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Presentations: Story Telling and the Life of Pi

24th Apr, 2013

 

The Life of Pi and the power of the metaphor

As you probably know we like a good story! A good story providing a powerful metaphor, is often the best way to convey the challenges and victories of organisational life. Stories engage at the emotional level rather than the more logical level of most presentations. Stories can really help you get a message across quickly and allow you to present yourself with impact.

As I write this, I am thinking of the award winning film based on Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi, which vividly illustrates the art of negotiating the impossible – in this case sharing a lifeboat with a Bengali tiger. It is a remarkable and moving tale of a boy’s battle for survival against all the odds and results in a remarkable show of resilience, mental agility and physical strength, not to mention the extraordinary development of a knife-edge relationship with an animal that has the power to kill him.

In the film a Canadian author, played by Rafe Spall, is told that Pi has a story that “will make you believe in god”. This got me thinking about the impact stories can also have in business presentations and how we can use metaphors to make messages meaningful. (Maybe, by the way, the story of Pi was a metaphor for what actually happened to him.)

Calls to action: Nokia’s “burning platform”

An example of the power of a story at work is when Nokia?s chief executive, Stephen Elop stunned his company in 2011 by telling the story of an oil rig worker facing the choice of almost certain death by fire or jumping into a freezing sea. Elop said that Nokia too was on a “burning platform” and had to make very stark choices. This call to action metaphor enabled Elop to mobilise support for his strategy and plan of attack to ensure Nokia’s survival in the mobile phone market. 2 years on it seems to be succeeding and Nokia remains in the market.

Cultural Stories:

In conveying corporate values too often organisations rely on bland statements hung in reception areas. The best organisations bring their values to life by telling stories of what the values mean to people inside and outside the organisation. Large multinational organisations have recently received some very bad press recently regarding tax evasion. I was recently working at one such organisation and heard this story. The employee had gone to buy a sandwich at lunch time and was stopped by a charity collector. He made a donation and got talking with the collector. The collector asked where he worked and because of the recent publicity he was very apologetic about his employer. However the charity worker immediately said that he should be proud because it was only because of the internet technology the company pioneered that he could achieve his goals – leaving his online business on ‘auto-pilot’ and collect valuable revenue for charity.

What stories do you already have?

What messages will work better using stories?

How can you use powerful metaphors to inspire in your work?

Food for thought?