Do you remember where you were on February 1, ten years ago?
Let me remind you.
As you were leading your peaceful terrestrial life, the space shuttle Columbia was disintegrating over the skies north of Dallas, Texas. All seven astronauts perished.
The cause of the accident happened two weeks earlier. Eighty-two seconds into Columbia’s liftoff, a piece of foam insulation, about the size and weight of an empty brief case, tore from the external fuel tank and slammed into the leading edge of the left wing at approximately 600 miles per hour.
The collision shattered heat tiles critical to protecting the shuttles flight surfaces and controls from the incinerating 3,000 degrees the vulnerable space craft would experience upon re-entry.
Although the seemingly innocuous piece of foam was blamed for the demise of Columbia and its astronauts, the ultimate culprit was uncovered in the space agency’s use of powerpoint.
Several studies, including a now famous one by Edward Tufte, blamed the over-reliance of powerpoint by shuttle engineers, which innately obfuscates information by virtue of its low-resolution presentation characteristics. Studies like Tufte’s also suggest that the lack of clarity in powerpoint presentations was a leading factor in the Challenger accident.
Ever since we put a man on the moon, I’ve been enamored with America’s space exploits. We obviously need the brilliant scientists and engineers to make it possible. But of equal importance are the storytellers: the communication professionals that can translate the data into meaningful narrative.
Edward Tufte, the man the New York times called the “Leonardo Da Vinci of Data” is coming to Phoenix this Friday with his workshop, Presenting Data & Information. Wired magazine said,
“One visionary day….the insights of this class lead to new levels of understanding both for creators and viewers of visual displays.”
I’m looking forward to the workshop to better understand how to incorporate storytelling into technical presentations and milk narrative from arcane concepts. Tall order, I know.
This workshop is on the heels of my keynote presentation, “The Power of Storytelling to Advance Sustainability,” this Thursday for Arizona Forward’s inaugural 2013 luncheon. I hope you can join my workshop.
My point in all of this is that people are not moved to action – even in life or death circumstances – by facts and figures. They need to be invited into a compelling story where they are inspired, clearly directed, and propelled to make a difference.
What stories are you telling?