I’ve gotten into the habit of evaluating the storytelling in the presentation contests that Slideshare holds. The first one I looked at a little more than a year ago was dubbed The World’s Greatest Presentation Contest. No special emphasis on storytelling was implied or included in the contest, but because I happen to believe storied presentations are the most effective, I looked at the storytelling in the winning presentations, concluding that only the third-place winner offered good storytelling. One of the judges later told me privately that the judges hadn’t been allowed to set some judging criteria as to what makes a good story.
Storytelling was a major expectation of Slideshare’s Tell-a-Story Contest earlier this year, and I felt that the winning entries did a reasonable job of telling stories, but I was left a bit disappointed considering that storytelling was the contest’s focus.
So what makes for good storytelling in a presentation?
- For one thing, it’s hard to answer that question based on a slideshow alone. When accompanied by a presenter, a slideshow may become much more storied than it appears in the slides because the presenter may embellish the slides with stories or elaborate on what the audience sees on the slides or give storied examples.
- Since none of the slideshows in Slideshare’s contests have had narration, their storytelling must be judged by the slides alone. So, one criteria for good storytelling could be that if the slideshow stands on it own merits and communicates its message effectively, it might be good storytelling, but not necessarily. The contest is, after all, for the World’s Best Presentation, not for the World’s Best Set of Slides.
- I generally adhere to fairly loose definitions of “story;” yet, stories told in presentations seem to require a tighter definition. Perhaps the oral delivery of stories cries out for narratives with a beginning, middle, and end.
- And in a presentation, a recitation of facts, statistics, figures, and lists is probably not storytelling.
Others more expert in using stories in presentations can probably come up with a better set of criteria than the foregoing, but it’s the rubric I’ve applied in evaluating winners of the Slideshare contests, including The World’s Best Presentation Contest 2009 just announced.
All of the presentations are clever, graphically interesting, and well done. Few of them represent good storytelling, though. I felt the most storied entry was the second-place winner, Sheltering Wings by Sarah Cullem (shown below), about the Sheltering Wings Orphanage in the incredibly poor nation Burkina Faso. I also admire the presentation’s conciseness; it’s the shortest entry among the winners. It’s true that this presentation doesn’t tell a story until Slide 21 (of 33). It’s also apparent that the story could be enhanced with narration (it uses a timeline instead). Toward the end of the presentation we see brief stories of three young people in the orphanage who benefited or could benefit from some assistance. These are effective stories, though too much type appears on the slides that tell the stories (they would be more effectively presented in just the narrator’s words.)
The other winners and my perception of their “storied-ness:”
- Healthcare Napkins All by Dan Roam (first place) is a timely and clever explanation of the healthcare issue but does not tell a story.
- Feels Bad On The Back by Mohamad Faried (third place) explores kidney disease symptoms and prevention. No story here.
- 24 Reasons why Twitter sucks! by Henrico Dolfing (winner in the technology category) is a humorous, thought-provoking list with a significant punchline, but hardly a story.
- Eco-nomics, The hidden costs of consumption by Josh Beatty (winner in the business category) takes a storied approach to illustrate its point but loses the story’s thread fairly quickly as it morphs into facts and figures.
- Simplicity by João Paulo Reis Alves (winner in the creative/offbeat category) is a graphically excellent but storyless how-to on achieving simplicity.
- A crime so monstrous by Missing Link delivers a powerful message about an appalling issue — human trafficking — without benefit of story.
- Finally, many congratulations to my friend Mike Wittenstein who is the subject of the winner in the About Me category, the excellent Who Is This Guy by Jackie Goldstein. Ironically, though, despite the fact that Mike is a story practitioner, and his company is called Storyminers, the presentation does not tell a story.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge these presentations by story standards since the judges did not. These presentations show it’s quite possible to produce excellent and interesting presentations without stories.
I just happen to believe presentations are much better with them.