The Gamified Presentation

When even the best told story fails to get a 'yes'


You have a solution or idea that you know is the right direction for your product, service, or internal process, but the folks that need to say 'yes' are being tight-lipped. You have all of the user and/or team member research data, the analytics, and the marketing survey data – all signs point to your strategy, and yet the folks that need to be convinced are not being swayed by your brilliantly told story of a presentation, which you’ve already given. Maybe your audience is so far-removed from the day-to-day reality of what you’re attempting to show them, that very little you say in the course of a 'normal' - albeit brilliant (we’ll assume) presentation - will ever resonate with them. When you find yourself in a situation like this, then it’s time to take a page from the book of a co-worker of mine and build your presentation to function more like an interactive experience, in which you lead the players through the experience you are trying to fix or correct.

The best example of this I have encountered recently was that of the co-worker I mentioned earlier. He found himself in a quandary when he was trying to sell senior-level executives of a very large enterprise on a cultural change. He knew it was necessary to improve the customer experience and that it would have a better return on investment than the model that had been in place 'forever'. Despite the research data he had presented in tandem with the marketing survey data, folks weren’t willing to accept that shifting focus to primarily retaining existing customers, and secondarily attaining new ones, was not merely the right thing to do, but also, an economically sound strategy. Regrouping, he spent several weeks building a game of sorts to play with the executive audience he had failed to convince the last time he presented to them.

With an audience of around 15 people, he brought a small group of game proctors with him to the meeting, and set the room up ahead of time, so that the executives would sit in small groups of three and four. He then proceeded to explain the game that they were about to play, which can be easiest explained as a modified version of 'The Game of Life' by Milton Bradley. Players were given a miniature game piece to represent each of them on the game board and a set of dice left at each table. Decks of cards picked at the prompting of the game proctors would throw proverbial wrenches in the players’ plans. The game was designed to take each player through several common but frustrating experiences of users, and the resulting expenses spent culminating in a situation in which every player was a loser. These previously unengaged executives got so involved in the game, that several of them reportedly became visibly and vocally angry at my co-worker as the creator of this frustrating experience.

At the end of the game, after declaring all players to be losers, he asked the players if they wanted to 'play' again, and after a resounding chorus of 'NO', a grumbling crowd of 'losers' filed out of the conference room. I don’t know how long it was before he got that 'yes', but he did. The result was the beginning of a large and expensive, but ultimately necessary and cost-saving initiative, to shift primary focus to retaining and growing existing customer relationships over prospecting and initiating new ones. I also can’t tell you whether the numbers and dollars are or will actually play out as his data alluded to, but I do know that it was ultimately effective at convincing an audience that had previously not said 'no', but hadn’t said 'yes' either.

Sometimes, when the stakes are high, it can become necessary to look for a creative way to reach your audience in order to find a way to get an idea that is new or not-well-understood to resonate with them. A well-told story, vacillating between emotion and logic, is sometimes not enough. Sometimes, you have to do some structured role-playing under the guise of playing a game, in order to reach your audience’s empathy muscles.

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