I once had a cat named Hermione. She got sick. So I went to the vet and he gave me some pills and told me to give them to her. That sounded pretty simple until I tried to do it.

Hermione did not want to take her pills. She gagged and wiggled and scratched my hand, but she would not take her pill. I didn’t know what to do. A neighbor of mine also had a cat, so I asked her what to do.

“Stick it in a piece of cheese,” she said. So I did. I got some soft cheese, wrapped it around the pill, and low and behold, Hermione took her medicine.

Years later, when I had a dog who would not take her pills, I learned about hiding the pill in a hot dog or some cookie dough. I’ve heard that peanut butter also works.

Disguising the pill by wrapping it inside something more palatable is an analogy. In the context of sales, presentation skills and public speaking, the pill represents facts, data and content that is hard to swallow. By hard to swallow, I’m not talking about bad news. I’m referring to dull, dry and technical content that, if not presented in a creative and engaging manner, has the tendency to put people to sleep.

The pill is good medicine. It’s good and necessary content. The facts and data that you have to present are often compelling evidence. Perhaps your good medicine is a new idea or initiative that represents a positive change. However, many times good and valuable content is presented in such a remedial and boring manner that, like Hermione, the listener gags with boredom and wiggles uncomfortably in his or her seat hoping that the presentation will be over quickly.

It's not the information or the facts or data that are boring. What's boring is the the way the presenter presents it.

Your job as a presenter is to be engaging. That means you need to be crafty and creative. How can you get the elusive cat (the brain of your listener) to swallow the pill? What can you wrap around your content that makes it easier to swallow? What is the speaker’s equivalent of cheese or cookie dough?

Here’s my formula for effective engagement:

Imagery + emotion + logic = engagement.

If you simply deliver your content by reciting it in a logical sequence, you might as well be reading your grocery list. That’s the problem with many presentations. The presenter never gets crafty or creative; they do nothing more than sequence their ideas and content points and then read them off of PowerPoint slides.

Learning takes places when your listener internalizes your content and ideas in the context of their life and experience. No new information, thought or idea exists in a vacuum.

Author Charles Jacobs states in his article, Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science*,

“Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI as it’s known in the field, scientists are now able to watch the brain at work, and what they’re learning is mind boggling. Increasingly, a wide range of cognitive scientists building on the discoveries of neuroscience have concluded that the human mind really works through stories.

Stories are the way our minds naturally work, and they preceded the invention of logic as a way of making sense of the world. We can use stories both to understand people and to change their minds, and we can use stories as a framework to analyze a business, going beyond numbers to the reasons for the numbers. In almost every situation we find ourselves in, stories give us a much deeper appreciation of the forces at work and how we need to address them.”

So the answer to my earlier questions about the speaker’s equivalent to using cheese or cookie dough to disguise the pill…is story!

Creative and engaging presenters embed their point or lesson (the pill) inside the body of a well-chosen story. The story must also be crafted in a way that marries imagery and emotion with logic. In other words, a good story is more like a movie than a report.

Some say that story is merely a springboard to a deeper discussion and that the storyteller should not be the focus of the story. That’s like saying that the steering wheel should not be the focus of driving a car. Just as the steering wheel is essential for driving a car, the storyteller is essential to the success of the story.

When I started teaching storytelling for business back in 1996, story was not thought of as a strategic communication device. Now it is. I no longer need to convince anyone of the efficacy of storytelling in business. Story is now a mainstream communication strategy. However, what is often missing from the conversation is the how-to of good storytelling. Many of my coaching clients and Retreat participants come to me with great stories, but with no understanding of how to craft and deliver them.

Don't just tell a story. Tell the right story at the right time in the right way. Learn the craft of storytelling and you will outperform your competition. Unfortunatly, you can't learn to tell a great story by reading an article. You need a good teacher. Study with someone who can help you take your stories to the next level.

Exceptional storytelling is both an art and a science. Like good theater, it’s a blend of great writing and a brilliant performance. The good news is that great storytelling is a learned skill. All you need to get started is a meaningful experience where you learned a valuable lesson.

You’ve had the experiences. You’ve learned the lessons. Now, learn how to tell your stories in a way that serves others.

* Charles Jacobs, Management Rewired, Penguin Group, 2009 http://managementrewired.com

Author's Bio: 

Doug Stevenson, president of Story Theater International, is a storytelling in business expert. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method.

His keynote, training and executive coaching clients include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, Bristol Myers Squibb, Wells Fargo, Amgen, Volkswagen, Century 21, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

His 10 CD - How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech audio learning system is a workshop in a box. It contains an 80-page follow along workbook. Learn more at: www.dynamitespeech.com

Doug can be reached at 1-800-573-6196 or 1-719-573-6195. Learn more about the Story Theater Method, purchase the book, eBook or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at: www.storytelling-in-business.com.