Consulting 101: How to tell your story? Five visualization techniques with words
Updated: Mar 11, 2019
They say a picture paints a thousand words. In consulting, I have heard millions of words that don’t paint a single picture. I couldn't help but wonder about how we can better engage our audience and insert our core ideas and insights right into their memory.
1. Put it in perspective
Do you have facts and statistics you want your client to listen to and remember? You are on a tough mission but I have a tip for you: put it in perspective.
Our brain is remarkably good at tuning out when we hear more information than we can process which is especially true for numbers and dry facts. Comparing data to familiar and often shocking events triggers the brain to create live images which is the most effective way of integrating new information into our memory. The following example brilliantly captures this method and it will leave you with with your mouth open only to realize that you will be thinking about this long after you read it:
“Many Americans are unaware that diarrhea kills a million children around the world each year. To put this number in perspective, that’s equivalent of a jumbo jet full of children crashing every four hours.” ( Robert Maurer from the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way - comes with my highest recommendation )
2. Metaphors and Analogies
Metaphors and analogies bring abstract, unfamiliar or complex phenomena closer to the listener. I have heard several occasions when people overused them or used them poorly. You may want to select unique and relevant analogies and apply them with care. The more technical your presentation is, the more you can benefit from this technique.
Financial terms might appear fairly abstract so, let's look at an example of how CDO (collateralized debt obligations) is explained by Anthony Bourdain in the movie Big Short:
"Okay, I’m a chef on a Sunday afternoon setting the night’s menu at a big restaurant. I ordered my fish on Friday which is the mortgage bond that Michael Burry shorted. But some of the fresh fish doesn’t sell. I don’t know why, maybe it just came out halibut has the intelligence of a dolphin. So what am I going to do, throw all this unsold old fish, which is the BBB level of the bond, in the garbage and take the loss? No way. Being the crafty and morally onerous chef that I am, whatever crappy levels of the bond I don’t sell I throw into a “sea food stew.” See, it’s not old fish. It’s a whole new thing! And no one knows they’re eating three day old halibut. That is a CDO."
When we hear a question, our brain immediately starts looking for the answer. Even when it is a rhetoric one, we are awake and listening. Questions are effective triggers and provide an easy way to improve our delivery if we are a little more intentional about them.
Did you know that 90% of all all the data that exists today has been generated in the past 2 years?
What is the most noticeable limitation of this plan? You are probably thinking about the talent gap but not only that...
Open any leadership book, magazine or HBR business case and you will see excellent examples of building a story around the message. Our goal here is to enable the audience to become the protagonist of the story. Let them imagine that they are in it to win it.
As you progress through discovery and assessment, don't stop at describing reality but plant seeds of what it could be. Be descriptive and don't be afraid to use the other ideas from this post.
Picture [the name of the company] as a ship and you are the captain in charge. Now, what do you need to know to steer it in the right direction? Well, it would help to know what the ship and the crew are capable of and what are their limitations. [Move into your assessment of the company at this point] You would also need to take into account the weather and external environment. [Market/competitive observations]
It’s a fine line but nothing beats appropriate humor. If you are a tax planner or a financial advisor, you can say something like this:
I always tell my clients that the easiest way to become a Millionaire is to make billions and pay taxes.
Get the attention you deserve and connect to your clients on a deeper level. They will remember you and your message without recognizing how you tricked their brain into reacting.
Bonus: if you find this teaser interesting and would like to learn more, here are two great books to start with:
Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath