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Book Review: Stories That Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations


STORIES THAT MOVE MOUNTAINS: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentation – Sykes, Malik & West (2012) 

I work in management by day wearing variety of hats, but by night I am a fiction writer. Among the very first things to understand, if you want to sell your work, is that you must create convincing characters caught up in compelling situations.  I was naturally very interested then to see whether and indeed how this concept could be translated into the business world so this title was a definite must read for me. 
The first thing to understand about this book is that it is not about selling goods or services.  The core of this book is about selling change —how to effectively communicate that a change needs to happen so that people will be motivated to take action. This it is claimed is achieved by influencing them to make decisions using visual storytelling. This premise of this book is to instruct you how to build that story from start to finish. 
This book kisses goodbye to death-by-PowerPoint and has a strong focus on reducing the message down to the minimum necessary to influence audience to take action.  While the visual story may look simple however and in its simplicity it is extremely powerful, it isn’t something you can run up on the train on the way to your presentation.  
The book suggests that the clarity and simplicity visual storytelling is designed to create are not easy to produce on demand and require more work than you would normally put into a standard presentation.
The origins of the process are in IT Enterprise Architecture and over the course of more than a decade it has filtered through to sales and beyond into the wider corporate sphere.  The authors distilled a wide variety of tools and techniques such as identification of pain chains, outcome mapping and extensive use of Kipling’s six honest serving men and classic Aristotelian story telling into a coherent, step-by-step approach which could be used by anybody.
Where this book excels, in my opinion is by breaking the process of creating the story down into a logical sequence and by showing how each step relates to all the others, it emphasises removal of the superfluous and is flexible enough to allow for factors identified late on in the process to be included. It lays down principles and not hard and fast rules allowing the process to be adapted to your unique situation.
The heart of the process is what the authors have called CAST: Content, Audience, Story, Tell.
Content: the why, what, how, what if, leading the audience to understand why you want them to act and what they must do.
Audience: the who creates an understanding of exactly who the audience is & what they need to know, what their learning and decisions styles are.
Story: when content and audience are clear , the focus switches to structure, characters and plot following the tried and tested principles of storytelling to provide the basis for the tell stage.
Tell: here the book shows how to use every step taken so far to build the visual story. This stage focuses on format, ideas, composition and writing, refining and honing.
Who should read this book: Anyone handling or contemplating change management and, according to the authors – educators, motivators, visionaries, change agents, drivers and revolutionaries. They say if you are not one of these, you probably don’t need the book however I think anyone who has to get up on their hind legs and present anything to any group of people can gain something from this book, it will definitely make you think about what you are doing in a whole new way.
  • Strong visual presentation which makes it easy to absorb the authors’ message.
  • Concepts are well explained with clear examples.
  • Strong on the ‘how to’ element throughout.
  • Very good guidance on visual design particularly useful for non-specialists.
  • The book is supported by the book’s own website and FB page.  Story building material is available from authors’ website or publisher to help you get going.
  • Extensive bibliography.
  • The physical dimensions of the book could be a little off putting;  softback in roughly Royal size at 24.5 x 19 cm, I found it a bit floppy but the content more than makes up for it.
  • The American influence is naturally present given the authors’ backgrounds and repeated use of one two of their favourite words, such as iterate, did jar a little after a while but it really doesn’t detract from the work.
  • Some readers may be put off by the strong, in-your-face graphic presentation and general ‘evangelistic’ approach but one would hardly expect a book of this nature to be presented in a dry as dust format.

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