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How the Most Successful People & Companies in the World Communicate

Public speaking frightens a lot of people.

Just the mentioning of it might put you in a cold sweat.

To be an industry leader, however, you will most likely have to confront that fear head-on. Luckily, it tends to get easier the more you do it.

Once you overcome your public speaking anxiety, it’s time to figure out how to be a top-notch, super-effective communicator. How will you get your audience to take the desired action?

Nancy Duarte, Principal at Duarte, Inc. and author of the recently released DataStory, is here to help us navigate the public communication waters.

Here’s what we’re unpacking today:

  • Learning from the best speakers in history
  • Building up and releasing tension in your presentation
  • Using data to deliver a powerful call-to-action

This post is based on a podcast interview with Nancy Duarte. You can listen to the full episode here and below.

1. Study great speakers

How did you come up with your formula for delivering a great presentation?

Nancy: I didn’t study average people. I’m not going to study a mediocre engineer in the bowels of some big company. Right? There’s probably not a lot of insight there.

I knew that the greatest speeches of all time had some sort of pattern to them because you could feel this building of tension and releasing it. You could feel the kind of rhythm and cadence to it. 

So, I literally bought every book I could find. I looked online for the greatest speeches of all time and studied them and tore apart the words. I worked it, worked it, worked it, and really did find a cadence; it’s built in storytelling.

If you think about the power of the spoken word, it’s hard to think of a movement that didn’t start with an impassioned plea or the spoken word, historically. To be experts in that is humbling and powerful. And we don’t take it lightly.

I think with the spread of TED talks now, even the geekiest scientist, even the introverted researcher, anyone can be a great presenter now.

2. Use a storytelling pattern

Could you tell us about the structure you use for storytelling?

Nancy: When you think about what we love about storytelling, there’s a sense of building tension and releasing it. So, as a structural device for communicators, that tension is built between the current realities of today and what the hope of our future is.

The human brain can process this contrast probably better than almost anything. As you contrast what is with what could be (what is, what could be, what is, what could be), end with what we call the new bliss, which is your idea. It’s what the world is going to look like when your idea is adopted or your client buys a product or how they’re going to get completely unstuck if they buy this product. It’s very audience-centric.

It’s very much about what the audience needs to get unstuck, what the audience needs to move your idea forward, what the audience needs to understand how your product fills a void.

I remember the day I really, really saw the pattern so clearly. It was a Saturday and I fell on my knees. I fell on my knees with the gravity of something this powerful. 

Would it be used for good? Would it be used for evil? It’s always been my prayer that it would always be used for more good than evil.

3. Don’t be afraid of using data

How does DataStory relate to all of this?

Nancy: I talked to a lot of customers and I figured out that really every single job is data enabled today. We all use data to make decisions and that was really the gap that everything pointed to.

I pulled thousands of data slides to understand the greatest and the highest performing brands on the stock market. I pasted thousands of them up on my wall and I saw a pattern right away. I saw several patterns.

I buzzed around like a hummingbird through our own work and through the work of the brands we serve. And that’s where this came from. There is a three-act story structure to use when you’re communicating your data.

A lot of people that work in data get trapped in just the explore phase. Explore the data, but if you don’t cross the chasm and start to explain it, you’ll stay stuck your whole career.

Explaining the data is the second step. Then, inspiring through data as a leader is the step after that.  

We’ve got data coming out the wazoo and yet the data is of no use. If someone doesn’t create a point of view and decide the action to be taken, and communicate that well, it’s really of no use.

4. Use intense verbs in calls-to-action

What is the call-to-action in DataStory?

Nancy: The verbs associated with data were very powerful and a verb is the part of speech where you take action. My call-to-action is for people to really, really think about their verb choices.

Is it a performance verb? Is it a process verb? Pick verbs that inspire people.

Whether you’re presenting, making a recommendation, communicating – make the verbs really clear and make them really special.

What we learned

Nancy has had substantial experience in the storytelling and presentation space. Through her years on the job, she has learned and communicated to us four major themes:

  1. Study the great speakers of history
  2. Use a storytelling pattern as your structure
  3. Use data in more than just the exploratory sense
  4. Use strong verbs in your calls-to-action

Equip yourself with these devices and prepare to inspire.