Business Presentations: Show Don’t Tell

Sometimes you need a little drama to evoke a desire to change. Without it, business presentations are dry as toast.

I’m not a big fan of reality TV shows that pit one person against the other in cut-throat competitions. The producers encourage participants to be brutal with each other, and exaggerate every little personality difference. It’s like watching a car accident – ugly but fascinating.

I am a big fan, however, of what makes people sit up and pay attention. Quite frankly, I think most speakers, most business presentations, could use a little more drama. It’s not simply because of the boredom factor either.

When you can “show-don’t-tell,” you make change more likely to happen. Dramatic “shows” reach into our emotional brains in a way that a Powerpoint slide with Excel graphs can never do.

Here’s a story that illustrates a perfect example of how drama makes change happen.

According to Switch, the book about change by Chip and Dan Heath, there are three basic ways to help ensure that the change you are trying to make in your company actually sticks.

  1. You direct the rational mind (largely by reducing ambiguity about specifically what kind of change is needed)
  2. You motivate the emotional brain (often by finding things that trigger people’s visceral response to a need for change)
  3. You provide a clear path to the goal

Early in the book is the fascinating story of Jon Stegner—who was tasked with reducing costs at a major manufacturing company. He believed the company’s decentralized procurement system was wasting millions, but he knew that the divisions’ directors would run for the jungle if they thought their autonomy or independence were being threatened.

He needed to find a way to motivate them. Then the college intern Stegner had hired made a discovery—each division in each factory ordered its own work gloves. The company was purchasing 424 different types of gloves, ranging in price from $3.22 to $17 per pair.

Stegner’s intern retrieved a pair of each type, added a price tag, piled all 424 pairs on a conference table in the boardroom, and invited all the division presidents to visit the “glove shrine.” People’s response was immediate and visceral: “This is crazy. We’ve got to stop this.”

Stegner got their emotional brains on his side by making a dramatic gesture the directors could see and touch on the table in front of them.

You may not have 424 pairs of gloves at issue in your presentation. Is there something else that would make a real impact and add drama the next time you want to make a point?

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