How many times have you eagerly attended a presentation on an innovative subject–possibly delivered by someone you find very interesting one-on-one–only to find yourself twisting uncomfortably in your seat, mentally running through all the items on your to-do list? And when that presentation is over, how often have you walked away without being able to recall much, if any, of what the speaker had to say, even when it was information you actually wanted?
That speaker failed to make any connection between the topic and a real life experience, so you, and likely the rest of the audience, couldn’t relate the information to your own needs. The speaker likely delivered the information without telling a story.
Most business people fail to recognize the extraordinary marketing power of a simple story told well. Stories are the primary way to satisfy a human need that we all share: to connect with others. Stories provide the practical application of a notion or concept that influences the decision-making part of your readers’ and listeners’ brain. And that’s what is missing from most advisors’ presentations.
Over the years I’ve observed two typical and persistent kinds of failed presentations. The first is the “personal success” bad content presentation. It usually goes like this: An advisor giving a speech to a group of prospective clients begins by explaining how he got into the business, how his firm is number one in the country, and how all the funds he’s ever touched have four-star rankings. The advisor then launches into an account of his firm’s growth using colorful charts and service statistics. His presentation is convincing, yet not one of the prospects is compelled to sign up with this very successful advisor. Instead, they say they’ll “think about it”.
The second type of failed presentation is the “academically proven” presentation. This advisor jumps into investment theory, eloquently explaining diversification, asset allocation, and the efficient market. He uses the familiar catchphrases, but at the end of the presentation, again no one signs up.
We’ve all been on the receiving side of one of those dry informational lectures, and we know they seldom have any persuasive effect. All the facts and figures get in the way of any emotional connection that will have a lasting impact, especially when their delivery is hidden behind an overwhelming barrage of bullet points and subheadings. Caution! PowerPoint slide shows should be used to support your talks, not make them for you. Of course it’s important to the prospect that the advisor demonstrate a successful track record and be knowledgeable in all those financial areas that the prospect has heard are necessary for success. But just as important is an emotional connection that doesn’t emanate from a dry recitation of facts and figures.
Seven Steps to Good Story-Telling
Once in a great while, we have the opportunity to be captivated by a speaker, whether by their style or their material. The skilled story-teller can turn even the most mundane topic into an interesting tale. So how do we structure a presentation or story that accomplishes both–touching the audience’s emotions while conveying to them the necessary information?
Following is a quick seven-part structure that will help you set up your next talk, article, or even book chapter.
1: Determine the main point or problem you want to relate.
2: Identify a concern your clients share related to the point.
3: Locate a personal experience illustrating the point.
4: Identify the complications that result from the problem.
5: Provide the solution to the problem.
6: Support your solution using charts or other visual aids.
7: Deliver a summary restating your point with emotion.
I’ve found the structure of problem-solution to be most successful in reaching an audience. When somebody is trying to sell you something, the mind puts up a defense; but when you are offering a solution to a clearly defined problem, the defenses dissolve.
The personal experience should be a richly detailed scene or slice of life, told in the first person, that will engage your reader or listener. The details transport them into an emotional trance that produces a predictable response. There are examples of this everywhere. Take, for instance, the writer and TV personality Suze Orman, who does a great job using a personal experience to make a point in her book, The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom (Running Press, 2001), a book that has sold over 2 million copies: