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How to Add Stories to Your Presentations

How to Add Stories to Your Presentations

Ditch the pitch and have business conversations was the strap line on the front page of my web site.
And yet only 10 percent of sales people seem to be able to do this. So how does that help the other 90 percent? And what about the top 10 percent who sometimes need to present?

But trying to perfect the traditional presentation approach, you know, you flood the customer with too much information, and then hope that they somehow “get it” didn’t interest me. Because people only remember 3-4 points, I knew that pursuing this approach was a dead end. And when you consider all of the information available on the internet, I felt that customers don’t need more information. What they need are customer insights- to know what the information means.

So I turned to the leading books on presentations such as Presentation Zen, Slideology, Resonate, Present to Win, and Beyond Bullet Points. And although these books offered good advice on design and structure[i], I was looking for something different. I wanted a power point presentation to simply and quickly enable a customer to take the salesperson’s offering out for a virtual test drive, so that they understood the value on their own terms- from the inside out.

After working with a number of clients, we came up with 7 simple steps to turn a dull and bland power point into a Buying Simulator:

  1. Start the presentation with 2-4 “Value Assumptions” based on potential hidden client value: Just as customers don’t want salespeople to show up and throw-up, they also don’t want death by interrogation through 20-questions. Not only do they not have time to answer a salesperson’s questions to teach them how to sell their stuff, they also do not want to be asked a series of manipulative self-serving questions. So, I felt that the customer would prefer it if we presented them with a laundry list of business pains, and have the customer choose their most pressing critical business issue. But then I questioned that if you’re just selling to known business issues, you’re not providing insight. And then a very direct customer put it all into perspective for me. “Be bold, Michael, don’t be such a wimp. Because you’re presenting value assumptions that may be hidden, how can you let the customer pick a business pain that they may not know that they have?” The same customer also likes to be able to ask his salespeople before they head off to a new meeting: “What are the value assumptions and supporting stories?.”

  3. Credibility Slide: Briefly show how these value assumptions were based on both pre-meeting research, and insights gained from your extensive customer base (picture of logos). Also discuss a few relevant company facts.

  5. Relevant Customer Stories: You want to avoid selling off of your back foot trying to convince a customer that they have a problem, because this is an argument that you will never win. The last thing, for example, that an overwhelmed customer needs is another salesperson’s solution looking for a problem. Instead, tell them a short (250-350 word) story that takes no more than 90-120 seconds to deliver. The story approach has two advantages: 1) Because stories are about someone else, the customer does not feel that they need to defend themself, and; 2) stories simply present a scenario, so they leave it up to the customer to form their own conclusion. As a result, the story approach removes the one thing customers hate most from salespeople, and that is pressure. Without the pressure, the customer can relax, and if the story is insightful and one that they can see themselves in, they may start to tell themself a new story where new choices make more sense. So, show, don’t tell, and let the customer take your offering out for a virtual test drive. This approach will enable customers to convince themselves, and in turn, take ownership of the problem.

  7. Sticky Value: To make your stories stick, and to increase the value of your offering, present a clear “Before and After” drawing (click for example). The before picture should show all of the problems and costs to your customer business operations in the absence of having your (unique) capability, and the after drawing will show how they used your offering to solve their problem. By increasing the contrast between the before and after picture, you’ve increased the delta/value of your offering. Also, 72-hours after you leave the customers office, a customer will remember only 10 percent of the spoken word, but they’ll remember 65% if it’s accompanied with a picture (source: Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina). In workshops, I’ve seen these pictures really help the salesperson stay focused on the main point of the story. Because these drawings are the salespeople’s favorite tool, you should get them professionally done.

  9. Hear the Customer’s story: If the customer’s story is incomplete, this is a good time for the salesperson to follow-up with a few questions.

  11. Proof Slides: By leading with the value assumptions and stories, you’ve given the customer a reason to care about your capabilities. Hopefully by now, the customer has bought into the concept of your offering, and all that you need now are a few proof slides to help them justify their decision. So go ahead, and show a few screen shots, research, and/or greater detail(s) about how your capabilities work.

  13. Visual: Because we read and hear at different speeds, it’s hard to listen to a salesperson presenting at one speed, while the customer is reading the bullet points at another. The effect is that our attention is split, so our comprehension goes down (click for an example of a really bad slide). If we accept that the written bullet points distract the attention from where it should be, on the presenter, then you should skip the bullet points, and just use a visual image to complement each main topic (click for example ). But what do you do with the bullet points? Put your written content in the notes section of power point[ii]. When you have printed copies of the presentation made, each page will have the visual image combined with the notes section (click for example) [iii]. And the picture & notes combination makes for a better leave behind, because you can write in sentences instead of just cryptic bullet points. The result is that this leave behind document can be read and understood on its own.

So, there you have it. Instead of presenting facts and figures and hoping that the customer “gets it”, you can now deliver a few short 2-minute stories that are like a simulator for the customer to take your potential hidden value assumptions out for a virtual test drive.

Most important, with this approach, in under 5-minutes, the salesperson has provided enough insightful comment to start a dialogue to now hear the customer’s story.

Could you ask for more?

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[i] Beyond Bullet Points offers an online program I would recommend (click here).
[ii] Click view in Power Point, then click notes and then insert your written content.
[iii] How to create the ‘Visual Slide & Notes combination’ in Microsoft Power Point, do the following: click file, save & send, create handouts, create handouts in Microsoft Word, notes below slides, then click OK and the ‘Visual Slide & Notes combination will be created in a word document that you can then saves as a PDF and have printed.

  • Consultant

Michael Harris

CEO, Insight Demand
Insight Selling Expert
Michael Harris, CEO Insight Demand, author Insight Selling, & published HBR