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Business Presentations – Is the real story just underneath the surface?

In the world of work, we often are called upon to report project updates, milestones and progress against goals. We highlight the key statistics and point to deadlines reached or how obstacles will be addressed. All of this is important and good but are you giving adequate time to the story beneath the numbers?

I’m a sucker for a good metaphor and I just encountered one that may help me illustrate my point. Not too long ago one of our pairs of Lady Gouldian finches laid eggs and three hatched to our delight. As these finches reach maturity they display magnificent colors – blue, gold, purple, yellow and more – but for the first 6 – 9 months they are a dull greenish/gray color. As the months passed after they left the nest, I would observe them by peering down from the top of the cage and saw:

Admittedly losing track of time and growing impatient as to how gosh darn long it was taking for them to get their colors, I pulled up a chair, and peered at them from the bottom up and here’s what I saw (that’s dad on the left and the kids are on the right).

Sure enough, I had missed the evolving story of their maturation, and had been operating under a false narrative that they just weren’t making the progress I thought they should be making. Sometimes, we really do have to look at what we are reporting on from a different angle to get the full story.

So what is that hidden angle or other side of the story from a business presentation perspective? The first place to look is at the people involved. The numbers tell one part of the story but in addition ask yourself: What happened within the team or project to reap success? As you organize your next project update, work to incorporate a statement like the following:

  • The success story that underlies these numbers is …
  • The achievement of these goals would not have been possible without …
  • While we’ve experienced some obstacles and have a ways to go, what we can be truly proud of is the way the team …
  • The unsung heroes of this initiative are …
  • This accomplishment would not have been possible without those working behind the scenes to …

We get used to presenting content in a formulaic way and forget that there is a powerful element to each story that is worth calling out…we just need to look for it.