Tell a good story

Why are so many of our presentations so unmemorable? Do we tell a story or just spout off a long list of facts and figures? Do we include emotion in our messages, especially when the content is dry, technical and complex?

In his book Impossible to Ignore, Carmen Simon Ph.D. says there are three criteria for a memorable story: perceptive, cognitive and affective elements. Carmen uses the example of US Astronaut Kregel telling a story about being in the space shuttle. He explains the reason US Astronaut, Kregel’s story has a chance to be remembered is because it has all three elements.

Perceptive elements are based on sensory impressions in context (such as experiencing pitch black in a flight deck slightly larger than a 737’s), and include actions on a timeline, such as first turning off display lights, then blocking off lights from other areas, then taking a spot in front of a window and then listening to Pink Floyd until the sun comes up.

Cognitive elements include facts, abstracts and meaning, such as how big the space shuttle is and how many windows it has, the name of a music album and the abstract thought of being on LSD.

Affective elements include emotions, such as enjoying a gorgeous sunrise from space.”

“The absence or imbalance of perceptive, cognitive and affective elements in a story is what makes business content forgettable. Ineffective communicators tell “stories” that 1) stay too factual or too abstract; there is nothing wrong with facts or abstract ideas, but when the other components are missing, it leads to forgetting; 2) have no plot — nothing really happens across a timeline; and 3) lack emotional intensity. Emotion is a particularly critical component in memorable stories because emotional stimuli lead to neurochemical activity in the areas of the brain responsible for encoding, storing and recalling memories.”

I have incorporated these 3 critical elements into our Executive Presence program. To be memorable, you need to incorporate into your presentations.