No Story…No Sale.

Presentation SilhouetteTrevor wasn’t surprised to hear his cell phone ring after 10PM on Monday night. Picking it up, he saw Sean’s image and thought to himself, “oh boy…here we go”. Hours earlier Sean was the presenter of their national laboratory’s new direction in bio-informatics. A meeting that didn’t go so well.

“Trevor, I know it’s late but if you have a few minutes, I need to pick your brain”, a distraught Sean declared. Without waiting for a response,  he kept on speaking. “What the hell happened in there today? I thought all groups were on board before I got up to present. I expected this would be a slam dunk. Instead, there were only blank faces and hostile questions. It was a train wreck. It was obvious I was misled.”

Trevor took a deep breath and remembered a tenant of Angeles Arrien’s The Four-Fold Way: Tell the Truth without Blame or Judgement. Waiting for what seemed like two very long seconds he spoke: “Sean…my friend…here’s what happened. You completely lost them. You missed an opportunity to sell them with conviction and passion. To paint a picture of a new future that would be possible only if we had the courage to act. Without that vision, the meeting degenerated into the tribal forces and interests that you know all too well, exist at the Lab. Everyone started defending their own turf afraid you would siphon off their funds.”

Sean blasted back: “Trevor that’s complete BS and you know it. I had every fact and figure in that presentation from every angle. I even anticipated every line of questioning. So what the hell really happened in there?”

Trevor again paused and fired back. “Okay, listen,you asked to pick my brain and frankly it’s late for me to get into this, so all I ask as a friend is to do me the courtesy to listen…to really listen to what I have to say.”

That steadied Sean. “Okay..fair enough…tell me how you see it.”

Trevor began again. “You were too angry to hear what I said before though it remains true. You never thought of this presentation as a story. A journey that you needed to take the attendees through. You treated it instead as a series of lists. Check this box…check that box. No one got fired up by what you were explaining. So in the end, while you had your figures right, you painted no picture that could excite anyone. You took them exactly nowhere. And worse, because you only used information, you failed to rouse any emotion in them.

Sean interrupted ” Trevor…this is a scientific endeavor of the highest order. You want me to tell stories in there?”.

Trevor continued: “People don’t react to reason alone. It’s not the facts only, its the impact of those facts that creates a narrative that takes you somewhere. You failed miserably on weaving the facts with a coherent story. As a result, the attendees ended up picking apart your facts like dogs fighting over a bone”.Two Dogs One Stick

Sean started to understand what Trevor was saying. “Okay, I’m beginning to follow. Can you tell me what I could have done instead? This has real implications as I will be giving this presentation to the board next week and it can’t go like today’s did”.

“Here’s what you need to do”, Trevor replied. Revamp your presentation along two lines. ‘What Is’ and ‘What Could Be’. Both are critical to creating a vision that will allow the audience to see the vision and layer the facts like decoration to help them get to that place. The ‘What Is’ part is all about getting them on the same page as you.  That has to be well established in order for them to be ready to move on to the real meat–the place you want to take them–your ‘What Could Be’ world. You have to then create the conflict that stands in the way of the ‘What Could Be’ world. Without a conflict, there is no story and a lack of emotional engagement. Then the final part is the resolution to the conflict that makes ‘What Could Be’ possible. I guarantee that if you really think through your presentation in this way, you will win over the board.”

Curiosity piqued, Sean responded: “So where did you come up with all of this?”

“Well, I’d like to say I invented this, but this is older than Aristotle. We’re really talking about creating a story arc and appealing to both reason and emotion. There is a great book called Resonate by Nancy Duarte that deals with story in business presentation. She speaks about the ‘What Is’ and ‘What Could Be’ clearly. Download it on Kindle before you start. It will make a real difference.

That following week, Trevor got another call from Sean, not that he needed to hear the news. It was all over the Lab. The board had approved Sean’s project. And the first group, upon hearing how well the presentation went, and feeling a little ownership for having given Sean such a tough time, asked for an encore presentation.

Ron Benza

© 2014 Benza Executive Development.

Resonate © 2010 by Nancy Duarte.

The Four Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary © 1993 by Angeles Arrien Ph.D.

All rights reserved.



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