I’m often approached to give a hand to clients and friends willing to up their game in storytelling, whether for public speaking opportunities, raising funds, or convincing top execs to agree on a new initiative. But I also get marketers coming to me for messaging and positioning. Once they have a good value proposition — check this post about how to build a good one — I always ask them: “How are you going to communicate it? What’s your story?”.
Hence now my new nickname The Pitch Spin Doctor 🧞♂️
I have to confess that a lot of people are trying to build their presentation, whether in slides or video, before really addressing the foundations. To start you need a brief.
Storytelling – The Brief
There are 3 questions you want to make sure are part of the brief you’re going to draft:
1. Who’s your audience?
The way you’re going to deliver your story will be different depending on your audience. So get specific. While you may eventually want to share your story with the whole world, at this stage you need a targeted audience. You can always adapt to different audiences later.
If it’s a public speaking opportunity, ask the organizers of the event about the demographics of the audience in the room, how many people, what kind of business they’re in, are they mostly with national or international backgrounds, …
If you’re pitching to investment funds, private equity, C-level in your company or with a customer, in short if your audience is small, try to get some details about them by sneaking on LinkedIn as an example, or asking some proxy.
If you’re in marketing, customer experience or a product owner, you should refer to your personas.
2. What Does your audience care about?
Now that you have some clues about who you’re talking to, you want to better understand what they care about. What’s the underlying human need in the audience that might move them to action? Because the goal of any storytelling is to drive the audience to a call-to-action (CTA), whether simply to contact you, think differently about the topic you’re covering, invest millions in your startup, lead a change, or ask your management to allow and provide you with the proper means to initiate a new project if you’re part of an established business. Consider their emotional needs and pain points. Emotions are critical to establishing a relationship with your audience. If you use personas (marketing, product, customer experience), emotional needs and pain points should be already listed there in the persona empathy map.
3. What are you trying to achieve?
That is the call-to-action I was referring to. When addressing an audience, you should always have in mind what you’re trying to unlock with your story and what you want people to do. Now is the time to identify it and put it in your brief.
Storytelling – The Big Idea
It’s important to get to the point and stick to the point, so your audience is clear about what you’re asking of them. Bombarding them with too much information isn’t going to serve you or your cause. Less is more.
The big idea is… What your story is really about. It’s the one thing you want to stick with your audience. Think of yourself as the director of a film that people have already shown up to see. What’s the one thing you want them to remember when they’re driving home afterward?
To make sure you keep your big idea in check, ask yourself these 3 simple questions:
- DOES YOUR BIG IDEA CAPTURE A PROBLEM YOU’RE TRYING TO SOLVE? There’s probably something you’re trying to change.
- IS IT COMPELLING? People should be inspired to action after hearing it.
- IS IT CLEAR AND CONCISE? People need to be able to digest your idea quickly.
Storytelling – 6 tips for story impact
If a story is about a person with a problem, then you need to motivate others to help solve that problem. You’ve got to get people excited about what you’re saying. They have to feel it, see it, and believe it in order to create an impact. Here are a few of my favorite tips.
- 👤 MAKE IT PERSONAL. Personal stories resonate with us and move us as human beings. Everyone has a story to share.
- ♥️ GET EMOTIONAL. A lot of people will tell you otherwise. But don’t listen to that. Sometimes you just have to be vulnerable.
- 💭 USE ANECDOTE AND REFLECTION. Anecdotes are the “put you in the room” moments. Reflection is the part of the story where you help the audience make sense of what they just heard.
- 👁 MAKE IT VISUAL. Choose images to paint a picture for your audience. It will help your audience remember, relate to, and respond to your story.
- ✔︎ INCLUDE A CALL TO ACTION. What do you want people to do after hearing your story? Highlight “next steps,” “what to remember,” or “the one thing you want them to do.”
- 💡 STAY INSPIRED. Get fuel to your creative engine. Listen to music. Take a walk outside. Exercise. Leave the office! Just take notice of the world around you. There are stories everywhere!
Storytelling – Storyboard it
Now is the time for you to storyboard it, on paper, with post-its, or on Mural kind of tools, to create your first prototype. Yes, you probably saw me coming, in a typical design thinking approach, test it and iterate several times to fine-tune it before you jump on slides: tell your story to your colleagues at the bar during an after-hour fun session, try it on a short video that you’ll send to friends, just get it out and more importantly capture feedback: what did engage them the most? What was not clear to them? What do they think could make it better? Then go back to the drawing board, and create a new version.
I typically use this typical plan to make a good new product or service presentation:
Persona / Big Idea / CTA
Now you’re ready to create your slides or your video, and you know you’re going to smash it.
As usual, please share your own experience, tips, and recommendations in commenting on this post. And feel free to reach out if I can help even if your presentation is just a few days out 😉
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