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An edited and revised book on public speaking for introverts based on the articles from this site

Turning Your Facts into a Story

As you prepare your presentation, you are probably aware of a list of facts you want to convey to the audience.  You are also, probably very aware that these facts don’t look much like a story.  How they’ll help you build up to a big conclusion – the sort of conclusion we talked about previously – probably seems very unclear.

So lets start by describing what a story is.  What I’m going to described is shamelessly adapted from the works of Campbell and Vogel, however its a simplified version – a version I’ve developed for the purpose of using as a backbone for presentations.  Whenever I’m stuck for how to present some information, I return to this backbone time and time again, and it always provides me with the tools I need to create a story that works.

Every story starts with a hero (or heroine).  A character that the story focuses on.

The hero starts off in the ordinary world.  A story is as much about the world the hero is in as it is about the hero himself, so its important to describe the world

The hero sets out for adventure.  There is a call to action which is too big for him to refuse.

The hero faces a number of challenging situations.  The hero may also meet a number of friends and associates

As the hero keeps bumping into more and more challenges, things seem insurmountable.  The hero reaches a point where it seems all is lost.

But the hero isn’t just a man, he is a hero.  He triumphs over the problems and returns home, to the ordinary world.

But the ordinary world has been changed by the hero’s actions.

[In my simplification of the meta-myth, we have left out several parts of the story structure which movies and novel normally employ.  For example, in a Movie, the hero usually rejects the initial call to action, and has to be given an even stronger call before he accepts.  Similarly, in a movie, there is usually a mentor figure who guides the hero through his early struggles.  I've found these characteristics are hard to weave into a presentation, and don't seem to add anything.  So I tend to ignore them.  You may wish to consider them when you've got the hang of using the basic model I provide]

But I Don’t Have A Hero?

Its quite possible, as you look at your presentation about this quarter’s results in the widget folding industries of south east somewhere-or-other that you don’t see an obvious hero jumping out at you.  perhaps, you think, my presentation will work without there being a hero?

In my experience, every story needs a hero.  And you can always find a hero for any story you wish to tell.

I’m going to describe the three most common heroes that you might find work in a presentation:

1:  Pick someone real.  Some presentation’s have a character at their heart.  They are about a particular person.  If they are not about a particular person, they might be about a particular department or organisation – in which case, you can use a real person (the founder, perhaps) to represent the organisation.  Instead of telling us that ‘Flumph Food Inc’ changed their marketing strategy, tell us about how ‘F. F. Flumph, food fanatic and self made millionaire founder of Flumph Food’ decided that the marketing strategy needed to be changed – how he changed it and why it worked.

2: If you can’t pick someone real, pick someone fictional (So, for example, as it turns out, I invented F. F. Flumph when I wrote the last paragraph.) .  A large number of presentations seem to be about problems someone faces, and what we are doing to fix them.  The problems might be wide ranging – immigration, animal cruelty, usability (or lack of usability) of computer software, inducting new people into your organisation, selling refrigerated cooling devices to the inuit people of northern america, ensuring you meet high standards of political correctness in constructing examples.  But in each case those problems are happening to someone.  Lets go through the problems again, but lets look at the fictional characters who might be facing them

Mihai is a Romanian computer programmer, coming to the UK because of its increased employment opportunities and higher pay in his field.  He is legally entitled to do this – and will be paying well above the average amount of tax for a UK worker, yet he faces discrimination for “Coming over here and taking our jobs”

Buck is a yorkshire terrier.  He used to have a happy family – but when he noticed that one of the older humans stopped going out of the house every day, and instead sat at home watching TV, things began to get worse.  Soon Buck found he was getting less and less food.  Then one day, Buck was taken outside, his collare removed, and then his family left him alone, in a strange place that Buck didn’t know.  Now Buck has to search bins to try to find food.

Mavis used to always keep up with technology.  But doesn’t it move so fast these days.  her grandkids all have these new computers, and Mavis’s kids suggested that Mavis might want to get one herself so that she can keep in touch with them while they are at university.  Now Mavis has a new computer tablet.  But she doesn’t know what to do with it, and frankly she is a bit scared that she might catch a virus from it.

Sam is a new starter at BigCo.  Its his first day, and frankly – fresh out of college – Sam is a bit intimidated.  Especially as no-one seems to be expecting him.  he has a piece of paper which says he should report to his manager ‘Jim’, but Jim doesn’t even seem to be in the office today.

Aipaloovik is tired by the challenges of living a traditional life in the modern world.  Moreover he has a lot of trouble when it comes to replacing his old, malfunctioning fridge.  It isn’t that people won’t sell one to him – but he lives in a reasonably remote area, and the difficulty in transporting the fridge and installing it generally makes such a purchase expensive and complicated.

Ben – the absolutely fictional and not at all related to a real author of this book – author made a two pronged joke around the idea of selling fridges to eskimos and political correctness.  He then backed himself into a corner when he realised he had to come up with convincing story characters for potential presentations.  Luckily inuit names are easily discovered thanks to the magic of Google (and he hopes he hasn’t offended anyone, lacking the cultural knowledge), and his own recent issues with getting a fridge to his house made him suspect that the problems that the inuit face are probably more mundane than we might imagine.

3:  Use Yourself.  Sometimes its just very hard to come up with a convincing fictional character, and there isn’t an obvious person to hang a story onto.  In these cases, you’re generally missing one person.  You.  You’re the person who has researched all the things in the presentation – you are also all the person who has done all the work.  Instead of telling us about the work, tell us the story of what happened to you while you were doing the work.  For some really good examples of this, watch how Al gore tells about how he found out about global warning, in An Inconvenient Truth – and watch Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack adventure for a funnier approach, which, nevertheless puts him as the star.