The universal lightning that fuels every presentation comes from the stories we tell. As presenters in today’s global workforce, whether in routine meetings and discussions with colleagues, stories are one of the most effective vehicles for transmitting ideas across cultures. In fact, research at Princeton University found that when we tell a story, we share nearly identical brain wave activity as our audience.
Stories are our most powerful transcultural ingredient. So, what techniques help us ignite this mind-to-mind connection when presenting to a global audience?
First, we need to engage in a new mindset. Even as we tell our stories, our audiences, not us, are the heroes of our narratives. We are the facilitator, not the source of change. Our audiences are the ones who will go out into the world, armed with our knowledge like a thunderbolt ready to enact change. We must heed this best practice in the work we do interculturally, to foster that lasting connection around our new metaphorical campfires in the boardroom or training space.
This mindset shift reframes the entire presentation, particularly in intercultural contexts. Once we make the global audience the center of our presentation, we cultivate an adaptive approach to communication. We can create an interactive presentation space of deeper understanding, respect and empathy with global audiences. We share ideas in service to others.
According to research, storytelling is how we “mentalize” and “live” through an experience without actually having to live it firsthand. This experience creates a unique empathetic encounter that reveals a human connection. Stories create emotion and activate parts of the brain that enable us to embed memories more strongly rather than when we are simply presented with a list of facts. Stories increase the capacity for learning and retention of information, and they are how we learn to make better choices in future decisions.
Based on our years of research and experience as professors, corporate trainers and intercultural communication specialists, we’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of storytelling on presentation skills in any industry, for any purpose and for any audience. Below are three intercultural storytelling patterns that can enhance presentations in any conference call, virtual meeting or business scenario in ways that not just communicate but connect with intercultural audiences:
1. The Monomyth
The monomyth is one of the most universal storytelling patterns in human history and is deeply rooted in our psyche, according to Joseph Campbell, author of the seminal work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” In this pattern, a hero leaves home, goes on an adventure, and then returns with newfound treasure or wisdom. (Think of blockbuster movies such as “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.”)
Our presentations must similarly function as a quest, with the audience assuming the role of the hero. As a trainer or presenter, our role is that of Yoda in “Star Wars” or Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid.” Whether in the boardroom, the virtual room or the conference room, we must serve as the archetypal companion to the audience when telling our story, guiding participants to an important decision point, when we then give them the tools to self-actualize.
Key strategy: Use this pattern to help your audience see the benefits of taking risks.
2. In Medias Res
“In medias res” is a storytelling pattern that places your audience immediately in the middle of the action to grab their attention before going back and setting the scene. For example, a real estate agent may use this approach to motivate prospective buyers to consider the most exciting aspects of a prime location before discussing the details of amenities, budget, paperwork and credit checks. This storytelling pattern targets the value that the audience desires before going into all of the minutiae that comes with making a major purchase, such as a home.
Key strategy: Use this pattern when you have a lot of backstory to get through before reaching the crux of your presentation. Focus your audience’s attention on the most pivotal, valuable and exciting aspects of the situation prior to discussing the background or related context.
3. Petal Structure
The petal structure is a pattern comprised of mini-stories that interconnect around a central theme. Think of the multiple individual stories we hear at a training conference connected to the conference’s core message. We see the same concept in Netflix shows like “Black Mirror,” which includes multiple standalone episodes that orbit the central theme of humanity’s relationship with technology.
Interculturally, this approach is also similar to “chunking,” in which the presentation is structured around linked microcontent, making the material more manageable for the audience.
Key strategy: Use this approach to build a rich array of evidence around a core idea.
In intercultural presentations, remember that the audience is the centerpiece, and the presenter is the guiding force. As presenters, we must continually attune ourselves to the needs and interests of our participants. As a result, the concept of service is the most important piece of global presentations. When we shift our patterns of thinking to focus on the needs of the audience, our role as a presenter shifts to the role of global communicator. This approach has a great impact on global audiences as they become the hero of the presentation, armed with the knowledge to continue their journey of changing the world.
Don’t miss Dan and Raúl’s live session on negotiation skills training at the virtual Training Industry Conference & Expo.