Storytelling Your Way To Your Best Business Presentation

Presentations Suck

Let’s be frank –most business presentations pretty much suck. They are filled with clichés, fail to deliver any real insights, and are well… boring.

The best business presentations are things to behold. They engage, present challenges, deliver solutions, and inspire. The very best presentations may not even use tools such as PowerPoint to get the audience fully jazzed. They rely on several time-tested techniques to hook, foreshadow, and spark action.

Act One: Heroes and Quests

Many people begin business presentations with some old standards: an ice breaker, then a brief synopsis about themselves and their own accomplishments, then a headfirst, no-holds-barred dive into the meat of their pitch. There is a rhythm to these types of set-ups that can often lull the audience to sleep (figuratively or, in the worst cases, literally). Like it or not, people engage more when they are the subject of the story or can connect to the hero on an emotional level. Most well-loved stories feature a hero and a quest. These can equate to your client (hero) and their quest (goals). When you tee your audience up as the hero, they become emotionally invested in your story and are excited to learn how it is all going to turn out. When you relate their own story and how impressive it is back to the audience you will reap rewards. Craft your opener with well-researched information about how far the client’s business has come, how much they have to be proud of in relation to their marketplace, or some other fact that highlights how excited you are about their business and the opportunity to work with them. Once you have them emotionally engaged, you can set up the quest.

Hopefully, prior to entering your business presentation, you have had the opportunity to get an understanding of your client’s goals, objectives, challenges, target audiences, and struggles and they have identified some key metrics they are hoping to obtain from your products or services. Now is your time to inspire them to excellence by stretching their goals to demonstrate that you are not only excited about their business but their abilities as a company. The quest doesn’t have to be epic, but shining the light on client potential and how they can reach just a bit further with your assistance results in an expansion of their ambition and an understanding that you are on this rocket ship right alongside them for this amazing journey.

Act Two: Insights and Challenges

In the greatest stories, the hero faces challenges along the way. There are monsters or cultural obstacles or some sort of crazy fake-kidnapping plot for the hero to overcome. These challenges may not be easily overcome. There may be some frantic moments. But at the end of the day, you have done your work to identify some key vulnerabilities – delivered as “insights” – that can be overcome. You have uncovered something very interesting that the hero can exploit to win the day.

Insights need to be in the form of new information about the target audience that translates to business and/or marketing opportunities. Frame your insights as anecdotes that hit on an emotional level for maximal effect. Do some research (interviews, surveys, etc.) so you can speak about real people, with real problems, that can be solved with a little ingenuity and elbow grease from your team on behalf of the client. Here is an example I gained from a recent interaction with a local business owner.

I was talking with a local Denver resident, John Gill, about his perceptions around brands and brand values. He held a somewhat unique view that most branding was meaningless when making his own purchase decisions, since he believed himself to be fairly brand agnostic in relation to what influenced his purchases. But when I dug a little deeper, I was able to draw out that he actually did hold some brand loyalty, at least in terms of the automobile market. John held a very strong opinion about the value of Volvos. The conversation eventually shifted into the “why” in relation to this belief system and I was able to discover that much of his attitude actually was driven by some personal insecurities he held around feeling “safe and secure” while driving – particularly in relation to the safety of his young family. Much of this stemmed from a feeling that his father had always driven Volvo vehicles because he knew them to be reliable and safe and John grew up knowing that his father’s buying decisions were made to keep him safe and he made similar choices when it came to his own family’s safety and security.

Now, Volvo knows that it creates its vehicles with industry-leading safety standards in mind, but this insight into the emotional connection its vehicles provide for generations of car buyers is a valuable insight that can be leveraged in its marketing efforts to reach younger generations – particularly those who have grown up in the “Volvo family”.

Providing these types of insights demonstrates not only that you have done your research but that you have come prepared to do battle for your client. You have researched the audiences and obstacles and are prepared for the challenges ahead. Using emotion-tapping insights to illustrate opportunities will help pique the client’s interest and move us into the next phase of your story: actions and benefits.

Act Three: Actions and Benefits

You have foreshadowed to the audience that you have identified some challenges and have crafted a plan the hero can follow to overcome those obstacles, be hoisted on the shoulders of the townsfolk, and live happily ever after. In this portion of your presentation, you will outline the actions your team will take to help overcome the obstacles identified in Act Two. Welcome to the strategy segment of your presentation. At this point in your discussion, you can start to rely more heavily on facts, figures, research, and slides that back up your insights and help support the strategy recommendations you will outline for the client. Keeping true to form, you should present strategies that overcome obstacles to reach the target goals outlined in Acts One and Two.

But there is one more emotional tie you need to make to ensure that your story is one for the ages: tie in benefits to your strategy to really set the hook and make your presentation one to remember. This is the “What’s in it for me?” portion of the presentation where you really hammer home the opportunities and results from both action (carrot) and inaction (stick). What will happen if the client doesn’t act? What benefits will result from action on the plan? Back these benefits up with examples and your presentation will truly shine.


Keep in mind how to leverage the elements of great storytelling during your next presentation. You don’t need to jump into the deep end of the pool the first time out as we all have “presentations” during our regular interactions throughout any given day. Think of how you could use this technique on something relatively simple like getting your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour (granted, sometimes not that simple). Then leverage these techniques to win new business or take advantage of new opportunities in your work life.

Interested in other insights into how to make your business process shine? Check out these posts: