Tell me a story.
A nurse stands at the lectern. She is an oncology nurse, specializing in breast cancer. The point of her talk is how to follow the recommended guidelines for follow-up care, but instead of dryly repeating the information on the slides, she tells stories. For every recommendation, she tells a story of success or failure. She talks of patients who not only live, but thrive after cancer, and of patients who live, but who, sadly, do not thrive. She tells these stories from the point of view of the clinic she works at and, most importantly, of the clinic’s responsibility for the future of these patients. The statistical probability of surviving breast cancer is high, but what about what happens after treatment? Her stories do not end with the words, in remission. “Just like bras, cancer treatment cannot be ‘one size fits all,’” she jokes. At the end of her talk, the normally subdued audience of oncology nurses and doctors applauds wildly.
Another nurse stands behind that same lectern and… snore. I don’t know what her talk is about. I advance her slides as she reads every one, aloud, as if the audience is blind. These nurses and doctors are there to learn the latest and greatest information about breast cancer, but most of them are barely awake. The nurse standing up there, reading aloud in a monotone voice, benefits no one. Teaches nothing.
Most of the talks are like that. We on the crew joke about the number of people who can sleep sitting up with out falling out of their chairs. We talk about the clothing choices of the presenters. (Free tip: Women, if you are going to give a talk, wear a belt. The transmitter for a wireless microphone is heavy, and it has to clip on somewhere.) We talk to each other on our headsets and do our jobs of lighting and miking and projecting, to make it as easy as possible for 1500 people to hear and see one person.
But every once in a while – a speaker gets up there and tells a story - about real people with real problems and how those problems were solved, or not, using the information on the slide. At those moments, even the crew pays rapt attention. Yes, us, the ones wearing black, skittering around the edges of the stage, the ones paid to not be seen, we learn something from those talks.
Of the thousands of speeches I’ve sat through in the past ten years, it is the stories I remember. It doesn’t matter if the talk is about cancer, or bio-fuels, or shoes, or the most exciting new invention ever, if the presenter doesn’t tell a story, no one will listen, or care, or remember.
And you, reading this and nodding your head, you have heard this before. And that is what makes me so MAD. All those presenters know that too. But they don’t care. They are so convinced that the subject matter will stand on its own, they don’t take the time or the effort to craft a story around it. It’s just laziness, and it pisses me off. I have to sit though your boring lecture, and I have to stay awake because I have to, somehow, make you look good, despite your boring speech.
Please, I’m begging you, turn your information into a story, make it personal, make it relevant. If you don’t – I might just, accidentally of course, set the speaker timer to zero, or fast forward to your last slide.
Don’t worry, no one in the audience will notice. They are all fast asleep.