Tips on compelling storytelling in new book

Nick Malik wants to help people tell better stories.

“It’s what a lot of people do and it’s what a lot of people don’t do well,” Malik said.

To that end the Covington resident co-authored “Stories That Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations,” in partnership with Martin Sykes and Mark D. West.

“Infographics are great if you have some data and you want to teach something,” Malik said. “If you want to actually have an impact on the world, infographics will impact nothing. You can’t tell them a story that teaches them, you have to tell them a story that will change them and that’s what the book is about.”

The idea for the process described in the book first germinated for Malik years ago.

More than a decade ago Malik worked for an Internet firm called He ran the development shop. One of his designers was an actor who had a visual bent. Malik’s employee asked to take a class with a visual design expert named Edward Tufte.

“He went to this talk because I paid for and he came back and gave the big spiel,” Malik said. “So, I borrowed Tufte’s book. We used those ideas over and over again because they were very compelling. I had been using an infographic-y style, but, hadn’t developed a process.”

Those ideas were used in the redesign of websites for prominent businesses and organizations.

As Malik moved on through his career, he encountered Sykes who did a presentation at his current employer, Microsoft. Malik started using Syke’s process and it had a lasting effect on the way he worked. Both men are enterprise strategy architects for their respective employers.

Malik asked Sykes to come back to Microsoft to give another presentation but it didn’t work out.

“So, we ended up writing a book together,” Malik said. “He thought it would be a good idea because he could teach it, too.”

Sykes and Malik met then distilled the ideas until they developed a model which is explained in a highly visual, graphic-oriented way in the book. Then Sykes brought in Mark West, who added the visual element.

“We did not wait until the end to bring in graphic design,” Malik said. “We complemented each other. Mark West (is) a terrific designer, thinking, an amazing man.”

Then it took two years from the concept, including the CAST model which is the core of the book, to getting the final bits of content into Wiley, the publisher of the book which is based in England, where Sykes lives.

“The book is very simple,” Malik said. “The book is step by step. It’s meant for ordinary people. One of the things that you find in this is anyone can take this, whether they’re a structured thinker or a creative, artistic thinker … any one of those different types of thinkers can take this book and make a compelling presentation with it. It will challenge you to make you think like those other thinkers, it will force you out of your shell a little bit.”

The CAST model is a format which requires anyone reading the book looking for guidance on storytelling through presentations to ask four questions. Malik explained that the model starts with pushing the reader to ask himself those questions.

“If you don’t start with ‘why?’ then the rest of it doesn’t matter,” Malik said. “If you don’t want to make a change, then this book isn’t for you. If you just want to make a pretty picture, then this book isn’t  for you. The first think you have to ask is, ‘Why do you want to change something?’ Then you have to answer the question, ‘What do you want to change?’ And you don’t have to go crazy. Pick the one thing that you want to change.”

Other things the model helps readers to think about in preparation to tell a story is how to make the change proposed with the answers to the other questions as well as what happens if the change comes about and what will the reader do if things don’t change after they’ve gone through this process.

Malik noted that the model also encourages readers to consider the audience.

“Many times in business you’re only talking to five people that you’re trying to convince,” he said. “You need to write it down, who you’re talking and even better, validate it with the people you’re talking to. Then you need to think about their learning styles and … how people decide … so you can create your visual story based upon what they need to do, based on how you’re going to reach them.”

Through the entire process of developing a visual story, Malik said, it is also important to understand why giving a presentation based on the model described in the book is more effective because of how audiences react to stories.

“We remember stories,” he said. “We relate to stories. We see ourselves in stories.”

But a good story still needs to be told well, Malik said, so it’s also key to rehearse before giving the presentation developed based on the CAST model.

The power of storytelling is something all three of the men who worked on this book understand well, Malik said.

“We filled the book with lots of little stories from our jobs, as well,” he said.

Malik said the entire experience and the end product has been great. Even the 45 minutes spent locked in a room with his co-authors trying to come up with the name. “Stories That Move Mountains” was published in November.

And putting out a book isn’t new to him.

“This isn’t my first book,” Malik said. “I’ve published two books before. I knew the process and I knew the way the system works. Wiley was terrific. If I could say kinder things about a publisher, I would. This is an achievement. This is a book that I’m proud of.”


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