"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.