Steve Denning did some excellent work using stories to drive change when he was at the World Bank. Here’s a pointer to an interview with Denning summarizing his key arguments about the role and value of story in driving organizational change. If this catches your fancy, you may want to look at Denning’s book, The Springboard : How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations.
People can’t absorb data because they don’t think in data. They think in stories. If you give people a story, then they can absorb the meaning of large amounts of data very rapidly….
The good news is however that we are all storytellers. We’ve simply been browbeaten into thinking that this is some kind of arcane skill that only a few people have. As Jerome Bruner has documented, we all do it spontaneously from the age of two onwards, and go on doing it throughout our lives. When we get into a formal setting, we succumb to what our teachers have told us and start to spout abstractions. But once we realize that our listeners actually want to hear stories, then we can relax and do what we all do in a social setting and tell stories.
One of the things I have done in some recent presentations is not to use a presentation aid. I have just stood up and talked, trying to weave a tale around the points I want to make. I have found this much more effective personally – I tend to speak with more passion, and the audience is listening to me, rather than looking to the presentation. While this may not work in all settings, this approach is something which definitely needs more thought.