The Art of Storytelling: Giving Better Presentations


Do you have an important presentation coming up? Or maybe you want to brush up on your storytelling skills?

Alex Gallafent is a Senior Design Director of Narrative & Strategy at IDEO, where he grounds complex design projects in clarifying, human-centered research, and builds confidence and excitement through story, language, sound, and immersive experiences. He’s also an instructor of our course Impactful Presentations.

In today’s Creative Confidence Podcast, Alex shares insights into how to craft better stories and build presentations that move and inspire your audience. He gives live feedback on real presentations submitted by our listeners to illuminate common presentation pitfalls, how to craft presentations that people remember, and tips and frameworks for presenting.



In this episode with Alex, we cover:

(00:00) Introduction and Alex’s story

(6:03) Presentation feedback on Andy’s pitch deck

(17:07) Presentation feedback on Elaine’s city council proposal

(28:16) Presentation feedback on Cezary’s informational deck

(38:26) Summary of Alex’s tips and insights to apply to any presentation


If you want to learn more about how to shape and share your ideas in ways that engage, inspire, and motivate, check out our online Communicating for Impact Certificate, where Alex is an instructor.



Suzanne Gibbs Howard (00:00):

Hello, everybody. Welcome from literally all over the world. I can already see who's joining us today, and I am incredibly excited to welcome people from everywhere, from Brazil to Mumbai to Cape Town. So, welcome. Hi, I'm Suzanne Gibbs Howard. I am the founder of IDEO U. And I welcome you to the Creative Confidence Podcast where I always have conversations with special guests about creativity, leadership, innovation, and growth. And today I have a very special guest, Alex Gallant. Hello, Alex.

Alex Gallafent (00:41):

Hi, Suz.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (00:42):

Welcome. And Alex is, um, one of our best and most provocative storytellers at ideo. He is a director, senior director of narrative and strategy at ideo. And we are going to talk today about the art of storytelling, how to give a better, more impactful and more persuasive conversation. So we're gonna be diving into some of Alex's top tips, but as always, we're experimenting and doing things differently. And we're going to do this in a way where we've invited some of our community members to share a presentation or a story that they're working on. And then Alex is going to give them live feedback. So we are very excited about that. I'm a little bit more about Alex. So Alex is a senior design director at IDEO and ideo. He has worked with major clients in everything from media to government, to civic innovation, to financial empowerment, hospitality, financial services and beyond.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (01:42):

You name it, he's touched it. He's also a teacher. He teaches design thinking, storytelling, and research at institutions like New York University, the School of the Visual Arts in the new school in Manhattan. Uh, prior to ideo, Alex, you'll, you'll know why as soon as you hear his luscious voice. He's been a correspondent for public Radios the World and the B BBC World Service. He's presented and reported on everything from the rise of digital gurus in India to the intersection of religion and public health in southern Africa. So currently Alex is working with IDEO's, designed for food global impact practice, and he's supporting some key clients through the depth of his craft. So I'm so excited to have you here today.

Alex Gallafent (02:33):

Um, that was very, very flattering Sue's face for radio . Uh, also I will say, like I, I turned the chat off because it was a little overwhelming, but just the sheer range of people from all over the world. I expect that there are some extraordinary storytellers, uh, uh, here on this call. And so I'm, um, flattered by the opportunity to sort of like, you know, chat in front of this group. Um, and, you know, very excited to learn as much as, uh, as I can offer tips.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (03:02):

Wonderful. And I know we love it when your conversation in the chat is going as much as we are here in the epicenter. And so please ask your questions at the last few minutes. We will get to your questions. So we welcome those. Um, so our packed agenda today, we're gonna jump right into it. Uh, I thought I'd do one little warm-up question with Alex, which is this. So Alex, you're one of our, our top storytellers. What are some of the things that are in the forefront of your mind and your personal practice or, or tips that you feel like you're constantly giving to other people about telling stories?

Alex Gallafent (03:37):

Well, in New York, I used to perform, uh, improv, improvisational theater. And I was thinking about this as a, maybe a good example to get into this conversation. Now, if you, if you, if you've encountered improv before, the, the idea is that performers on a stage responding to a suggestion from a member of the audience, and then the, the, the game is that you make up the performance. You make up the little play or the scene totally from, from nothing. Everything is made up. And on the stage there's also like nothing in the way of props, maybe a couple of chairs. But what's remarkable, and I wouldn't put myself in this category at all, but what's remarkable about really extraordinary top quality improvisers is that they are able to create, to build the world of that story, um, with nothing other than commitment to the essential idea, commitment, and partnership with the audience.

Alex Gallafent (04:32):

Uh, and commitment to each other agreements about what's going on, uh, and the specificity in the detail of those worlds. And you suddenly, you realize you're looking at two people on an empty stage, but you're seeing a jungle and you'll see them exploring it, and you're seeing them picking a leaf in detail and examining it. That is, that is the power of extraordinary storytelling. That magic thing that happens between presenter, storyteller and audience and everything else is a prop. We're gonna spend some time looking at slides, but if there's anything I want people to take away is this idea that the slides are not the story. The slides are not the presentation. The slides are a pop a, a prop. They're incredibly valuable, powerful aesthetics, matter, structure matters. Slides matter when you're using them, but they're not the story. The story is that thing that happens in between. And so hold, hold onto that. And I think that that'll be something, some of what I hope will talk about today.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (05:28):

That is fantastic. Um, excuse me,

Alex Gallafent (05:32):

You No, no, no worries. Are you okay?

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (05:34):

Yeah, I'm fine. Um, I love that point about the partnership between the audience, the presenter, the avoidance of crops being the center. That is so true. I need to get us onto our first guest as we start to do this technique today. Um, let's go ahead and bring up Andy and Andy. I'm gonna introduce a little bit about Andy Russell to all of you as we go on, and then we'll dive into his presentation.

Alex Gallafent (06:11):

Hey, Andy.

Andy (06:12):

Hey. Hey, Alex.

Alex Gallafent (06:14):

One run my friend. One run. I presume you follow a cricket. That was pretty extraordinary. For anyone who doesn't know New Zealand, just beat my, my native country England by one run in a test match. And it was one of the best things I've ever seen.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (06:26):

So, congratulations. Oh my goodness. Yes. So Andy is in New Zealand. I wanna welcome you from tomorrow, um, for the rest of us. So thank you for joining us early in your morning. So Andy is a chef by trade. He's cooked in restaurants all around the world. He, um, but he also has spent the last 12 years working in tech for a digital product studio. So he was bringing like chef and digital products together. So last year he was working on his master's and started to tackle this project about the problems that families face when it comes to cooking dinner. If you have a family, you know what a problem dinner can be, who cooks, what are you gonna cook? Where are you gonna get the ingredients, the recipes, let alone is it possibly healthy? So today Andy's gonna share with us a presentation for a product that he developed. His product is called Tiny Recipes. It's designed to make it easier for families to cook dinner by giving them simplified, personalized recipes that even a child could cook. So the presentation is a pitch to the potential consumer to tell them how and why tiny recipes will solve their dinner woes. And ultimately the goal is to get people to sign up. So I'm gonna go ahead and we'll pull up Andy's presentation. I'll pass it over to you, Alex.

Alex Gallafent (07:56):

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thanks Suz. Um, Andy, thank you so much for sharing this. This is awesome. Um, I'm, I'm curious just by, by like asking you to help orient as to what we're looking at here. We're not gonna keep this on screen for long, but if I'm correct, the first sort of section starting top left and then moving across and then downwards, the setup is essentially like a little story about a family and a family situation in the current state. And then after the aha moment, we start talking about the product tiny recipes. Is that correct?

Andy (08:32):

Um, yeah, the speaker notes are on the bottom of the slides that I have. But what I was trying, what I tried to do in the presentation is take the audience on a journey of, um, the problems that they're likely to have, and empathize with, um, at the start. And then what they're currently doing, um, with those problems. And then, um, uh, showing other companies that are trying to solve the problem and how they're not quite working. And then, and then sort of the aha moment and trying to take them on a journey on, um, a different approach.

Alex Gallafent (09:09):

I love that. Um, one of the things that I really appreciate, you know, sometimes presentations especially about products begin with the products. Like we, you know, product Nu slide number one, gonna put it on a ped pedestal, and you haven't done that. You've begun with a situation, a context, a universe, and a state of affairs that's currently unsatisfactory. Um, you know, pre presentation is a, it is kind of one of those, it can feel, at least to me, like a scary word. Sometimes when I give it a capital P it's like I'm presenting the big thing to the world, and I'm hoping that people will like it, whereas there's another meaning to the word presentation, which is like the small p where it's like an offer, a gift. It's like something I'm presenting, I'm putting in front of you, hoping that it's gonna resonate. So I love, love, love that you went for a more human form of presentation, presenting this idea, this notion of a family. Couple of things that I noticed, if it's helpful. Um, so one I'm curious about like the, um, the, almost like the, the camera angle that you've selected to describe this family at the beginning. It's sort of like in, in cinematic language, it's sort of like, it's like mid focus. The photographs are, I think stock photos principally. Is that correct?

Andy (10:22):


Alex Gallafent (10:23):

Um, great. So the stock photos, um, they all show families sort of as a group. Um, we don't necessarily see them in a state of any sort of emotional specificity. We're seeing them cooking, we're seeing them tired in that one. They're all different families as well. So one of the things that has an effect, at least for me, is to take me out of the story. I'm seeing more, um, high level abstracted theme, and I'm seeing, and I'm feeling less of an emotional connection to this archetype or this imaginary family that might hook me right from the beginning about the emotional need that's going on. So that could be one thing to try out, like how could you thread together this opening sequence, almost like playing out an imaginary story, giving them names, you know, showing them in details. What would it actually look like to have a shot that's less about the whole family and more about, you know, a bowl of food, you know, or a messy, you know, bowl of cereal that's at dinnertime, you know, instead of, instead of like the sort of the more generic moments that we have right now.

Alex Gallafent (11:26):

So that might be, how, how does that resonate with you?

Andy (11:29):

Uh, yeah, no, I can do that. I, I, I could even use my own family. Cause what I, what I'm trying to convey is the, um, problem isn't solved by skill. So my chef background doesn't solve the problem.

Alex Gallafent (11:42):


Andy (11:43):

And I've got a busy, busy family, a blended family of six kids. So, uh, I've got that, that problem as well.

Alex Gallafent (11:51):

I love that. And as you bring your own family in midway through, but the photo doesn't show you in that state. It's a fa family of a photo of your family, and you're all, you're all together. But like, it's not about the topic. So tying those two things together, soup could be super cool. And actually you are, you are hinting at a degree of vulnerability that you might be comfortable and not everyone is, but you might be comfortable bringing to the opening of the story by zeroing on your own circumstance, the own your, the own set, the ch set of challenges that you yourselves are, are confronting. I had one question for you. So is the problem fundamentally about food or is the problem is the, is the goal about something deeper than food and food is the mechanism together? I have a hunch, but I'm curious for you, what is the, what is the thing that's being solved by the product?

Andy (12:42):

Um, sharing the load so everyone can contribute and connect. So what I found was there's a primary cook mainly in every house, and they're worn out in the, the tired, and they're, they're over it. And if you can, if you can enable, uh, non cooks and children to be able to also, um, choose dinners, plan, plan what's for dinner, even cook dinner and, and share the load over different nights, um, you can have ha have an a family environment where, uh, everyone's contributing. Um, it's, it's all a bit more balanced out. And it's just, so my approach to the problem is, is incorporating more of the family to, um, to, to the planning and cooking of

Alex Gallafent (13:29):

Food. Yeah, I I love that. And I think you've, you've hit the nail in the head and I think you could afford to highlight one element of that, which is this is about helping families share and connect it. Ha it so happens that food is both part of the problem and in, in your product, part of the solution. But the fundamental goal is to essentially allow a family to be a family in a healthy, flourishing way. And to me, that sort of central drive, like emotional impetus is critical to this so that it doesn't quickly turn into, uh, a presentation about the mechanics of food and cooking. It's critical, but like the fundamental impulse strikes me as if, uh, that it's about like, how do we help families share the load, connect with each other, be families, not be sort of like dispersed and diffuse in their energies and exhausted all the time, be able to be together as a unit. And food is a principle way to do that, and this product, therefore, is a way to bring that to life.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (14:27):

This is great. I think, um, what we're doing today, just catching up a couple people who joined a little bit late, is we're looking at the structure of a couple people's presentations because these presentations is longer than two minutes. We weren't, we're not having people present everything but looking, as you can see here at a bird's eye view of the presentation. And so what I'm hearing in this one is that, um, Andy made some bold moves storytelling wise by starting off with a really human story about a family that, you know, and their qualms and their trials and tribulations with regard to food before diving into everything about the, the, um, tiny recipe's pitch. And Alex, where you're pushing it further is to say, to make it even a more specific family to follow one family's journey. It could even be Andy's family and then maybe Andy, I know when you've talked about your pitch, you, you zoom out and you say, I'm one of these families. And so that could be even more explicit in the presentation. Alex, is that kind of accurate for

Alex Gallafent (15:35):

What you're saying? Yeah, absolutely. With, with the ad that I believe that there is a, an implied human truth at the heart of Andy's story about what it means to be a flourishing family at its best that is, that could afford to be picked out. And actually, you know, your opening and closing slide is the George Elliot quote, um, what do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other, which is not about food, it's about the quality of a family that's flourishing. So leaning into that impulse, I think will help situate this problem. It's expressed through food and the solution expressed through their product in an even richer and more anchored way.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (16:16):

I think with that, we're gonna close it up with Andy, we'll wrap up with you a little bit more after this, but thank you Andy, for sharing your presentation. Thank you, Andy. High level with us today. Thank you. Um, for those of you just joining, we're doing something called live feedback where we've invited people to submit a presentation that they can get Alex Gallant's expert feedback on. Um, and we're looking at the overarching structure over those presentations rather than listening to them go through the entire thing. So thank you all for coming on with us. With that, I'm gonna bring on our second person today, Elaine Yang. So Elaine, welcome to the show. I'll give you a little bit of context for background so that you can be up to speed. We'll show that bird's eye view, overview of the conversation, uh, the presentation, and then Alex and Elaine will dive in.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (17:07):

So Elaine is currently working for the federal government as a strategic planner for areas and infrastructure systems across the Nevada national security site. She has a background in urban planning, and so prior in her career, she was leading a housing element update for an affordable housing project with the city council in a city Claremont, California. And so the presentation that Elena is sharing with us and giving us a little peek at today is from her time with that city council in California. And it's a proposal that she submitted to that council. And I think a lot of us can identify with this moment. You have this big proposal that you're submitting to a lot of people, they're gonna ask a lot of questions. So she had nine members of the city council she was presenting to as well as nearly a hundred community members who are listening in. So you can imagine all of the range of questions she's trying to prepare for, but her goal was to make the case for an affordable housing project that she and her team had developed. So I wanna say welcome to you, Elaine. We'll, we'll bring up just the overview of your presentation to give people a sense of it. And with that, Alex, I'll have you, um, take it away and, and see how you can help Elaine with some feedback.

Alex Gallafent (18:24):

Hi, Elaine. Thanks so much for this. Hi.

Elaine (18:27):

Hi. Thank you.

Alex Gallafent (18:27):

What is it like seeing it again like, uh, you know, since 2017? How does it, how does it, how do you, you know, how does it land with you?

Elaine (18:35):

You know, um, it feels pretty good. Um, it, you know, I question my font decisions, but overall I feel like the content was concise and I, in some cases, perhaps a little, it's, it was a little bit more text per slide than I would do now.

Alex Gallafent (18:53):

Mm-hmm. . So I'm curious about the jobs to be done in this presentation. What were the things that you needed to land and make happen as a result of it? Sue mentioned a couple, but like, was this also a leave behind document? Was this both making a persuasive case? Was it also a call to action? Like what, what was the work that this had to achieve the presentation and, and the slides?

Elaine (19:18):

Ultimately, I was trying to present to the city council the reviewing body, um, what, what, what the housing element update consisted of what we did. Um, and this housing element update was a state mandated required update. And so if we didn't get that approval from city council, uh, we would be not compliant with state regulations. And as who's, uh, mentioned, a huge part of the housing element updates was to show that the city could accommodate a certain number of affordable housing within the city. But in order to do that, we needed to do a lot of changes to the zoning and, and the, the municipal code to make sure that we could do so. So, uh, it was, it was a pretty complex presentation,

Alex Gallafent (20:20):

Really complex. So maybe there are two ways for us to explore this presentation, and we'll take them one by one. The first is, I, I'm curious, like what were the tonal qualities that you needed to hit for this to be successful? So was this about, you know, an explanatory turn, you just needed to be ultimately clear, or was it about confidence? And we can talk about how you went about achieving those tones and if there are other approaches to do that.

Elaine (20:47):

I was definitely trying to achieve, um, a tone of confidence of calmness and of knowledge being knowledgeable Right before the meeting or the day before the meeting, my city manager had, uh, had me do the presentation beforehand. And his one word of feedback or one item of feedback was to turn down my excitement. So I did my best to channel my 60, our 70 year old father, you know, in all of his seriousness and, um, did, not didactic, but just like prof, you know, very serious, present the, the project.

Alex Gallafent (21:27):

And did you present pretty much what's on the screen or were there some slides, some moments where it was more like, look, here is evidence, but I'm not gonna speak to it, just know that it's there, or were you really going through each slide and sort of taking people through the details?

Elaine (21:43):

I went through each slide and I went through the details for sure. Yeah, it was really important for them to understand everything in the presentation. You know, this presentation was accompanied by like a 22 page staff report, but the dirty secret is that they often don't read it. So this presentation was kind of making sure that they were fully, um, in, on the same page as us regarding why the housing element update was needed, how we were achieving the affordable housing and what actions they needed to take.

Alex Gallafent (22:16):

Yeah, this, this feels like one of those moments where, you know, it's a bit of a truism that you know, the, tell people what you're gonna say, tell them and then tell 'em what you said, like this, this whole, the presentation feels like an executive summary, but almost feels like it demands an executive summary to the executive summary up the top, you know, the, the, the, the most distilled version of what you described, you know, what's going on, why it's important, and the action they need to take. I could imagine that actually being a preface to going into that detail, because the challenge I can imagine for someone, uh, receiving this presentation, especially receiving it, watching the slides go past, perhaps not being able to refer to anything, maybe like trying to capture notes along the way, is holding the construction of this argument such a different story to Andy's.

Alex Gallafent (23:04):

This is a, this is a complex, that piece of argument that you are, you are constructing moment by moment piece by piece. So almost providing for people a mental model of some scaffolding, like, this is how the jigsaw piece is going to add up. This is the shape you need to hold in your head of what I'm building towards that people can refer back to. Might be an interesting way to buy yourself permission to get to this level of detail. The only thing I'm curious about, um, and it might be that one technique is to sort of vary this move along the way, is different ways to communicate confidence and clarity. Sometimes actually density is exactly what you need because I mean, I remember a project, you know, know, not a presentation, but it was a project for financial consumers and we had prototyped sending a letter out that was, we thought very clear, very distilled, like didn't have too much stuff on the page.

Alex Gallafent (23:57):

And actually a lot of the feedback from consumers, from people was, I, I don't believe this. There isn't enough, there aren't enough words on the page for me to feel like this is authoritative and real. So there might be moments where actually density is necessary to communicate confidence, but there may also be moments where the essential truth of something that you are trying to communicate is lost in the blur. You know, it's like, what of these three points do I really need to remember? Or is like, what does this table actually mean? Is there a summary sentence that just distills the essence of what you're trying to communicate? So moving between those polarities could be an interesting technique to try and determine when you want to go dense, when you want to go clear. Su I think you're

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (24:37):

Jumping, I think this is great. I'm gonna do my best to wrap up all of this. Um, and thank you Elaine, and I, I really wanna give a shout out extra to you because your context is so tricky. Like that point about somebody telling you to control your enthusiasm is that is the unique context of presenting to this kind of government client and trying to command respect and have authority and have confidence and show that, you know, you know, your business and that context. It was super tricky context. I think, um, some of the things that I was hearing from Alex is to think about the jobs to be done from your presentation. And sometimes it's so often that we're using a talk or a story piece of storytelling to serve more than one purpose at once. It's the leave behind and the presentation.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (25:27):

And maybe it's great to make something different for the presentation and attach all of the leave behind as an appendix or, or things you can call up with questions. I also heard Alex talking a lot about, um, about complex presentations and, and explanatory bits, um, and different ways that you can communicate, communicate confidence. I think it is so common for all of us to capture all of the details and see that as the means to show, you know, what's going on in there. There are other ways I'll share one little tip that I use sometimes and I've seen a lot of teams do this is get everything in there, put it all in there, and then wrap up with, um, what is, if there was one big thing I wanted you to remember, the thing I want you to take away from this, say that right up front because that communicates confidence. And then they listen to all of the other data and information that you're giving them with that filter. And that can be a really helpful way to help them digest all of that information and do something with it, not just glaze over when you've put your heart and Saul into presenting this.

Alex Gallafent (26:37):

I know we have to move on, but there's one thing we didn't quite get to, but I would love if we were able to, just thinking more about the audience. So what are they bringing into the room when they encounter this information? Like, have they just come from lunch? Have they come from another meeting that looks just like this? If not with as, as elegant font, font choices. You know, are they, are they going to another meeting afterwards like this? And that's actually something you can even prototype. You can sort of play out for yourself with a team. Like, let's do a session now. Let me get practice the presentation, then go somewhere else and then see, you know, what are the ways that this can stand out or be, um, um, approachable or more memorable in the context of a larger suite of activities that your audience may be engaged in.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (27:20):

Wonderful. With that we're gonna wrap it up with Elaine, thank you so much for your bravery, for sharing and for your hard work and affordable housing.

Alex Gallafent (27:27):

Thank you, Elaine.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (27:29):

Miss that. Thank you. We are going to bring up our third guest and just updating folks who have joined us at various points. We're doing something a little different today instead of just Alex lecturing to you about his top tips for storytelling. We're bringing tips about storytelling and presentation to life through something we call live feedback. So literally we've invited people to submit something that they're working on or have presented to Alex. And Alex is right here going to give them live feedback to bring that to life for you. For those of you who want to follow on at the end, we always wrap up these tips and if you've signed up for this webcast, you will get an email with the wrap up afterwards. So thank you everyone. And Saari, a little bit of background on you. Uh, Cezary is joining us from Ottawa, Canada.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (28:20):

He is a senior business analyst at the transformation, an accelerator hub for the government of Canada. And he helps us clients to accelerate the transformation or change that they're going through. So Cezary has shared a presentation with us that he developed to start educating his team and peers about Agile. So Agile's an iterative approach to project management and often software development. And so Cezary did something really cool and innovative here. He, not only the pr the, some of the things he was doing was dispelling common myths about agile that he had seen in his organization, but his presentation is meant to be highly interactive and engaging. He's built it onto Miro whiteboard, which is a digital collaboration space instead of, um, instead of into slides. And he was inviting folks to start thinking differently about what they do. So he's presented this a few times and he'll often also send out this mural board to peers with hopes that they'll engage with the content on their own. So with that, I'll pass it over to Alex and Cezary is all yours.

Alex Gallafent (29:25):

Hey Cezary.

Cezary (29:26):


Alex Gallafent (29:27):

How is this going so far? Like, can you, can you share a little about, a little bit about how deploying this has, has gone with your teams and what the format looks like?

Cezary (29:35):

Yeah, so, uh, our team, uh, at the accelerator hub, uh, is introducing a lot, lot of new ways of thinking and, uh, mindsets to the government, which is a very kind of hierarchical structure and is, uh, uh, very used to working in waterfall, uh, kind of project management. But there's a lot of, uh, talk about agile. There's a lot of misunderstanding about it. So we wanted to combine, uh, and do a few things with this presentation. Not only talk about Agile and, uh, two non-technical audiences cuz Agile is, uh, has been used in IT environments, but now it's coming a little bit more to different types of teams. So we wanted to, uh, show it to them that it's not overwhelming, dispel some of the myths about it. So, uh, also at the same time use innovative presentation tools that are not just sort of talking at you, but uh, are kinda living artifacts that invite, uh, engagement.

Cezary (30:30):

So each slide has, uh, stickies where, um, the participants can go and actually click and provide feedback. They can even, uh, put, uh, and I often have some stickies that people put right all over the place, uh, uh, in with their feedback and comment as we go through. I always do a little changes if the, it gets some feedback that something is not clear, I always ask the participants to, uh, spend some time after or even join the presentation and I try to improve. So it's like a, uh, ongoing, uh, evergreen beta few things at the same time we, we try to do with

Alex Gallafent (31:04):

That. I love that. Thank you so much for that context. So I, there are a few things that I, I really appreciate here. I love that you've made it participatory, um, making space for people to show up and join in and add and comment and and evolve it with you. And it's not sole authorship in that respect. Um, I love that it is, uh, a living document that presumably people can refer to as well as they're making choices and they're going about their work. So it has a different flavor of utility than a simple sort of straightforward, I'm gonna tell you this on this one occasion, but occasion based sort of use feels like an interesting potential topic for us. Uh, when I first encountered this, I thought, how would I feel if this is how I encountered Agile for the very first time?

Alex Gallafent (31:48):

And I felt overwhelmed. I felt like there is a lot here , you know, uh, I dunno if, you know, the, the, the line, um, from, from Hamlet suit the action to the word and the word to the action that probably messed that up a little bit. But it, but essentially it's, you know, it's about making sure that the form and the format of what you're communicating is in tune with the message that you are communicating to. And I know that one of the agile principles that you pick out deep in one of these slides is around simplicity. And I'm craving some simplicity here because I'm just getting lost this framework. And there's another framework and there's another framework, which is incredible as the resource to be able to go back to. But I'm curious how it's felt to sort of like walk people through such a range of mental models and frameworks and mindsets and lists and all the rest of it. Has it felt overwhelming or have you actually actually deployed this piece by piece and therefore you've never actually had a situation where everyone's has to take a lot in at the same time?

Cezary (32:45):

You know, it's, uh, . I think you're made a very good observation sometimes. Uh, uh, my team always gives me feedback and especially in the beginning as we were getting used to, uh, one another, uh, that I can be very overwhelming because there's like all these ideas that I would like to, I've come from an education background. Okay. I was a teacher for a very long time and I always realized there's very little time and I try to cram as much information as I can. So this is actually in my kind of, uh, for what I produce, this was a 35 to 40 page of slide, like slides presentation. Yeah. Which I was trying to cram into as few slides as possible. And, uh, maybe that's, uh, uh, that's what's happening here because I knew I only have like a one shot, well, I didn't want want it to be to as informative as possible.

Alex Gallafent (33:34):

That's a, that's a question that that, that there's a hypothesis there or there's an assumption that that presentations are necessarily a one moment proposition, but maybe that's not the case. That's certainly not how we teach in schools. And if you're a teacher, you know that you build lessons over time. So what is to say that your presentation around this topic could not be a series of presentations moment by moment, building knowledge, building confidence, step by step, adding to the store of, uh, of awareness around agile in your team. Um, there's another trick I think that you've sort of left unexplored, which is the myths. I, I love that you pick out that, you know, that your impetus for doing this is to dispel some common myths about, about agile, but you haven't articulated the myths and I'm desperate to know what they are. Those could be a really powerful way for you to structure this content. Myth number one, you know, agile is complicated. I don't know, I'm making this up, but then you have something, you have some tension building for you to respond to and something for people to sort of wrestle within their head and hang onto, um, that just might, might, might give this content something to hang onto rather than sort of floating out there as like, just another way of, you know, of thinking about work.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (34:43):

I'm gonna jump in here with one, one idea, which is something that we teach in one of our storytelling courses, storytelling for Influence. And it's because, so sorry, I so resonate with you. I'm an educator myself and I get so excited about all the content. I want people to have all of it. And one of the things that I've learned over the years through others is to pull back and think about what is the one big idea that we actually need to focus on. And the way to get there is through something that we call the bar test, which is to pretend that you're just, you and Alex are at a bar having a drink, and you're like, ah, I'm working on this thing. And Alex says, tell me what, tell me what's the big idea? What is the big thing you wanna get across about Agile? So could you, like, pretend you've got a cup of tea or coffee or a cocktail at hand, what would you tell Alex about agile?

Cezary (35:36):

Agile is not what you think agile is. A lot of things that you've might have heard about, and it's actually something that I do in the first slide. It's, uh, if you zoom into the first slide, it would really make sense because I say agile is not just being flexible and being able to stand on your hand while you're actually, uh, composing something beautiful. And then I go into talking about the difference of, uh, what the public servants are very familiar with, which is a very kind of a traditional, um, project, uh, management, which is like an orchestra. And I contrast that with, it's more like a jazz, uh, improv. Uh, uh, that's what Agile is all about. That's where it comes from. And then I jump in and sort of try to look at the values really quickly and uh, then I talk about the principles that it's an actual manifesto. It comes from agile manifesto, the values. So

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (36:27):

That is great

Cezary (36:28):

There, that kinda a story and bring them into it and make it excited. There's a lot of talking in the first slide and maybe that's not reflected in visually, but, uh, yes, I do tell the story of the history of it. That's great. And gotta get the people excited.

Alex Gallafent (36:42):

Susan, Alex and I, I just love that you've, like, you've landed on a metaphor that resonates for you. The difference between, you know, operating like an orchestra and operating like a, like a, like a jazz group. I would encourage you to, you know, select that metaphor and, and sort of pursue it. You know, a lot of the images on the subsequent slides are, you know, from different metaphors and maybe there is some utility and some power in, you know, choosing one, seeing how rich it is and seeing how well it, it's able to capture the things that you want to communicate. Um, so that's one recommendation. The other thing, it's, you know, I saw this in the chat as well. There is a question here about when is a presentation, a presentation? When is a presentation a workshop? When is a presentation actually turning into a piece of documentation?

Alex Gallafent (37:28):

So it might be that there are, there are different formats that are more appropriate that you could build off this, you know, this, this central repository to get to the presentation form, like the first introduction version of this where it's like, simplify it on the slides. You're picking a single metaphor so that everyone has the same mental model to pursue as they're getting to grips with the idea initially. And then you move as people, you know, get further into the details towards a format like this where participation becomes more relevant, where you can start introducing a greater level of granularity. So just being intentional about the moment you and your audience is in, and then tuning and tailoring the content to serve that need.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (38:06):

Awesome. I think we are gonna close up with Cezary there. I think each of these three presentations is just an awesome, awesome progress work in progress and fantastic story to start with. And we wanted to get to some of those level 2, 3, 4 kinds of feedback. So, um, I'm gonna try to summarize across all of them to close it out. But Cezary, some of the things that I heard Alex talking about with, with you is, um, you know, that instead of that feeling of overwhelm, giving people everything that you want them to know, how can you peel back and start to understand what the, the big idea is, the singular, you know, if it's all about jazz over an orchestra, how does that metaphor ring throughout? How does that become the one major thing that you want people to know? And then I think also what I'm hearing inherent in that is as you practice your presentation time and time again, and you get feedback from people that can hone your prototype, and that's the best way when you're a teacher who's super passionate about a topic to know what do you make the centerpiece and what do you leave on the, on the cutting room floor.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (39:18):

I think that rolls me back to things that we heard for Elaine. I think a lot of great tips in there also about being really mindful of the job to be done for the particular moment that you're presenting. Is it a leave behind? Is it a presentation? Is it an executive summary? And making things for that unique context, that specific audience is something that I, I really learned and heard you talking about with Elaine's presentation, balancing that complexity of the information to be presented and that desire to show confidence and knowledge, but also still making sure you have a clear, crisp, clean presentation. And then with Andy backing up to that, where we started with his pitch about tiny recipes there, we really went back to some of the places that we always talk about with human-centered storytelling. You know, how do you take something, even if it has a pitch purpose or an informational purpose, and certainly make it human show why you care, show why you're passionate about it, share something about yourself, share a human story, maybe that human story is even about you. And that's a way to make it deeply, deeply memorable and personal. So all of these are some of the things that we learned through this unique approach that we were giving to storytelling, going through live feedback with Alex. Um, Alex, is there anything that I missed in my summary that you wanna make sure that people have today?

Alex Gallafent (40:49):

Well, there, there's one thing, and I spotted it in the chat as well, and it's around, it's around metaphor. So one, one last thought. I mean, I often go to metaphor. I like metaphors. I think they're poetic. I think they provide scaffolding that other people can share, but they're only useful if everyone gets them. Like, if you have to explain the, the, the subject of the metaphor as well as explaining the content of your presentation, maybe it's not the right choice. So not every storytelling presentation requires a metaphor, but if there is a metaphor that fits perfectly that everyone in your audience like can, can latch onto and can understand, it can be a spectacular way to supercharge and accelerate the path to understanding onto which you can then lay much more detail. Um, so yeah, yay, yay metaphor, but is it an obligation? Absolutely not. And choose them carefully.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (41:35):

Nice. Wonderful. So I think today we've filled up all of our time with these live feedback sessions. Please let us know. Send us a note, shoot us something on social media or send us an email to let us know what you thought about this format. We wanted to try something a little different. We're always changing it up with you. Um, today we've been hearing from Alex Gallafent, the senior director of narrative and strategy at ideo. He's an instructor in our presentation called Impactful Presentations. We also have another one called Storytelling for Influence. So those are places where you can learn the basics of storytelling, but we wanted to get into some more of the advanced stuff here today. Today we're also offering a one-time use discount code for our March course run. So you can use, engage and inspire 15 exclamation point to save 15% on your next course purchase and enrollment for our next course run as open until March 7th. And so with that, I just wanna say thank you, thank you, thank you. Especially to Alex and the three people who came on sharing their presentations. It's been an absolutely gift having you with me. Thank you Alex, for all such

Alex Gallafent (42:46):

A pleasure. Thank you.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard (42:47):

And thank you to our community for showing up, giving feedback, participating from wherever you are, all around the road, the world. See you next time.

Alex Gallafent (42:56):

Bye bye. Thank you.


About the Speaker

Alex Gallafent
Senior Director, Narrative & Strategy, IDEO

Alex Gallafent is a Senior Design Director at IDEO. He helps clients, teams, and individuals imagine and do design work that addresses people's deepest needs and meets their highest aspirations. Alex grounds complex design projects in clarifying, human-centered research, and builds confidence and excitement through story, language, sound, and immersive experiences. Recently, Alex has spent time working IDEO's Design for Food global impact practice and is currently focused on supporting key global client relationships through deep craft.

Since joining IDEO, he's worked with major clients in media, government, civic innovation, financial empowerment, hospitality, financial services, and elsewhere. He also teaches design thinking, storytelling, and research at institutions including New York University, The School of Visual Arts, and The New School. He's a lead instructor for IDEO U's Impactful Presentations course.

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