Storytelling is a powerful way to influence and engage your audience—whether at a Toastmasters meeting or a virtual business presentation.
One study published in an international communication journal found that starting a presentation with a short story significantly increased the audience’s interest and comprehension—even if the story was not entirely relevant. A well-constructed story can change people’s behaviors and beliefs, and enables listeners to remember the speaker’s main points weeks after the presentation.
The key is to establish a gap between what is (the current situation) and what could be (a better vision of the future). This approach creates conflict in listeners’ minds and pushes them to consider new possibilities.
Starting with a story will hook your listeners and help you connect with them on an emotional level.
It’s no surprise, then, that stories are especially useful in virtual sales presentations. They “wake up” the audience on the other side of the screen and add a human layer to the presentation. The best place to grab the audience’s attention is at the beginning. Here’s how to structure the story effectively:
First section: Lay out a problem you’ve faced.
Every fall, I would feel the chill in the air and see the leaves begin to sway in the trees. I would think, oh no, here they come.
Do you think the audience is paying attention now? You better believe it.
Second section: Expand on the intrigue you created in the first couple of sentences.
As a native New Englander, I know raking leaves is a fact of life. But year after year, the task became tougher and tougher on my back. It seems like we’ve done the work the same way for generations—rake the leaves into piles and move them into yard bags. There had to be a better way.
You’ve identified the pain point (literally, too, with the back discomfort). Now it’s time to reveal how you resolved the issue.
Third section: Explain the solution to the problem.
Last fall, I decided to try a different approach. I purchased thin netting material and measured the width and length of my yard.
I laid the netting across the lawn—it was so lightweight and see-through that you could barely notice it. Then, I watched the leaves start to fall.
The audience thinks, So what happened in the end? Suspense is a wonderful sales tool.
Fourth section: What was the outcome?
Once the leaves blanketed the yard, my son and I grabbed the corners of the netting and voilà—we “raked up” all the leaves in a matter of minutes.
This is the “aha” moment for the audience, the big payoff. To amplify the impact, you could use photos or videos of the product at work.
Fifth section: End with a clincher, or memorable closing line.
That day, the “net raker” was born.
Then, launch into the typical introduction.
Good morning, my name is Ron Derry, and I am the founder of Net Raker LLC. My team manufactures and distributes our product to 700 stores across the United States and Canada … (He continues with product information and sales figures.)
We all can relate to the frustration in the story. No one likes raking leaves! The story pulls us in and conveys the product’s value proposition. Only then do we learn more about the product and the company’s sales.
Could you flip the two parts and start with the typical introduction? Sure, you could. But starting with a story will hook your listeners and help you connect with them on an emotional level.
Now, think about the products or services that you provide. What kind of story could you share to kick off a virtual sales presentation?
A couple possibilities:
- Tell the origin story of how your company was founded.
- Share memorable success stories about clients. For example, talk about someone who, at first, didn’t believe your product or service would work but is now a true believer.
Draw upon the success of the stories you “own.” There’s no better place than a virtual sales presentation to put your stories front and center.
Looking for more tips on storytelling? Watch motivational speaker Kelly Swanson in the video below as she talks about how to inspire and influence with story.
Steven D Cohen, PhD and Danny Rubin Steven D. Cohen, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, Maryland. A former Toastmaster, he also is president of Summit Presentations LLC, a training company that develops custom programs on communication and leadership. Follow him on LinkedIn. Danny Rubin is an author and speaker on business communication skills. He is also the founder and president of Rubin Education. Follow him on Twitter @DannyHRubin.
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