Storytelling and presenting explained

Following my recent post about graphic recording videos I’ve been amazed at the variety of entertaining and instructional material that’s out there in this format.

Analytical Storytelling

This video from Harrison Metal summarizes Barbara Minto’s pyramid structure for a talk designed to convince an analytic audience. It shows why presenting your ideas organized as a pyramid under a single point to makes them easy for the audience to grasp.

Storytelling & Presenting 1: Thank You, Barbara Minto from Harrison Metal on Vimeo.

Inspirational Storytelling

This video showcases Hollywood screenwriter Robert McKee’s basic storytelling structure where a protagonist’s life is thrown off balance by an inciting incident. It’s a nice summary of the ideas that are explored in McKee’s well-known book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

Storytelling & Presenting 2: Thank You, Robert McKee from Harrison Metal on Vimeo.

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Winston Churchill analyses the Scaffolding of Rhetoric

Winston Churchill In 1897, while serving as a 22-year-old Army officer in India, Winston Churchill wrote an unpublished essay The Scaffolding of Rhetoric. It begins, with considerable prescience given Churchill’s later career, with an appreciation of the lasting power of public speaking:

Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world. Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices, whoever can command this power is still formidable.

Churchill refutes the idea that oratory and rhetoric are no longer relevant. Today, this might be claimed because of the influence of YouTube and Twitter, in 1897 people blamed “the newspaper … and the growing knowledge of men”.

He states that the orator “is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude.” But warned that “before he can inspire them with any emotion he must be swayed by it himself.”

He notes the features all great speeches and public speakers have in common:

  1. A “striking presence” is necessary. But this does not mean classic good looks. “Often small, ugly or deformed he is invested with a personal significance…”. Indeed, Churchill claims from first-hand experience that “a slight and not unpleasing stammer or impediment has been of some assistance in securing the attention of the audience…”
  2. Correctness of diction and an exact appreciation of words. It’s best the speaker use “short, homely words of common usage so long as such words can fully express their thoughts and feelings.”
  3. Rhythm, or a cadence that more resembles blank verse than prose. In other words, he’s reminding us we must write for the ear, not the eye. Indeed, James Humes notes in Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln that he once critiqued the text of a speech by Anthony Eden because there were too many semi-colons and never a dash.
  4. The accumulation of argument, via a series of facts pointing in a common direction, coupled with “waves of sound and vivid pictures.”
  5. The use of analogy which “leads to conviction rather than to proof” and has an electrifying effect on an audience.
  6. A “tendency to wild extravagance of language…so wild that reason recoils.” Indeed, Churchill notes that the power of oratory is so great that, were it not for the need for the speaker to be sincere before he can be persuasive, oratory could easily incite violence, and be judged a crime.

Churchill, like the young Cicero who spent two years studying rhetoric, was focused early in his career on learning the art and science of public speaking. Both prospered as a result.

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Visual communication with Graphic Recordings

I’ve been impressed with a number of videos on YouTube that use hand-drawn images to convey complex information.

One example from RSA Animate features Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft in the UK, who imagines what might be possible if more organizations embraced the full, empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open, collaborative and flexible working culture. He asks how can we get people more engaged, more productive, and happier at work? Is technology part of the problem — and could it also be part of the solution? The animation makes for compelling viewing, so be sure to watch it in full screen mode:

Graphic recording can also be used to translate conversations into organized visuals on large paper live in front of a group event such as a workshop or conference. It’s a powerful tool for bridging gaps in communication and acknowledging everyone’s point of view in the ‘big picture’.

Here’s a video from Tanya Gadsby who is a graphic recorder and whiteboard video artist based in Victoria, BC, that explains more about graphic recording:

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Guest Posting: Non-Verbal Techniques in a Large Group Forum, by Theresa Zagnoli

Theresa ZagnoliTheresa Zagnoli has 28 years of experience providing practical trial expertise and communication solutions as a jury consultant, communication expert and founding CEO of Zagnoli McEvoy Foley LLC in Chicago. She counsels attorneys, witnesses, and CEOs on how to be effectively public speakers in and out of the courtroom.
Non-Verbal Techniques in a Large Group Forum, by Theresa Zagnoli

By now most people have heard of body language and its usefulness in personal and small group business relations. Body language, better termed non-verbal communication, is often more responsible than our words for whether the audience is moved. It is often ignored when speaking to a large group. When facing an auditorium full of listeners, you have more tools to work with than your mic and the slide show.

Just as a reminder, the components of non-verbal communication are: body posture/movement, hand and arm gestures, artifacts such as accessories or clothes, facial expressions, eye contact, space use and finally, even sound or voice when not considering actual words.

Since most of us are not rock stars or preachers, we do not have a following. Our goal and obligation on stage is generally to entertain while simultaneously teaching the audience something useful about business or life, or both. That makes credibility paramount. The key component of credibility is dynamism and the root of dynamism is energy.

Therefore all non-verbal efforts in speaking to a large audience should be devoted toward demonstrating a controlled but strong aura of energy. Showing vitality is also an effective way to charm your audience. Cicero explains that all communication must start with one person’s ability to charm another in order to proceed through the other steps to successfully communicate. People are drawn to personal energy like bugs to a zapper. They can’t help themselves.

Showing energy on stage is tricky. The energy cannot be frenetic and yet it cannot be so choreographed that it appears unnatural. This is where using your entire non-verbal arsenal is advantageous.

Start with the stage itself. A confident speaker does not hide behind a podium –- use the space you are given. Watch any performer and you will see that most move from the center of the stage.

Once the safety of the podium has been left behind, the feeling of security goes with it. Now what do you do with your hands instead of allowing them to hang limply by your sides? There are two reasons to gesture: for emphasis and for demonstration. Plan gestures ahead of time by reviewing your script to look for opportunities to punch up the words with a gesture of instruction or accent.

You may think that making eye contact with 300 people is impossible. So instead you sweep your gaze across the audience thinking you are reaching everyone, while in reality you have reached no one. Watch a good comedian and you will see that he or she makes eye contact and basically has a conversation with different people in the audience. The comedian knows that he has to connect with his audience, and he has to do it one person at a time. Will he get to everyone in a venue that holds a thousand fans? No. But each person attending your speech will see that you care enough to make contact with a single person time and again. This is interpreted as caring and interest in the audience. It doesn’t matter if each person gets individual attention; it only matters that some do.

Men and women have different rules when it comes to dress and props. You can choose to follow these rules or break them. Both strategies will have fallout. For example, if you show up in what you are ‘supposed’ to be wearing you will meet the audience’s expectations but will not be doing anything to surpass their expectations. If you color outside the lines, you might surpass what was expected, showing that your are delightful and refreshing, only to find some will be immediately put off because your dress feels wrong to them. Evaluate each situation.

If you have the opportunity to read Horton Hears a Who to the third grade class, get an elephant head and feet, a t-shirt and paint your face. Showing up dressed like you are on your way to work sends the message to the 3rd grade that they are just an inconvenience on your way to the office. It shows that no energy was invested in the task.

On the other hand, if your goal is to show the properties and benefits of a new anxiety drug, a funny hat will not serve you.

While those two examples are clear, there is plenty of room in between to stretch your creativity beyond the audience’s expectations — if not in what you wear, then maybe through a prop. This year, I spoke to an organization about a legal case involving a baseball bat. I brought a bat with me to use as a prop. Four of us spoke on the same case, and I was the only one to bring props. Others brought slides or spoke dramatically and eloquently. I assume I did too, but I had a bat. They moved their arms and legs, gesturing with their hands to show how the bat was swung and what it hit — nice — but I had a bat!

Being aware of your non-verbal communication and using these tools to transmit the correct energy to your audience can make all the difference in how you are received and, ultimately, how effectively your message is delivered.

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The Power of the Pause

The most telling sign of an amateur speaker is their inability to pace themselves and speak slowly. If you can learn to get comfortable with silence and pauses, the quality of your delivery will improve instantly. Here is an excellent primer from Nadine Hanafi on five ways to help you use the silent pause effectively.

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A Peridoic Table of Visualization Methods

Swiss researchers Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler from the Institute of Corporate Communication (how cool is that!) at the University of Lugano have created a “periodic table” of 100 visualization methods. They describe their table in their 2007 research paper Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

The periodic table is broken down into data visualization, information visualization, concept visualization, strategy visualization, metaphor visualization, and compound visualization.

Their Visual Literacy website contains an interactive version of the table. Simply by hovering over each box in the table, an example appears in a pop-up window with an illustration of each of the elements.

Try it here.

Supply Demand CurveThe examples range from the simple supply demand curve (Su) with a X/Y axis to the complex sankey diagram (Sa) — a specific type of flow diagram in which the width of the arrows is shown proportionally to the flow quantity.Sankey Diagram

While their classification tool might offend the purists, this is a fun source of ideas for your next PowerPoint presentation. However, in terms of a tool that helps classify and solve problems while selling ideas with pictures, nothing beats Dan Roam’s excellent Visual thinking Codex from his book The Back of the Napkin:

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

Thanks to George for letting me know about the visualization table.

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Book Review: Hack Attack, by Nick Davies

Hack AttackHack Attack, Nick Davies’s exhaustively researched exposé – subtitled “How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch” – details how the press baron and key members of his staff pulled the levers of power in British politics and business during the six years from 2008 to 2014. While denying and lying, they slipped in and out the side-door of Number 10 for drinks with the prime minister, rubbing shoulders with the power elite who lived in fear of the ability of mass circulation newspapers to influence elections and destroy lives.

A sprawling cast of characters fill the pages of Hack Attack: the bullying editors and hapless reporters of the Fleet Street tabloid newspapers; members of the Queen’s household in Buckingham Palace; prime ministers and members of the government in Whitehall and Downing Street; petty criminals and senior policemen; wide boys and blagging operatives; movers and shakers, celebrities and philanderers; and behind it all the spectral presence of one of the world’s most powerful men – media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Davies is the reporter on the left-of-center Guardian newspaper who ran the first stories about the practice of phone hacking. His well-written report reads like a thriller. It is a compulsive page-turner. His bravery in pursuit of the truth is quite startling. One suspects that in any other country than Britain he would have been “disappeared” for dishing the dirt as he has. The scope of the cover-up he exposes makes Woodward and Bernstein, in an earlier era, seem bush league. They had Deep Throat. He has anonymous sources he code-names “Sapphire”, “Ovid” and “Jingle”. They had a cover-up about one crime, the Watergate break-in. He has a decade of systematic illegal activity by reporters and editors who illegally “hacked” the mobile phone voicemails of anyone and everyone who could provide source material for their stories. They hacked the Royal Family, they hacked members of the British Cabinet, sports stars and everyday citizens. Most notoriously, they hacked the cell phone of a murdered teenage schoolgirl. The private messages they listened to were material for news reports, most often in the now defunct News of The World, a Murdoch paper closed as a direct result of Davies’s investigative journalism. Davies uncovers the secrets and lies and reveals how the police in Scotland Yard kept a lid on it for years.

Hack Attack is a must-read for anyone who lives in the UK and wants to hear how they were lied to by the establishment, or, as in my own case, resides in the USA and wonders about the corporate morality of Murdoch’s henchmen on the Wall Street Journal and those who deliver “fair and balanced” reporting on Fox News.

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The Andrometer – how do you measure up?

Sir William JonesSir William Jones (1746 – 1794) a linguist and hyperpolyglot who knew 13 languages thoroughly and another 28 reasonably well, was an Oxford graduate and lawyer who moved to India where he studied Sanskrit.

A recent article in Mental Floss notes that as a young man, while working as a tutor to English nobility, Jones developed what he called an “Andrometer”, or timeline, to check that a person’s moral and intellectual development was on track.

The Andrometer

(Click to enlarge)

Jones explained that this

…enables you to measure every man’s merit by looking for his age in the scale, and then comparing it with the other side, and seeing to what degree he has risen in arts, sciences, and ornamental qualifications.

I find it fascinating that the checklist includes early focus on the art of rhetoric (aka. oratory or public speaking), starting around age 16, continuing with exercises in public speaking and the study of Ancient Orators (presumably Cicero, Quintilian and the like).

Although the list might have been prepared tongue-in-cheek, the focus on rhetoric in a well-rounded education certainly featured in ancient Greece and Rome and continued through to the late 19th century.

According to Jones, by the time a person is in their mid-30′s they should focus on improving their habits of eloquence and start to publish their speeches. At age 38 the checklist states “Eloquence perfect”.

At age 62, we are to enjoy “a glorious retirement” (if only!) and, after three score years and ten, engage in “Preparation for ETERNITY.” Jones, unfortunately, only made it to 47, dying of overwork in Calcutta.

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How to use Google auto-complete to generate content

Google Auto-Complete
If you are stuck for a rhetorical question to use as a speech opening, or just want to see what is a popular about a topic, you can use Google to ask:

Why is [topic] so…

before pressing ‘Enter’ Google will kick in with an ‘auto-complete’ algorithm that predicts what you are searching for, based on how often past users have searched for a term.

The results are absolutely fascinating.

While Google might change over time, here’s the current results showing the first single word returned for a variety of places, people, pastimes and products that would be useful material for a speaker to comment on by noting that “People ask…I can tell you that in my experience…”:

Why is England so rainy
Why is Ireland so green
Why is Scotland so poor
Why is France so liberal
Why is the USA so hated

Why is New York City so big
Why is Dallas so boring
Why is Minneapolis so expensive
Why is Beijing so polluted
Why is the Equator so hot

Why is President Obama so arrogant
Why is John Lennon so influential
Why is Hitler so cool (!)
Why is Fox News so bad
Why is the BBC so good

Why is cycling so addictive
Why is chess so hard
Why is skiing so fun
Why is scuba diving so tiring
Why is cricket so popular

Why is sugar so addictive
Why is tobacco so popular
Why is lettuce so bitter
Why is Marmite so salty
Why is Vegemite so disgusting

Try it yourself and see. Simply enter the topic of your next speech into Google and let auto-complete suggest a word or phrase you can use as an opening.

Why is this so simple?

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45 years ago today, a speech never given

Apollo 1145 years ago today, on July 20 1969, Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the Moon.

In advance of the mission, anticipating the risks involved, White House speechwriter Bill Safire prepared a speech to be given by President Nixon if the lunar module was unable to return to Earth.

Thankfully, this was a speech that was never given.

To: H. R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire


Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men:

A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

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