The Art of the Story: Selling Your Ideas

| September 21, 2010

As a 15-year consulting veteran with companies like Disney, GE, NBC/Universal, etc., one lesson has become perfectly clear: It is not the smartest person or the best idea that wins the day; it is the person who tells the best story.

In a down economy, this simple lesson is amplified. With fewer resources, there are fewer opportunities. So, you’d better make the most of them and tell the most perspicuous story.

This leads me to lesson 1: Do not use large, complex words like perspicuous. You don’t sound smart, you just sound pompous. More importantly, if the audience cannot understand your story, how and why would they fund it? Keep things “stupid simple.”

In a down economy, this simple lesson is amplified. With fewer resources, there are fewer opportunities. So, you’d better make the most of them and tell the most compelling story.

Here’s my quick guide to the Art of the Story:

Chapter 1: Story Concept

Before you put pen to paper, ask yourself one basic question, “What is the value of my idea?”

In your analysis, I’d like you to consider several things:

  1. Will this idea generate revenue, reduce cost, or defer cost?
  2. If no, stop right there.
  3. If yes, how many degrees of separation are there between your idea and this outcome? For example, if your idea is implemented, will it directly generate revenue? Or, will it provide a platform that can be leveraged by a staff that then can create a widget that can then be sold to generate revenue? The more degrees of separation, the less desirable the idea. It’s that simple.
  4. Are you looking at the value though your eyes or the eyes of your customer?
  5. Timing is everything; is this the “right time” for this idea?
  6. Have you considered the total cost of ownership?

Chapter 2: Story Outline

With a clear value statement, you can start to craft your story outline (or storyboard).

Through this process, please remain focused on the following:

  1. Don’t beat around the bush: send your message right up front. Executives are top down thinkers and will easily follow this organization.
  2. “Walk” your reader/audience through story. The process is a “slow seduction” where A=B, B=C, C=D . . . A=D.
  3. Avoid compound storylines. Remain focused on one and only one message.  Your story is not a soap opera.
  4. Simple is always better. Don’t try to impress people and show them how smart you are. Your time will come to demonstrate this with your performance. Actions impress, words confuse.

Chapter 3: Story Development

You are now ready to craft the contents of your story.

  1. Know your Audience and align your story to their values: Their values, their language.
  2. Don’t boil the ocean. Identify the particles of clarity in their chaotic world and synthesizing your message to maintain limited focus.
  3. Illustrate your ideas.  A good picture is worth a thousand words: Using graphics and illustrations can communicate volumes.
  4. Transcend subjective analysis and rely on objective analysis. Your analysis has to be substantiated by metrics and definitions that lead to empiric data.
  5. Keep your story brief and to the point. Use appendices for the detail data.

Chapter 4: Story Delivery

Finally, the time has come to tell your story.

  1. When the timing is right, seize the moment.
  2. Looks matter. A good looking presentation can sell itself and vice-verse. Spend some time “punching up” the document/presentation.
  3. Check your emotions and pride at the door. This is not about you: This is business.
  4. Anticipate the questions and setup the audience. But, don’t answer all the questions. Allow people an opportunity to contribute to the process. It makes them feel a part of the presentation and valuable.
  5. Don’t create distraction in your presentation by mixing in multiple messages. Stay on point and avoid tangent slides, or what I refer to as ”sinkhole” slides.
  6. Allow people to participate but control the room. Stay on target and focused.
  7. Drive the presentation to conclusion. An outcome of “let’s get together again to discuss further” is not good. Your job is to bring the meeting to a definable conclusion.

So, there you have it: A quick guide to The Art of the Story.

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Category: Marketing/Branding Strategy

About Marc LeShay: I am a strategic consultant helping people find clarity in chaos View author profile.

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