What do picture books teach us about high impact business presentations and meetings? Picture books are designed for children, in which the illustrations are at least as important and in a lot of cases, even more important than the words that define the story. After reading several picture books to my kids, I took five important lessons these books taught me about making presentations with the highest impact and recall value.
Understand your audience and their needs
Picture books are a unique medium that have to cater to both the young readers and the adults who are the gatekeepers of the book and are often, the ones reading these books out loud. Kids might be interested in the illustrations more than the words and adults might be looking for an engaging story with a message. Several picture book authors and illustrators execute this careful balance flawlessly. Yertle The Turtle by Dr. Seuss is a perfect story which spreads the message of treating everyone equally without making any obvious references or sounding preachy. While I loved reading the story to my kids, they loved seeing the turtles stacking on top of one another and falling in the pond!
You will need to do your homework on the story that will resonate with your audience. Will they be interested in learning about the new product feature or competitive insights? This can take time but is the critical foundation needed for your story.
Define the question
Most picture books will focus on a specific question, conflict or obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome. Think of the question as the lane markings on a busy freeway that guides your driving. Just like the department of transportation works tirelessly to have clearly marked lanes, a picture book author will ensure that their story is addressing one specific question. For example, in the book, The Grumpy Pirate, the author might be trying to answer the question: How will the grumpy pirate stop being grumpy?
Be brief, Be focused
The accepted word count limit for picture books is 400 to 900 words which makes sense given the reader’s attention span. Imagine cramming 60 slides for a 1 hour presentation - you have already lost your audience! Inculcating the mentality of a picture book author will drive the ruthless efficiency in your story without sacrificing the core message. Another useful exercise that we can learn from picture book authors who routinely participate in pitching competitions to publishing houses and agents is to condense your presentation into a compelling tweet. If you are able to do that, you have built a focused presentation with a clear message.
Introduce the key hook of your story upfront
Picture books have to be deliberate about the way they set up the story given the word count guidance. Most books will usually introduce the key hook (e.g. Obstacle) of the story within the first few lines to grab the reader’s attention immediately. In the book, Zula, the singing zebra, I introduces the obstacle within the first fifty words itself. If you started your presentation by stating something like “We believe you will grow your revenue by 90% next year”, all eyes will be on you to learn about how you can help them achieve that massive growth (Assuming, you have a plan!).
Let the visuals tell the story
Illustrations are the heartbeat of a picture book and they do all the talking. There are so many examples of successful and memorable picture books with less than 100 words because visuals communicate 60,000 faster than words. The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems is a perfect example of telling lasting stories with the fewest words possible.
In a picture book, the role of the illustration is manifold - to complete the unwritten sentences, to elicit a reaction and to build a memorable connection with the reader. There are several examples out there but Axel Scheffler’s illustrations in The Gruffalo embodies the role of powerful, engaging illustrations in my opinion. Picking the right visual can make or break your presentation as your audience will likely not remember specific numbers by itself but they will not be able to ignore a visual showing that they are 40 points lower than their competitor in market share opening the door for the conversation your audience should be engaging in.
In conclusion, the next time you come across a picture book, take a pause and appreciate the effort put by the author and illustrator to pack a clear message efficiently and creatively and apply the above learnings to your next presentation!