Most business presentations are as boring as watching paint dry ... in slow motion. If you want to persuade your audience to make a decision, you need to make it interesting-which means that you must tell a story.
The reason is simple. The human brain automatically organizes everything into stories, because that's how we understand the meaning and context of everything around us.
So if your presentation doesn't tell a story, your audience's mind will create one. Unfortunately, it will sound like this: "We sat down and saw some slides and this guy talked about them for a while and then we all got up and left."
And that's if you're lucky. If you're not, the story your audience creates will look like this: "We sat down and some bozo started blathering about something, so I pulled out my phone and answered email until he was done."
Here's exactly how to tell a story that persuades an audience.
1. Know what decision you want made. When most people start out to create a presentation, they start with the question: "What do I want to say to these people?" The correct question, however, is: "What decision do these people really need to make?" The story must hinge on that decision being made.
2. Begin with a "heart-stopper." Every movie, TV show, or novel starts with something that captures your attention-and your emotions-and holds your interest while you "get into" the story. Without a "heart stopper," the audience's mind will wander.
3. Make the audience the main character. To maintain the interest of your listeners, the story must be about them, not you. At best, you and your firm should play a "best supporting actor" role-but the main role is always the audience's, and the action is what happens (or might happen) to them.
4. Create a plot line. A plot line consists of a goal and some obstacles that the main character must overcome in order to achieve that goal. For your presentation, the key to overcoming the obstacle(s) should be the decision you want made. In other words, if they don't make the decision, they can't reach the goal.
5. Provide a "risk-remover." The risk-remover eliminates any remaining reluctance to make a decision. By anticipating and addressing concerns, you can push the audience off the fence and persuade them to make the decision now.
6. Ask for the next step. This is where you ask the audience to actually make the decision that was the point of the entire presentation. 'Nuff said.
Example: Selling a Supply-Chain Remedy
Suppose you're selling a supply chain solution to a medium-sized firm. The decision you want made is therefore a buying decision (See Step 1 above.) With that in mind, here's a story that would likely persuade the decision-makers to buy:
Slide: $10 Million
Pause to let that number sink in. "Yes, $10 million dollars. That's what you lost last year." (This is the heart-stopper.)
Slide: Inventory Problems
"According to the research that I've conducted with your team, your company's inability to track inventory has resulted in the defection of three large customers and several smaller ones. The total amount of revenue from those accounts was $2 million, but the reputation that you've gotten in the industry has lost you additional sales. In fact, $10 million is probably a conservative estimate." (This identifies the main character and goal.)
Slide: Lost Market Share
"If the current trend continues, there's no doubt that you will lose market share to your competitors. This will allow them to apply economies of scale that your company will eventually be unable to match. Worst case, you could go into a downward spiral where you become successively less competitive." (This identifies the obstacles to achieving that goal.)
Slide: Controlling Inventory
"The challenge with inventory control isn't just getting costs under control; it's turning your inventory into a competitive advantage. Here are some examples of companies that have not just managed to reduce their inventory costs, but used a shortened supply chain and just-in-time inventory to gain new customers ..." (This increases the desirability of the goal.)
Slide: [Simple Table]
"This is the top line of a spreadsheet that I've worked up with the help of your CFO, showing how an inventory control solution can gradually get expenses in line and increase sales revenue. You'll note that the bulk of the cost savings comes within three months of installation, but then there's a follow-on effect of increased revenue." (Your offering thus makes the goal achievable.)
I've already met with your technical guru to ensure that it's fully compatible with your existing infrastructure and our engineers have pre-qualified your system for an easy install." (This is the risk-remover.)
Slide: Next Steps
"As soon as we get the go-ahead, we can have this system installed within three weeks. Are there any questions?" (This is the close.)
Needless to say, there would need to be plenty of data and reality behind the various points in the story. And for this to work in an actual sales situation, you'd probably have to meet one on one with many of the participants to get your ducks in a row, as they say.
But the structure is all about creating emotion and persuading the audience to make a decision, right now.
By the way, did you notice that the slides themselves were very simple, with no bullet points? That's 100 percent intentional and quite important. I'll explain why in a future column.