Presenter Types — How can “Storytellers” put themselves and their audience on the same map?

October 8, 2021
4 min read
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
“All you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
— Glinda the Good Witch of Oz

Sara is a strategist.

The CEO of a global marketing agency, Sara had recently navigated her firm through the largest merger in the industry.  With thousands of employees across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and a new strategy in hand, Sara set out to bond the company.  Her mission — to unify the group behind a new brand, build excitement with the employees, and explain the go-to-market strategy. — Time for the “town-hall world-tour.”

When Sara spoke at each town hall, employees were excited. She was great in a room, telling stories and laying out an inspirational vision of the company’s future. Sara could hold the audience in the palm of her hand.

Afterward, everyone gave Sara high marks for engagement. For understanding the new strategy — not so much. As a presenter, she was all over the map.  Her presentation was a bundle of energy — all highs and no lows, with Sara constantly seeking to engage the audience. She'd veer off into asides that would draw nods, gasps, or laughs.

All highs and no lows left little room for structure, logical sequence, or even train of thought.

Listening to Sara present was like watching a high-octane thrill-ride of a movie. But it was a movie with no plot. Worse, she was oblivious to this problem. The “in-the-moment” crowd reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that she didn't realize she was failing to get through.

Sara is the type of presenter we call a Storyteller.

The “Storyteller” is one of six types, including Coach, Counselor, Teacher, Inventor, and Producer.

Storytellers use the sequence Words, Pictures, Structure as the building blocks for their presentations.

A Storyteller is a natural communicator who speaks with feeling and rhythm.

Storytellers use their words to paint pictures, creating rich, engaging experiences that carry an audience.

Storytellers create an engaging experience through depth and story.

If you're a Storyteller, you embellish and add depth through story and experience. If you've seen a Storyteller in action, it seems like they could do five minutes of stand-up on any subject. They can win over the toughest of audiences.

This natural talent to be good on their feet frequently allows Storytellers to rise to the top of organizations.

But, Storytellers struggle to stay on message and can easily wander off track.

Here’s the problem:

Storyteller eloquence engages people. Like the Pied Piper, they can get an audience to follow them. In a moment, however, the audience can follow them straight down a rabbit hole!

Storytellers are all over the map when they wander away from structure.

This is a structure problem.

In an effort to be entertaining, Storytellers can wander away from their main message. As a result, they can be all over the map. Worse — the audience can’t see the map. They can't tell the high point from the low point or even distinguish one point from another.  

Though Storytellers get go

Audience engagement does not mean audience comprehension.

For a Storyteller, building a clear structure will add audience understanding to audience entertainment.

Clear, uncluttered slides provide structural stepping stones for Storytellers and their audiences.

Use simple, uncluttered slides with bold headlines — each one a stepping stone for you and your audience. Beware of visually complex slides. They will slow your roll. This tempts you to ignore your visuals and go off the map.

Using simple slides, with punchy phrases, and connected pictures keeps you and your audience on track and in sequence. These slides provide the map.

How Storytellers can keep themselves (and the audience) on track.

Anything your deck can do to show your structure will help. Know the main points and punch lines of your story, and make sure every slide starts with a clear headline.

Structure built on clear  headlines, is a Storyteller’s path to message clarity.

A Storyteller’s superpower is the ability to work with words. That superpower is also your undoing. It tempts digressions that feel logical for you, but confuse the audience. Your story will land better when the points your audience sees and hears are in sync.

Structure is the Storyteller’s path to clarity in both the face-to-face, and virtual worlds.

Gavin McMahon is a founder and Chief Content Officer for fassforward consulting group. He leads Learning Design and Product development across fassforward’s range of services. This crosses diverse topics, including Leadership, Culture, Decision-making, Information design, Storytelling, and Customer Experience. He is also a contributor to Forbes Business Council.

Michael Flanagan is an Executive Advisor and Facilitator with fassforward. Michael has a deep Organization Effectiveness background and he facilitates both live and online learning experiences on a wide range of topics including, leadership development, presentation skills, critical thinking and change management.

Peter Watts is a Senior Instructional Designer and Facilitator. He works on both fassforward's Live, Live/online and tailored programs. Peter is fassforward's lead instructional designer for Live/online experiences which deliver mission-critical leadership and communications training, globally, at scale.

Eugene Yoon is a graphic designer and illustrator at fassforward. She is a crafter of Visual Logic. Eugene is multifaceted and works on various types of projects, including but not limited to product design, UX and web design, data visualization, print design, advertising, and presentation design.

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