The Single Best Presentation Tip: Tell a Great Storyby Robert Hellmann
Whether your goal is to sell, inform, or land a job offer, telling engaging, relevant stories can turn even a so-so presentation into a great one. Illustrating your points with the right stories will have a far stronger impact than many other things you can do, including slide design, body language, eye contact, and so forth.
Telling stories is so effective because people more easily remember the images that make up a story, as opposed to “facts.” They remember the problems, the struggles, the triumphs, the places and the names. And by the way, emphasizing these elements is exactly how you tell a compelling story. Keep it simple, and aim for the emotion, the drama. Don’t bury the listener in jargon or product/service features.
In my webinar I recommend the following storytelling framework to help you organize your delivery: Situation (or problem)/Action/Result — that is, SAR. Describe the situation or problem that you/your department/client/etc. faced, the action you took to improve the situation, and lastly the result of your efforts. And, make sure you tie the story directly to the point you are making with your audience! Rehearse the stories ahead of time, until you’ve got the telling down to a smooth, natural delivery.
Note, if you are demonstrating a product or service, which is essentially a real-time story, you can follow the exact same “SAR” format. (I use this format all the time when demonstrating LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media to clients and audiences.)
The three case studies below (“stories” if you will) illustrate how story-telling works.
A job interview
The interviewer asked one of my clients, Susan, a typical question– “What is your greatest strength?” Susan might have simply said “My analytic skills” and stopped there, leaving an opportunity on the table to make a strong positive impression.
Instead, she said “My analytic skills– let me give you an example so you can see what I mean. Last year we were seeing a retention problem in our division— accounts were closing in droves. No one was sure why or what to do about it, and the revenue loss was threatening layoffs! So I took the initiative to analyze the data, looking at x, y, and z. It became clear to me that the people were leaving as a result of a change in a product’s service terms. I presented my findings to management, and suggested they combine a marketing initiative with another revision to the service terms. They adopted my recommendation and over the next six months our retention problem reversed itself.”
In telling her story to illustrate the point about her analytic-skills, Susan followed the SAR format:
- Situation– people leaving in droves.
- Action– took initiative to analyze x, y and z.
- Result– problem reversed itself in six months.
Susan used this format to turn a dry subject into an emotional, engaging one, making her point about her analytic strength memorable and real for the interviewer. Notice– no jargon, no mention about the specific service terms that were changed, the product features, etc. (she could have easily drilled down into these discussions if asked). She kept it simple, engaging and interesting. And yes, she got the offer.
An Information Technology Director’s recommendation
A client was presenting to his I.T. leadership team. In the presentation he included a proposal that his Chief Technology Officer push for a new technology platform. What helped win over the CTO? According to my client, it wasn’t a description of the features and benefits of the new platform vs. the current one (although that helped). Rather, it was the story he had rehearsed and shared about the difficulties a business unit end-user faced with the current platform, how it ended up costing the company a substantial expense, and how the new platform would have changed the outcome.
Influencing an audience to purchase a service
I went to a presentation several weeks ago delivered by someone who was pitching a service. His physical delivery was almost designed to turn the audience off; He spoke in a flat affect, used dense wordy slides, and appeared somewhat disheveled. Yet the two powerful, emotional stories he shared with us about how his service solved clients’ difficult problems are still with me. In fact, they are the only thing I (and my colleagues at the presentation with whom I’ve discussed this) remember! Those stories are probably the main reason we are looking to re-engage him, since it enabled us to both “experience” and remember how his service could help solve client problems.