A puzzle and patterns have a lot in common.

A puzzle and patterns have a lot in common.

Stories are a tool to help structure information so that audiences can easily consume them. They help presenters make sure their message stays front and center so it can be heard. While many presentations and stories in the corporate environment use the metaphor of a journey, some are best represented in other ways. Other patterns are useful both to fit other circumstances or as a tool to inject a bit of variety into presentation heavy meetings. (Just how many journeys can you take in any one meeting?)

The Redirect or False Start is a pattern in which the presenter goes down a path in a predictable manner, then stops and restarts down a different path. The change in direction catches listeners off guard and causes them to concentrate on the new information being presented. The Sandler Sales System teaches a similar tactic, in which you begin to answer a question and then stop and ask a clarifying question. The 1970’s television detective series, Colombo, represents the perfect embodiment of this style of interaction. Lieutenant Colombo often used false starts, stops and restarts to engage suspects, often to their own detriment.

This presentation style is good for presenting information about projects that have changed direction or run into issues that have caused directional changes. The change in direction is also good disrupting an audience that might be tuning out because they think they know where the presentation is going or have become complacent. Directional changes (if not overdone) are useful for keeping an audience on their toes.

I once had to present a project status at an all-day portfolio review. The review session included presentations from 30 separate projects that EVERYONE involved had to sit though. My team’s presentation slot occurred mid-afternoon (approximately project 20). No one in that room had any interest in what was going on after lunch and were just waiting for the day to end (this is not a best practice). We were looking for more resources from our stakeholders as part of the review and anticipated their boredom. We used the false start approach to shock people back into life at least for the 15 minutes we were presenting and got the resources on the spot.

Convergence or Converging Lines is a pattern that is useful in scenarios that begin without a consensus approach or common theme. I typically use this pattern in situations where there are several competing approaches that either need to be synthesized or where a final decision needs to be made to choose an approach. For example, I saw a team use the convergence pattern to portray how their working group explored several competing ideas for addressing product owner engagement before finally settling on a consensus approach.

The power of this type of presentation is in showing that alternate voices were heard and incorporated into the final result. This is a very common pattern in consensus-driven organizations.

The Onion or Nested Loops is a useful pattern to draw an audience to a final conclusion incrementally. Each layer of the presentation could be considered as a separate narrative that brings the audience closer to the core message. In many cases, each loop of the presentation uses a separate metaphor, each getting more personal as the onion is peeled. This helps to generate a connection in a less threatening manner than immediately jumping to the core without the context that the outer layers would convey. I watched an analyst use the onion pattern to describe how an earthquake in Japan and its impact on a series of auto part suppliers ended up impacting a start-up’s ability to go live. When the onion was peeled it became apparent why without delivery vans the firm could not execute its same day delivery service as part of its online strategy. Without parts, they had to wait for the delivery vans to be assembled. As the presenter peeled back each layer of the supply chain with a story for each layer, the core impact to the startup became clearer and more ominous. This presentation pattern is also useful to help educate the audience on the impact of events that are outside of their field of vision.

Presentation and story patterns are useful tools to help frame a story or a message. Patterns are often used to help teams or presenters build a presentation that doesn’t jump all over the place. I use patterns to keep me from wandering. The pattern acts almost as a template storyboard into which I place the plot elements. Patterns can also be useful to help expose goals and requirements by providing the outline for a structured discussion. In the end, patterns are only tools without an actual story they have little value.

Next: Non-presentation uses of presentation patterns