The presentation to fellow senior leaders was filled with colorful charts, graphs, facts and figures. The presenter went through these facts in painstaking detail to make sure that everyone understood the numbers and would be able to analyze the data in a methodical way. To lighten things up, a few jokes were interjected along the way during the hour long presentation. At the end, the presented asked if there were any questions. Silence.
Such is life in the world today. We are presented with countless facts and figures about an issue that, after a while, all seem to mesh together as they are placed in front of us. Why is this? It is surely not because the people in the room are not intelligent; most have advanced degrees from some of the best regarded universities in the world. Why then do people – smart people – ‘glaze’ over when sitting in presentations like this?
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, probably because it has been occurring so subtly, but somewhere along the way, we have lost our desire to think critically. Perhaps it has happened as the management pundits and psychologists have told us to be more focused on the “soft skills” in management and education, teaching us (implicitly or explicitly) to stop “thinking” and start “feeling”. Or is it that today we are presented with more data than ever before that we just don’t want to think?
I don’t believe that we’ve lost our ability to think, it’s that we’ve lost our desire to think. Thinking about an issue, and formulating your own opinion about it is hard, and takes time & effort. You may need to gather more information, talk to more people, think even harder before you reach a conclusion that is yours and you are satisfied with. Not easy. And not done very often.
For many people whose world revolves around numbers and logic (engineers, programmers, accountants, scientists, etc.), who believe thinking about an issue and reaching your own conclusions is critical to truly understanding the issue, this is extremely frustrating. We see the issue, we get the problem, we understand how to solve it, why don’t they? Well, perhaps it not that they don’t understand the issue, but that they can’t relate to the issue. So how do you get your point across when people don’t want to think?
Just tell a story. For thousands of years, human beings have learned many life lessons from stories or fables (remember Aesop’s Fables). So why not use them to get your point across? In just a few paragraphs, you can tell someone about a problem (the issue), provide a plausible explanation (impact of the issue), and teach a lesson (the solution to the issue). Nice and neat, and everyone is satisfied. By using the facts and information you have and molding it into a story that the audience can relate to, you will have their attention, and you can make your point effectively. Yes, you will have to really think about how to put your facts into a story your audience can relate to, but remember, you want to make sure that your issue is clearly understood.
As much as we may want to get people to think more, when it’s clear your audience is not up for it, telling a story is a very effective way to get your point across and get what you want. Remember, we all like a good story.