Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Do you struggle to structure an excellent sales story to the C-suite in an executive summary or oral presentation? Not sure how to presents a cohesive and clear message? What about how to start or end the story?
I’ve reviewed a lot of complex IT sales presentations, and sometimes it’s difficult to see what is the main theme or where the story is going?
What I’ll often see is a jumbled mess of disjointed ideas that if left unattended will end up confusing your audience or boring them to tears.
A Brain Dump Is Not The Way To Go
This usually happens because you don’t start by first developing a high-level story outline of your main theme and then mapping out key supporting points from start to finish.
Instead you dive right in without too much thought. You think because you have all this knowledge in your head, you just need to throw everything you’ve got on paper and then refine messaging at second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh draft. Unfortunately, by the time you get to draft 10, you’ve lost your thread, or you end up with too much stuff to talk about. Let’s not mention how much unnecessary time you’ve also wasted.
This is the norm in B2B IT because it’s not just one person putting a customer presentation together, its many people. Sure one person like the sales lead might own the presentation, but they work with multiple individuals who provide inputs into the story.
Cohesive Storytelling With Multiple Authors
When working with multiple authors or reviewers it’s especially important to create a story outline that you share with the team, so they follow the story flow. Sometimes they’re involved in creating the outline with you, and that’s good because they’ll be more invested in telling the story the way it’s been structured.
Creating a story outline might require an initial investment of time, but it’s well worth it because you end up with fewer drafts and a tighter and better put together story.
First things first. Before you even start creating an outline write down the following three questions:
What is the purpose of this presentation?
Who is my audience?
What do I want them to do?
Because this is a sales presentation to senior decision-makers, here's another three questions to write up and answer:
What is the end result my customer wants?
What's stopping them from getting it?
How do I resolve any objections they have?
And if you've got more time, here's another three questions to add to the list:
What is their current state of mind?
How do they feel about us?
What do they think about us?
Now the answer to all these questions might already be in your head, but there’s something about writing the questions down to truly see them. There’s something also about writing down the answers to these questions. You get to see your analytical thinking or lack thereof. Doing this exercise will clarify your purpose, your audience, their frame of mind and reference and help you refine your main theme. Wrestling with the answers to these questions and writing them down also helps you create a story that keeps the audience’s perspective top of mind. It will remind you to include messaging that motivates your audience to take some action, like change their viewpoint about a particular innovation, give you that meeting with the board, or let you demonstrate your capabilities at the next round of sales negotiations.
Introduction, Body And Conclusion
The next thing is to go ahead and create your high-level outline. Start by writing these three main headings: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. You might think that’s too basic or simple, but it gives you some fundamental structure.
You can write these headings on a wall, on sticky notes, inside PowerPoint or use a blank sheet of paper.
Using The Six Basic Elements of Storytelling you can read about here, your introduction, body, and conclusion should include at a minimum the following:
Introduction: This is where you set the scene. Introduce character, setting, theme, plot and conflict. It might take 3 to 4 sticky notes or PowerPoint slides, or 3 to 4 sub-headings on a sheet of paper.
Body: This is where you expand on your main theme, plot and conflict.
Conclusion: When we talk about conclusion, this isn’t the final paragraph or slide. It’s the final section or third act where you introduce the resolution to conflict. This unfolds over several slides or across several sub-headings.
Your outline might be structured like this:
At a minimum, it's important to have a beginning, middle and end. Future articles will tackle a range of storytelling formulas.
An Outline Sketches A Story's Potential
Creating an outline first before you craft the story is important if you want to present a consistent, organised and persuasive argument. Start by drafting a simple outline by jotting down headings and writing two to three bullet points. Test the outline with peers or advisers. Once feedback is received, expand on your outline until you have enough information to begin to flesh out the story in full.