Bringing impact to your business message

A problem that’s faced by those who are asked to talk about ‘dry’ topics is how to make it interesting. If you’re asked to make a presentation about tax strategy or debt recovery, it can seem a daunting prospect. But by careful use of language and storytelling techniques, even the most unpromising subject can come to life.

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, travel writer Bill Bryson masterfully explains complex scientific theories in simplistic and entertaining ways. Of the Reverend Robert Evans, an amateur stargazer in Australia, he explains the cleric’s extraordinary facility for spotting supernovae (exploded stars) through a modest telescope, a needle in a haystack task if ever there was one! He writes, “imagine a standard dining room table covered in a black tablecloth and throwing a handful of salt across it. The scattered grains can be thought of as a galaxy. Now imagine fifteen hundred more tables like the first one – enough to make a single line two miles long – each with a random array of salt across it. Now add one grain of salt to any table and let Bob Evans walk among them. At a glance he will spot it. That grain of salt is the supernova.”

Now we can’t all write or talk like Mr Bryson, but we can draw lessons from the way he takes a difficult subject (science) and uses language to ‘sell’ it to a mainstream audience. It’s what a lot of us have to do in business, if we’re in an industry that involves technical knowledge. For the most part, we’re selling to an audience that aren’t experts in these areas – that’s why they hire us. So we have to moderate our language and talk in terms they can understand.

A good example is use of statistics. If you’re renting out office space, instead of saying you’ve got 1 million square feet of rental space in Manchester, say that if you added up all the rental space you hire out in the region it would fill 20 Old Trafford football stadiums. A friend of mine works for a company that provides total office furniture solutions. They deal with much more than just providing furniture and he describes the range of services they provide in an unusual way – “imagine turning an office upside down. We deal with anything that falls down.”

I was at an event yesterday where someone was talking about the lack of motorsport on the BBC. Instead of saying how many years ago the Beeb had last broadcast Formula One, he said, “When Formula One was last on the BBC, Lewis Hamilton was only 11 years old.”

When you’re writing or speaking about what you do, you want people to enjoy what they see/hear and remember it. With a little work and imagination, you can ‘sex up’ a description of what you do using metaphor, anecdote, case studies and other techniques. But when you’re formulating your message, remember that what people are really interested in is whether you understand their plight, and how you can make life better for them. Focus on that and you’re certainly on the right lines. But by telling a good story in a skillful manner, you can evoke an emotional response in your audience and elevate your message from good to great.

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