How To Pull Together A Story For A Killer Presentation


Thursday, 9.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

In my previous post I wrote about taking your audience on a journey using a story. How can you use a story to make a more effective presentation?

To start with, what do you think is a good outcome for a presentation that you make?

Is it silence? Is it applause? Is it a barrage of questions?

If it’s silence – perhaps you were completely clear and everyone understood everything. Or perhaps they didn’t but you sounded so confident that they were too intimidated to ask anything in case they looked foolish. Or you were so boring they spent all the time checking their emails under the desk.

If it’s applause – perhaps you came across well. But, what did they remember from your presentation?

If they have lots of questions – is it because they understand what you’re saying well and want to show how clever they are in front of their colleagues? Or is it because you didn’t get the most important points across? Or were you vague and evasive and they’re trying to pin you down?

Going back to Andrew Abela and what he says about – a good outcome for a presentation you do is when your listeners start talking and discussing what you’ve said between themselves – seemingly almost forgetting that you’re in the room.

This is a great point to reach. I’ve seen this. You’ve made your points, and now everyone is nodding and talking and gesticulating. They’re buying into what you’re saying. You’re on your way to making a sale.

How do you do this, what’s the secret?

The problem with most presentations is that they start from the presenter’s point of view and work through the points that the presenter thinks is important.

Usually, this is with an introduction to who they are, some scene setting, then some meandering through whatever seems important, then a discussion about what this means for the audience, then next actions and any other business.

By which time everyone is asleep or bored or zoned out.

Instead, you need to think about your presentation from your audience’s point of view. You need to start by getting their attention.

You’ll do that by saying what they’re going to get or learn or see during your presentation that matters to them. For example, I started this post with the idea that you could use a story format for your presentation. So that’s what you’re expecting to find.

You read articles and ads and flyers because the headline gets your attention. Newspapers have headlines for that reason – so you can find the stuff that interests you quickly. It’s the same with presentations – you need to start by getting their attention.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you’re about to sit through a presentation on webinar services. How would you respond to two slide titles below:

  1. Introduction to ABC Webinar Marketing Services
  2. Can a single webinar increase sales by 30% next month?

The first one is the kind you see at the start of presentations all the time. The second is not.

The second gets your attention because that’s something that interests you. So, your first task as a presenter is to set out the situation – the context for what you’re going to do – the promise of what you can deliver to your listener.

You then lead into a story format – which is really quite simple. In most stories, there is a problem and a resolution repeated again and again. You put a man up a tree, throw stones at him and then get him down again.

Watch for this the next time you see a film. The tension in a story is created by putting things in the way of the protagonists. We need them to stumble and fall and then pick themselves up again.

In a consultative sale, the stumbles and stones are objections. They’re the thoughts that come to mind when you are exposed to something. It’s just natural to be sceptical – that’s human nature.

What you need to do is look at your situation and think of the first objection or objections that come to mind.

For example, following the webinar intro slide, perhaps the objection is “We don’t really have these in our industry – the bosses don’t sit at computers and join webinars”.

Rather than waiting for the audience to bring up this problem – address it head on in your next slide title – “Are small business owners too busy to attend webinars?”

Hopefully, you have a good answer to this question. You have a resolution to this problem. Perhaps you have research that says most bosses ask an intern to find out about marketing options, and the interns often jump on webinars for a quick intro.

So, you have a resolution trotted out. But just because you say so doesn’t make it so.

What you need next is an example. Something that shows what you say is real. It can even be an anecdote – it’s surprising how powerful an example can be of even one person that’s experienced what you’re saying can happen.

The example also lets your listener take a breath and process your point. It gives them time to get it. Right – I know the problem, it looks like this person can solve it – and it’s worked somewhere else.

Great. Onto the next problem.

“Aren’t webinars expensive?”

There’s a resolution to that. No – the technology is getting cheaper all the time.

And an example. My last client did six webinars last year and spent less than $5,000.

And on and on. Each objection will naturally lead to another one and another one. You’ll be able to think of them quite organically as you stop focusing on trying to sell what you do and focus instead on the problems people can think up about why it won’t work.

If an objection is particularly hard – if you can’t answer it – you need to stop and work on that until you can. If you can think it up, the audience can.

How many problem-resolution-example sequences do you need? As many as are needed to address all the objections that can come up. Address them yourself, do it before the audience can and you’ll see something wonderful happening in front of your eyes.

You’ll be talking to them, making your first point. You’ll see polite attention, some furrowed eyebrows, some sceptical looks.

Then, you’ll say the objection that they’re thinking out loud and see a flash of recognition in their eyes. They’ll sit forward and start to pay attention as you talk about how you are going to resolve it.

When they hear your example, the cogs in their brains start turning, processing what you’re saying, putting it in their own words.

As you carry on, they’ll get more and more engaged. You’ll be going through all the problems they have and coming up with answers before they can ask questions. They might even smile and say something like “I was just going to ask that…”.

When you’re done, you might get some nods. No questions, probably, if you’ve answered them all. Instead, someone will say something like “We could try this out with the XYZ product line”. And then someone else will join in with a supporting statement.

You’ll lean back, and watch as people start to talk about how they can use what you’ve talked about. All the time you’ve spent addressing objections means that they can now think about how to do things rather than whether they should do things.

That discussion is your goal – your signal that what you said has been processed and internalised and is now part of the way your audience looks at the world. That you’re on your way to making the sale.


Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the thirteenth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

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