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Guest post: Better PowerPoint through Chekhov

Posted by Ilise Benun on

Today’s guest post combines two of my favorite things: great presenting and great writing—which, if you think about it, are just different ways of telling stories. Which is Richard Fouts‘ point, exactly. And as CEO of Comunicado, a brand communications firm that helps organizations tell their story, he knows a little something about storytelling…

Would your customers prefer "death by PowerPoint" or an interesting story
of how you helped an online retailer double their revenues? If the latter, take
a hint from Anton Chekhov, the son of a grocer who helped support his family by
writing humorous sketches.

One of Chekhov’s more famous quotes was "Any
idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out". His
simple philosophies come through in his stories, which were not
noted for their intricate plots. Rather, Chekhov found emotion and
drama in ordinary, everyday events.

As business communicators, we’re not
looking for the intricate plot either. Our job is to communicate how our
companies solve ordinary, everyday business problems. You can easily adapt
Chekhov’s three part storytelling model to tell more engaging stories about you
or your company.

How Does Chekhov’s Model

First, Anton tees up a messy situation. Second, he describes the
impact the situation is having on his characters – then delights us with an

Years ago, while deep in his third volume of short stories, I
tried adapting his approach for marketing and sales communications. Not only did
it work – it has never failed me.

Just answer three simple questions:

  • What situation are your customers facing?
  • What impact is the situation having on their business ?
  • What’s your resolution?
Some people remember this technique by its abbreviation: SIR
(Situation, Impact,

Here are a
couple of examples:

(Situation) A software company needs to launch a
new product by June. Otherwise, a window of opportunity to edge ahead of
competitiors will be lost (Impact). Widpro develops new products in half the
time without compromising quality (Resolution).

Or combine the situation and impact.

The City of New York needed to reduce the cost of its IT
operations by 20 percent (situation) so it could fund its pay raises (impact).
Outsourcing reduced costs while simultaneously improving service quality.

When to Use Storytelling

This storytelling model is especially good for
customer success stories, sales proposals and brochures. But it works in
virutally any type of communication, even those you have with your kids.

The next time you brief your boss about something, briefy describe your
situation and its impact. Summarize with your recommendation. Your conversations
will be more brief, more clear. And, you’ll find yourself getting what you want.

By the way, what happened to Chekhov? For starters, his early short
story The Steppe, won the Pushkin Prize in 1888. His first play,
Ivanov had little success, but The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three
and The Cherry Orchard all successful, are still produced
in regional theaters to this day, all over the world.

In his spare time, Chekhov ran a free clinic for peasants, took part in
famine and epidemic relief, and was a volunteer census-taker.
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