Why Visual Stories Resonate

Resonate-255x255 Do you know your audience's resonant frequency?

Every time you present to a group — whether that be your colleagues, management team, the CEO, company investors, your customers, or conference attendees — you have an opportunity to connect.

However, transmission is only the tip of the iceberg. What all great presenters and communicators have in common is their ability to get you started on a journey — one that will prompt you to do something differently.

What causes this change? One of my favorite visual storytellers, Nancy Duarte, has written a remarkable guide on how to present visual stories that transform. Resonate (Amazon affiliate link) is a must read — buy a copy for every member of your team and see the impact on results directly.

The book will teach you how to give a presentation and change the world.

Changing the world is hard, and you can do that only when the ideas you present connect with people. Stories convey meaning and resonate with people. They are the hero, not you. Therefore every time you present, you're given an opportunity to plan a journey, tune into the audience's resonant frequency, and move to action.

Call to adventure

Duarte analyzed some of the most memorable talks — the book is filled with examples from Ben Zander's TED Talk to Beth Comstock's GE presentations — and helps you see how a great presentation is like a bridge between a report, and a story. 

Borrowing from the structure of screenplays that have:

  • a clear beginning, middle (this is where the development and conflict builds) and end
  • an identifiable structure
  • an incident (turning point in your presentation)

and relating to how myths and movies are structured, the book shows you how to set up, plan the journey, and convey your point of view so that resistance is won over. From what is, to what could be, Duarte shows you how to help resolve your audience's internal conversation, so that they'll change on the outside.

Most great presentations follow a form, which Duarte named a sparkline

[click on image to enlarge]

She also helps you classify members of the audience by who they are, what they do for you, and how they do it:

  • doers investigate activities — once they know what has to be done, they'll do the physical tasks. They recruit and motivate other doers to complete important activities. Ask them to assemble, decide, gather, respond, or try.
  • suppliers get resources — financial, human, or material. Thy have the means to get you what you need to move forward. Ask them to acquire, fund, provide resources or support.
  • influencers change perceptions — and sway individuals and groups, large and small, mobilizing them to adopt and evangelize your idea (I will address this one more in depth in a future post). Ask them to activate, adopt, empower, or promote.
  • innovators generate ideas — they look for new ways to modify and spread your idea. They create strategies, perspectives, and products. Ask them to create, discover, invent, or pioneer.

These are your heroes, so get to know them, and speak to them directly. One of the best demonstrations of audience segmentation in the book is that of President Reagan's ability to credibly move in and out of different roles for different audience segments during the Space Shuttle Challenger Address.

S.T.A.R. moments

Did you ever say something they'll always remember in your presentations? If so, you craeated a S.T.A.R. moment, and you know what it feels like. I remember after a presentation I did at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) in partership with MCAD in Minneapolis, people kept talking until the wee hours.

There are five kinds of these moments:

  1. memorable dramatization — Ben Zander is a great example in my book
  2. repeatable sound bites — look to Steve Jobs for a master at this
  3. evocative visuals — Richard Feynman visualized the cause of the Challenger disaster
  4. emotive storytelling — Pastor John Ortberg conveys people want to be loved despite their ragged condition
  5. shocking statistics — Bill Gates contrasted the funds spent on curing baldness with those spent curing malaria in his TED Talk

There is much more to the book than what I provided here. Read it and literally transform your presentations into powerful persuasion tools. Buy a copy of Resonate (Amazon affiliate link) for every member of your team. This is a gift that will keep on giving.

View more charts from the book here.


[Disclosure: I received a copy of Resonate from Nancy Duarte, who I consider a mentor on visual storytelling and whose work I have admired for years. This review and recommendation is based upon the quality of the material — and not on how I obtained it.]

0 responses to “Why Visual Stories Resonate”

  1. Wow. Love this. Sent this to our internal team for inspiration – both this review / book and previous post on giving presentations to change the world. We need to step away from the Powerpoint and think first about the story we’re trying to tell and what we want people to do after. I think most approach it from perspective of “here are all the bullets of information” I have to share rather than weaving it into a memorable story.

  2. Thanks for the links!
    Too many people are conflating “visual” with “video.” Often, video ends up being too busy and too amateur, and includes a bunch of extraneous elements that detract from the intended message.
    (Books are ordered…)

  3. It’s so great to hear storytelling training make its way into the mainstream. This is how journalists are taught to think – write stories that tell a story and will resonate with readers. As a former PR person, we were taught to think this way so we could work effectively with journalists. Now that everyone is becoming a citizen-journalist through blogs and social media, the training is spreading more broadly. I love it!

  4. Sounds like a great book. Appealing to the visual brain of individuals is a sure way to really “resonate” and create content that will stick to them. I have already in mind a few people to whom suggesting to take a deeper look into it, thanks!

  5. Thank you,
    I’ll get a copy.
    Personally, I’m trying to re-introduce the concept of story telling to the law and agreements and contracts.
    We forget in business that our story is recorded in the contracts we enter. In a economy marked by relationship capital rather than physical capital, what holds the network together are the promises we all make. Nothing is more important than ensuring that these promises join together and sing.
    Sadly, we’ve lost our voice for promises and now make then in hope and keep them in fear. You only need to look at finance contracts to reliase the people who write these could learn alot from screen play writers and start focusing on telling better stories.
    Some stategies I use to help communicate and write contracts (stories):
    # visualise the relationship by drawing it
    # ask the parties to read their parts of the contract to each other ( and the shared rights/obligations together) – this is an incredible process that would halve the amount of litigation that goes on in the world. Its a simple strategy that can save you lots of money in future legal fees. ( It also creates a sence of commercial intimacy that can be a valuable asset as the world changes).
    There is a word of caution about communicating big ideas. There is a concept call “incommensurability”. It’s the ideas that groups operating in different paradigms can’t communicate. Standing in the same position, looking in the same direction they see, hear, feel vastly different things.
    Off to buy the book now.

  6. @Lance – Reagan was very loved in Europe, regardless of what people thought of his political persuasions.
    @Steve – in the book, she applies it to examples. Illuminating.
    @Patrick – I can tell you that reading this book has already transformed how I prepare for existing decks (this week) and how I choose to weave the big idea as I present. It is very powerful and I know you will all benefit from the changed perspective. Plus, you have such a good team! I know they will eat this up.
    @Ike – there is also something to be said for the power of our own imagination. In the book, MLK’s “I have a dream” speech is so powerful because he uses rhetoric and cadence to depict a different future. Amazing, what art and foresight!
    @Cindy – a really good journalist I had the privilege of hosting once explained how he was trained and the fact that it was more Shakespeare than analytics.
    @Gabriele – glad to be helpful. Honestly, when I use a book right away, I can’t wait to share the information about it. This book rewired my thinking about how to deliver presentations.
    @Peter – I wish more “social media people” understood what you just wrote here. And you gave me something to ponder about “incommensurability” in relationships as well. I just love when things have direction.

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