Robert McKee: Storytelling Trumps Bullet Points
June 28, 2012
"As a method of persuasion, I am not a big fan of PowerPoint presentations," says the legendary screenwriting guru Robert McKee. What McKee is saying here is that using slideware the way most business people still do today — slides filled with loads of data and lists of "points" — fails (even assuming people are able to pay attention through the visual assault) largely because the audience assumes the presenter is hiding something and that he is including only bits and pieces that support his case. Beating people over the head, one bulletpoint-filled slide at a time, is a much weaker approach than the use of story, McKee says. Watch the video below to hear McKee explain the three different methods of persuasion and why he thinks storytelling is the best method.
I dislike the term "PowerPoint presentation" — a term McKee used several times in this video clip. When people use this term, especially in a disparaging way, they assume that using PowerPoint necessarily means using it the way the Microsoft templates suggest (title, bullets, small charts and graphs, etc.) rather than as a simple digital storytelling tool that can amplify a person's live message with full screen video clips, easy to see quantitative displays, high quality photography, good type, and so on. "PowerPoint presentation" (or "Keynote presentation" or "Prezi" etc.) is a term I never use. There are no such things as "PowerPoint presentations" — there are only effective presentations and ineffective ones. The effective ones almost always incorporate elements of story and good storytelling, regardless of whether they use multimedia or not. I agree with McKee's assertion that story is extremely effective and very much underutilized by business people today. And I agree with his implication that even great visuals are not at all necessary for effective storytelling. However, visuals can obviously be a powerful storytelling amplifier, assuming they are designed well and the story is properly constructed and convincingly told.
Data and storytelling
Statistics and storytelling are not mutually exclusive. In Business and in technical fields the good visualization of data can be very valuable. Software such as Tableau, for example, does a good job of visualizing your data in a way that can be incorporated into your persuasive story. While boring, cluttered, and impossible-to-see slides are very ineffective visual support, quantitative displays that are easy to see and serve as harmonious support to clear thinking and an engaging story can be a powerful amplifier for the storyteller. In this clip below, notice how Hans Rosling uses a great deal of data to tell a clear story regarding global economic growth over the last 150 years. Wether you use data or not, there is no excuse for boring an audience.
A book for all creatives, not just writers
The classic Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting is a wonderful book that I recommend often — I think all of my own books have at least one reference to this book or other writings by Robert McKee. Whatever business you are in, you in the business of being a human most of all. And humans tell stories. “Stories," says McKee, "are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” The best communicators in any profession understand the power of story and the basic principles of good storytelling.
• Robert McKee on the Power of Stories
• Another Robert McKee video similar to the video above
What a pessimistic view of business and PowerPoint. McKee’s disenchantment with PowerPoint is as narrow, unimaginative, and uncreative as the way many PowerPoint users misuse PowerPoint. He’s blaming the tool, and not the way it is used.
I refuse to believe that PowerPoint and storytelling are mutually exclusive.
Posted by: Jim Dickeson | June 28, 2012 at 04:17 AM
>>I refuse to believe that PowerPoint and storytelling are mutually exclusive.
Exactly right, Jim. Tools like ppt can be effective. Still in 2012 people think there is only one way to use tools like ppt. The struggle continues...
Thanks for your comment. Cheers! -g
Posted by: garr | June 28, 2012 at 10:49 AM
One of the traps Edward Tufte warns against is using just that term: Powerpoint presentation." You don't distribute a memo and say, "I want to hand out a Microsoft Word document, do you?" He emphasizes that Powerpoint/Keynote, etc., are nothing more than projection media.
That said, you still must have something compelling to say to get your point across, and that, as McKee would agree, is the point of telling a story.
Posted by: Bruce Post | June 30, 2012 at 08:19 AM
I personally agree that powerpoint can be overused or even dated.
However, tools are tools. Some may not be as effective with certain audiences and products/services.
It comes down to knowing who your prospect is. Do they respond well to Powerpoint presentations? Are they more visual? What type of information is being disseminated?
One cannot expect to sell the same way to everyone every time.
Posted by: Vanessa Saks | July 02, 2012 at 07:07 AM
Wow. The Robert McKee video is so powerful. I really really really thanks for that. He is really the master of screenplay writer! :)
Posted by: Kent | July 09, 2012 at 04:37 PM