Dramatize Your Ideas!

September 23, 2013

I don’t think I’ll ever forget one particular college history class. As a business major, I wasn’t extremely invested and the class took place right after lunch. I remember one student team was scheduled to give a presentation on Ancient Roman civilization. Just as I was about to zone out, the back door burst open and a student with a plastic helmet, a sword and a cape came tearing through the classroom. Hot on his heals came another student in a lion outfit. The lion made a diving tackle right in the narrow aisle between our desks, but the gladiator fought him off, stabbed him and then chased him back into the hallway, slamming the door behind him.

Now I was wide awake and ready to learn about Ancient Rome.

This story illustrates the effects drama can have on our words. Oftentimes, it’s not what we say, but how we say it that makes a difference. Here’s why:

Drama Masks

A Picture Paints… a Lot of Words

When I was a graduate student, I frequently got the feedback that my PowerPoint presentations had great information but were terribly boring. My interpretation was that meant they were great presentations. When I graduate and joined a consulting firm, I quickly learned that boring presentations don’t make it in front of clients.

I don’t know if pictures are worth exactly 1,000 words, but I do know that busy people usually don’t prefer to read minute data points when a picture, graph or illustration can say the same thing.

We Live in the Days of Showmanship

Incidentally, “Dramatize Your Ideas” is Dale Carnegie‘s principle #11 for winning people to your way of thinking. Why is it so important? According to Carnegie, “we live in the days of showmanship.” It’s not enough to tell why your idea is best, you have to use flair. Think about the advertisements you see in print or on television. You don’t just see laundry detergent facts, you see dirty clothing transformed into spotless. You see the extreme inconvenience of losing cell phone coverage, how crash test dummies always manage to survive accidents in certain cars and that cheap American beer always leads to a big party.

When a man wants to propose to his lady, he doesn’t send her a text message. He gets down on a knee!

Whether you are selling a product or an idea, the experience in the delivery can often make or break the sale.

Drama Helps Your Audience “Find the Feeling”

In their book Switch, authors Dan and Chip Heath relay a story about an intern who thought his manufacturing employer could save $1 billion in over several years simply by controlling purchasing costs. Of course, he knew management would never embrace his ideas unless they believed them for themselves. So he decided to dramatize his ideas using one single item: work gloves. He collected a pair of every individual work gloves from every factory throughout the company and tagged it with the amount the company was paying for it. By the time he was finished, he had 424 different pairs of gloves from many different suppliers and at different negotiated costs. The intern piled all the gloves onto a conference room table and one by one invited all the division presidents to take a look.

When the presidents saw for themselves that some divisions were purchasing the same gloves at three times the price as other divisions, the intern’s point was made. We’ve got a real problem, the presidents thought and determined right away to address it.

Drama doesn’t change the facts. It personalizes them. Lack of drama can undermine your message, the way my boring presentation slides used to undermine my solutions.

So when you find yourself with a point you really need to make, think how you can infuse a little drama!

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.