The power of storytelling in sales presentations

Posted in Sales techniques and processes.

Storytelling is a powerful tool Humans have used for ages to entertain, teach, and share. Done well, it has the ability to enrapture its audience while still imparting useful information. Storytelling allows an audience to connect on a deeper level and form emotional ties with the subject matter.

As a sales rep, you want your presentations to capture and hold the attention of your audience. You want it to persuade buyers into buying your product or considering your proposal. Storytelling provides you with a greater ability to guide your audience along a narrative path that they can possibly invest themselves in. As a sales rep, you want your audience to be invested. In that way, your audience will be more receptive to what you are offering them.

The structure of a story

While stories can take on a variety of forms and structures, they usually follow a pretty similar overall structure. There are ups and downs in the flow of a narrative. Many will refer to the concept of an act structure (or a beginning, middle, and end). What we want to focus on is the ups and downs in the narrative as this can easily be transferred into various types of stories.

Picture our main character. They are living an ordinary life, much like you and me. But, something comes along to change that. It is a significantly negative enough change that they would rather return to how things were before. Had this something not come along, they might have continued living in ordinary bliss. Our main character now has a problem, and they would like to fix it. Their first attempt at solving the issue may be naïve and they may fail. However, they learn from their mistakes, and they tackle the problem anew. This time, they triumphantly succeed.
That is a basic example of a simple story structure. The protagonist starts out at an up and is faced with a down. They acquire the resources to go up again, and fail, getting knocked back down. Finally, the protagonist ends up succeeding and the story is at the top again.

Things can be switched around. Perhaps our main character was always in a bad situation and has finally gotten the means to change things, but it is not initially enough. How a story is structured is less about hard-set rules and more about how it facilitates the story itself.

How stories enhance presentations

The way stories are presented allows the audience to connect with what is being said. It allows information to be more relatable. Facts and figures are abstract and sometimes hard to relate to a personal experience. Stories take on a “show-don’t-tell” form. Which would you find more effective: a charity campaign that tells you how many people are suffering from a disease, or one that shows you the daily lives of said individuals living with said disease?

The use of stories to emphasise the points that your presentation is making not only serves to garner a connection with the audience, but also serves as a reinforcement of what you are trying to explain. Generally, storytelling allows you to bridge your sales presentation with a more personal topic even when that topic is only tangentially related to the presentation, but not everybody may get it. Yes, your stories should generally not be filled with philosophical arguments and deep meanings, but not everyone will draw the connection between your story and what you are selling. Make it clear how your story fits in with the presentation.

Starting a presentation with a little bit of storytelling immediately puts your audience in the shoes of your ideal customer; one who has a problem that can be directly addressed by what you are selling. Paint a picture of a customer who would live happily had it not been for a single issue. You may detail ways in which this customer attempted to solve the issue – other nondescript products perhaps; ones that lack what you provide – but ultimately came short of success. Then, highlight how your product solved the issue or would solve it. This story can now form the basis of the rest of your presentation that you can relate all future facts and selling points to.

How presentations can be crafted as stories

While perhaps not as emotionally riveting, the format of a sales presentation can very well resemble a story. Remember the ups and downs of a story? The same sort of changes can be followed by a sales presentation. Where are we currently? What has been done to improve the situation? Has it succeeded or failed? Where do you fit in with this? How does your solution improve on previous ones? Each of these points can represent an up and a down.

The structure of a story cast onto a presentation presents a flow that our brains know how to follow. It keeps us attentive. Too much monotony causes us to lose interest and that is why there is an up and a down. There is a point and a counterpoint. It is almost like a rollercoaster. Storytelling has been developed since time immemorial and the techniques employed have been refined. What makes a good story flow at a nice rhythm is almost the exact same things that make a good presentation flow.

Pauses have been used to great effect in storytelling and work well in sales presentations as well. A bit of silence allows an audience to process the information that they have been presented or recuperate from previously presented information. You do not want to quickly gloss over large chunks of information or small pieces of pertinent information either. Therefore, pauses allow information to sink in before it is erased by new information. On the flip side, pauses can also be used to withhold information. This is how suspense is created. You want your audience to want to know more. Pauses trigger the brain to pay more attention. It does not like to be left hanging and will want to catch the information that comes after the pause. This is how information that comes after a pause can be emphasized.

Treat your sales presentations as if you are telling a story and your audience will engage more.

Other storytelling techniques

Storytelling also makes use of other techniques that may work better with certain stories than others. There are other ways to create flows and present information that even if the information being presented is the same, the story may still resonate differently with different people.

Converging ideas is one such technique used in storytelling. This is to show how different paths lead ultimately to the same conclusion. For instance, there are three people suffering from different problems. Each one of them have their own problems that are disjointed from the others’, however there is an ultimate solution that can solve all three problems. Alternatively, there can be three separate solutions for each problem, but your product is the ultimate solution that combines all three solutions.

Another technique is called a “false start”. False starts lead an audience along a predictable path before flipping their expectations over. This is quite useful for showcasing a failed solution to a problem that might have been expected to work.

Remember to sell

At the end of the day, you are there to sell a product. It is a sales presentation after all. We might often get caught up in telling a story instead of presenting sales in an interesting and evocative way. Stories are a means to your end. It is not the end. Utilise them well. Do not let your presentation drag on for any longer than it needs to be. A story will only hurt you if it carries on for too long and your audience becomes bored.

No matter what, call your audience to action. You have conveyed the information that you want them to retain, and they have taken it to heart with an effective narrative. Now what? Let your audience know what you want from them. Stories and presentations are mere entertainment without a “so what?”.