The Five Ingredients of a Good Story in Presentations

You’ve heard it before: Stories make a good presentation great because they entertain, enlighten, and move people. They are memorable and people want to share them. Great stories are being retold again and again.

A good story in presentations captures — and keeps — the attention of listeners. They want to know how the story unfolds. They want to know how it ends.

Telling a good story in presentations will capture -- and keep -- the attention of your listeners.

All you need to weave a good story into your presentation are five essential ingredients and a sequence that makes the listener want to know how it unfolds.

Today I want to share the five essential ingredients with you, and talk about how they fit into your presentation.

1. A Hero

What defines the hero in a good story? Is it the person that saves the day? Yes, sometimes.

When we define the hero of a story as merely the person that saves the day, it is tempting to see our company or product as the hero. This is rather selfish.

There is a better way to portray the hero. I encourage you to take a more customer-focused approach.

Think about how you can make your customer the hero of the story you are telling. When you define the hero as someone who is being transformed from ordinary to extraordinary, shouldn’t it be your customer that plays this role?

And when your customer becomes the hero, you will also need…

2. A Desired Outcome

At some level, your business is all about solving problems for your customers. In other words, your business is about transformation.

Your business is about helping your customer, the hero, transform from something ordinary to something extraordinary.

Defining the desired outcome requires an understanding where your customers are now…and where they want to be in the future. Do they want to make more money? Save money? What will they gain through their transformation? How will the become better than they were before?

You can only tell a compelling story with your customer as the hero when you fully understand his or her desired outcome.

3. An Obstacle

Transformations are never easy. Otherwise your customers wouldn’t need you.

Obstacles make stories interesting…and your role in the story invaluable. Obstacles are the hurdles that keep your audience at the edge of their seat, because the want to know how the hero overcomes them.

Sometimes the obstacles are external. They are the villains that make your hero’s transformation difficult. But often, the obstacles are internal. These could be inefficient processes, inappropriate tools, or a lack of well trained employees.

4. A Guide

If your customer is Neo in the Matrix, you are Morpheus. You are the experienced guide who will help your hero transform and achieve his or her desired outcome.

In his book Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs explains that one difference between a compelling marketing message today and advertisements of the past are the stories being told. Today’s winning stories emphasize that your hero’s journey results from his or her own effort and work.

The role of your business therefore isn’t to be a super hero that solves all of your customer’s problems. Your business rather exists to guide your customers. You become a coach and a mentor that helps their transformation.

5. A Happy Ending

When telling a story in your presentations, describe the happy ending you helped others achieve.

Talk about companies and people who have overcome obstacles and reached their desired outcome. Position yourself as the guide that helped making it happen.

And always explain the next step — in a clear and direct way. Establish your role as the guide that helps customers transform from the current situation to their desired one.

Bonus Ingredient: The Truth

Telling stories just for the sake of telling stories without them being truthful may sell the next bestselling novel, but it won’t help you in your business.

Stick to the truth and only tell stories that really happened. True stories in which your customers transformed successfully, with your help and guidance, to reach their desired outcome.

In today’s transparent business environment, it is easy to fact check. By making up stories, you will only shoot yourself in the foot because you lose all credibility.

Do you need ideas on how to best integrate your story into your own presentations? I would be delighted to help. Leave a comment below — or send me a message.

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks for the presentation and Demo tips. Important to have a hero, outcome, an obstacle, guide, and happy ending. What about the bad guy?

    1. Yes, the bad guy is definitely an important part of a good story. Thanks for pointing that out, Tony.

      When I help clients with their business presentations, I prefer the term obstacle. It encourages presenters to not think of the bad guy as a competitor or a person, but rather a problem in need of a solution.

  2. What a great article & insight, it has opened my mind up to how I approach my business in a whole new way, thanks so much.

  3. I have to say I very much enjoyed your post on adding a story into your presentation. I never thought about it the way you explain each ingredient: A hero, a desired outcome, an obstacle, a guide, and a Happy ending. You did a very good job in explain what each ingredient meant also. I now have a much better understanding of how I should present a story to help in my business. Thank you so much.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Lureita. Let me know how things go after you incorporated a compelling story into your sales message. And if you ever have any questions, you know where to find me.

  4. Claudio,
    Very good information on the five ingredients of a good story. As a presenter in the past, keeping the attention of your audience is the most important part. This will help even if you are not making a presentation to a large group.
    John

  5. Very well told info Claudio! I love how you compared our story in how businesses and guiding customers are evolved in comparison with building a story in a movie. Very good guide by you! It really isn’t about how a business becomes great. It is about how to guide a customer from ordinary to extrodinary! Good post!…:)

  6. Clear and to the point. I think you did a great job connecting the framework of a good story to a business presentation, making it very easy to remember. I’m going to try this out. Thanks!

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