How to tell a better story about women’s financial inclusion

August 1, 2016

Women’s World Banking is in the business of advancing women’s financial inclusion. Part of that business is communicating the benefits and wide-scale impact of women’s financial inclusion. We share this message with financial institutions, policymakers and global companies- to name a few- encouraging them to join our mission.

Imagine for a moment, that you are in a meeting, conference, or watching a video of Women’s World Banking staff talking about the incredible urgency and value of our work.  We are sharing the slides below in the background.  Are you able to listen?

Be honest. The answer is most likely “no.” As an organization, this is how we once presented.  We were acutely aware that we had a strong story, but it wasn’t coming across as powerfully as we wanted. The disconnect was in design. Many of our slides were weighed down with heavy text and complex graphics. Though this is a widely-used presentation practice we felt that it was convoluting our message, distracting our audience and just not as visually engaging as we knew it could be. In fact, we felt this  style was actually harming our message. Given the platforms where we speak—from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) to the World Economic Forum (WEF) to the G20—and the fact that presentation decks are a key tool in our technical assistance in countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, India, Jordan and Morocco, we knew we urgently needed a new presentation style.

Storytelling tips from Steve

Our journey to find a storytelling style that matched the strength of our story began with cues from one of the best presenters of our time, Steve Jobs. Jobs is known, among many other things, for his presentation skills. When he spoke, the audience didn’t just listen. They hung on his every word. This made him very good at one particular part of his job as CEO: selling the Apple brand and their products. We wanted to captivate our audiences the way Jobs did. How could we learn from his techniques so that when Women’s World Banking representatives speak, they command the same kind of attention from our audiences?

Research was the key component to finding the best solution that would fit our unique presentation needs. Wewanted to know what other organizations were doing in regards to presentations and how  other companies were addressing similar issues.

And that is when we discovered a whole new world: articles, memes, blogs, videos, comic strips, books and speeches lamenting the experiences of sitting through bad presentations- a phenomenon some had come to call Death By PowerPoint. Most useful for me however, was the advice on how to give effective presentations—and boy were there many. Guy Kawasaki’s strict 10/20/30 rule mandates that for a one-hour time slot, your deck should have no more than 10 slides which you present in 20 minutes with a font size no smaller than 30 points. Edward Tuft argues the uselessness of presenting hierarchal bulleted lists in his essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Nancy Duarte stipulated in her book, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, that to be a presenter “you need to think like a designer and guide your audience through ideas in a way that helps… their comprehension.”

Desperately seeking consensus on design best practice

While these commentators seemed to agree that text heavy slides with eye-crossing bulleted lists and complicated graphics should be avoided at all costs, the actual rules that they applied tended to vary depending on their target audience. This is a familiar concept to us as we similarly need to keep local women clients in mind when developing a financial product; one size does not fit all in these cases. So we treated our presentation decks the same way. We understood the knowledge that was already out there and analyzed our audience and their needs. What resulted was a set of six template slides that could be used for all PowerPoint related needs and the development of our very own in-house presentation best practices:

Women's World Banking's new storytelling and presentation style

The Four Golden Rules for Women’s World Banking Presentations

Rule #1 The presenter is the star, not the deck. Slides should be referred to as a “deck” rather than a “presentation.” Calling it a “presentation” creates the subliminal belief that the slides are the main source of information when, in reality, the presenter is the main source and star. The presenter is the presentation; think of Steve Jobs.

Rule #2 Represent the most important ideas only. Only key words or images of the most important ideas should be represented on the slides.

Rule #3 Work with the deck. Don’t lean on it. Public speaking is an activity that makes most people uncomfortable to some degree but it’s important to remember that the deck is for the audience’s reference not the presenter’s reference.

Rule #4 If it doesn’t fit, put it in the reading deck. Feel like you need to put in more information than the above three rules allow? Then make a reading deck. Sometimes as a presenter you can’t part with the detailed text of a project and that lengthy text ends up on your slides. If you have a lot of numerical data or just feel strongly about your information being read rather than heard, then create a reading deck.

Since officially implementing the new deck designs, staff have already received positive feedback about the changes we made to our storytelling.  Audience members at a recent conference went out of their way to tell our staff member that their presentation was the best of the panel. Staff members have also commented that the formatting of the new template helps them more clearly convey their message, making them more effective advocates for our mission.

The great thing about storytelling in this age of technology is that there are always newer and better ways in which to convey your message. We will continue to embrace innovative messaging techniques because we understand that the power of a well-told story has the strength to inspire, move to action and, in some cases, change the world.

We’d love to hear from you: which presenters and what presentations have moved you most? Share it with us on Twitter at @womensworldbnkg or on Facebook!