Story telling is the key to a successful pitch



For those of you not familiar with Carmine Gallo, I highly recommend his books, especially The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. If I had to recommend one book on how to present that would be it. But it’s not enough for Mr. Gallo – he’s got eight or nine others on Amazon! I wish I had the time to delve into the others, but fortunately for me Mr. Gallo also writes magazine articles. His article on, Presentation Tips From the Guy Who Received the Longest Standing Ovation of Any TED Talk is more wisdom about how to present. Note the sub-title, From Airbnb to SAP, leaders who tell these stories have a competitive advantage – journalists have adopted sub-titles as one line abstracts of their stories, a very helpful device for those of us skimming and scanning for information of interest. Keep that trick in mind if you are writing a one-page executive summary of your company.

His article outlines three types of story telling for presentation. As usual, I’ll make comments on each, go to the original article for the full content.

1. Stories about personal experiences.

Bryan Stevenson, a human rights attorney and author received the longest standing ovation of any TED talk ever delivered. Perhaps it was because his presentation consists of three stories. Personal stories are the best because they are the most authentic; they are first-hand accounts, not second-hand. And they induce empathy in the audience. But the most powerful personal stories are ones in which the story teller succeeds against adversity. If this is true of you, great. But whatever you do, don’t make stuff up!

2. Stories about other people.

Forrester Research did a report on the power of stories to engage other people, Peer Stories And Credible Data Attract And Engage B2B Buyers, with, of course, the helpful sub-title: Use Short-Form Interactive Content To Capture Customers’ Attention. Their research found that 71% of buyers said that “customer or peer case studies” were the most persuasive type of content. You need to be a Forrester client to get the full report, but they provide a couple of tips for free: one, customers prefer content in shorter visual formats, and two, business decision makers want evidence and fact-based content from other customers and unbiased sources.

3. Stories about the brand.

I’m a big fan of origin stories and so is Mr. Gallo. If you have a compelling origin story it can be a great way to kick off your presentation. Sometimes origin stories while rooted in the truth aren’t exactly true. The best example of this is the origin story of eBay. Pierre Omidyar was experimenting with an auction site while he was still an employee of legendary company General Magic. His motivation was to level the playing field in commerce, where up to that time the sellers had all the information and had the whip hand over consumers. He was actually turned down twice by a General Magic executive, once on having the company invest and Mr. Omidyar, being a great entrepreneur was undaunted – he then tried to get the executive to make a personal investment! The exec told him nobody is going to send some stranger money and hope they receive what they paid for. I have to admit I thought Pierre was crazy too when I first heard about eBay. But the story that he started the site to help his wife find Pez candy dispensers for her collection wasn’t true. It was made up later. She did have a Pez collection and she did use eBay to add to it, but it wasn’t why Pierre Omidyar built the site.

Mr. Gallo ends the article with a great story of his own: a venture capitalist behind some of the most iconic names in startup history once told him, “Storytellers have an unfair competitive advantage.” And VCs are always looking for that unfair competitive advantage!

Keep in mind two dimensions about stories: relevancy and recency.  Whether it’s your own story or someone else’s it needs to be relevant to your business or else you will just distract the audience. Their momentary engagement will be followed by a head scratching, “That was cool but what the heck does it have to do with VeryNewCo?” Secondly, recency can help. If your story happened years and years ago the reaction may well be, “Yeah, but the world is totally different now.”

And if you have a great story don’t be afraid to use it repeatedly. It won’t wear out, and who knows, it might even go viral!



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

2 thoughts on “Story telling is the key to a successful pitch”

  1. Steve I love the idea but a couple of problems – I think the person is Bryan Stevenson not Brad – and both the second and 3rd paragraph are about origin stories and I got confused –I have heard Bryan speak at Lesley and he is a stunner.


    Art Bardige What If Math


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