had taken him hours to prepare and with great technical effort. On the other hand, everyone remembered the smallest details of the short anecdote he shared about the coffee machine in the lobby. Everyone asked about the brown steaming stain that made his snow white shirt a Batik experiment forcing him to sprint to his hotel room.

Surely his presentation would have stuck with the audience more if Jacob used the coffee machine as an example to illustrate an explosive increase dividend instead of his charts and diagrams.  When we hear stories, our brains process complex information differently compared to merely hearing facts and figures.

By listening or reading stories, not only does our language center of the brain turn on but also the areas of the brain that register events. Different senses and brain activities trigger an emotional connection and allow us to easily project stories in our brain and recall them later.

Another aspect is that our attention span, according to statistics, averages eight seconds, which by the way is smaller than that of a goldfish that averages nine seconds. For a speaker, it is a challenge to use this short time spam to win the audience’s attention and maintain it. Remember: your listeners retain content almost exclusively when you create a relation and lead them to make a connection. Just in case you want to grab a coffee before your next presentation, consider advice from consultant and brand story strategist, Park Howell, “A spoonful of story helps the data go down.”

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