Recently, I sat through a series of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations jammed with complicated charts and graphs. Each slide seemed like it contained more words than a college term paper. I found the experience exhausting. With nothing to draw my attention to, my mind was left to wander in hopes of finding some tidbit of value.

One attribute separates storytellers from data-dumpers: preparation. Had these fact-spewers been storytellers, they would have guided my attention to specific points. Instead, they forced me into playing a torturous game of Where’s Waldo.

Storytellers do the heavy lifting so that our audiences don’t have to. If we want them to look at a specific part of a picture, chart, or piece of text, we make it stand out.

Take the following photograph for example.

Umbrella fact-chuggers would present the photograph as is, expecting their audiences to play Where’s Waldo to find a specific umbrella. But visual storytellers, on the other hand, offer their audiences a much simpler game to play: Sesame Street’s One of these Things is Not Like the Other.

Storytelling With Data author, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, ascribes the success of this technique to preattentive attributes–our brain’s propensity to recognize differences effortlessly. Visual storytellers use preattentive attributes to guide our attentions to a specific place. Nussbaumer suggests that the best way for you to find preattentive attributes is to look at a visual and ask a simple question, “Where are your eyes drawn?

The same test applies to stories told through text or audio. Storytellers must constantly evaluate their stories by asking, “Where is my audience’s attention being drawn?” If the resulting vector leads away from the story’s central point, StoryHow PitchDeck users realign that attention by drawing upon the following technique cards:

  • Meaning (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #47)
  • Shared Experiences (StoryHow PitchDeck # 55)
  • Symbolism StoryHow PitchDeck Card #57)
  • Foreshadowing (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #58)
  • Analogy (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #59)
  • Contrast (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #60)

Don’t make your audience play Where’s Waldo. Instead, have them play One of These Things is Not Like the Other.


Photo Credit: Bain News Service, Publisher. Crowd at Launch of “Florida”. [no Date Recorded on Caption Card] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,