Stop Thinking Solutions: Think Story

what's your story

Stop Thinking Solutions: Think Story

As a 19-year consulting veteran for 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, boardrooms are won by the person who tells the best story. It’s that simple . . . and that hard.

In the modern economy, storytelling is a basic survival skill, one that few have mastered. With fewer resources, there are fewer opportunities. If you have something to say, if you want something to get done, or if you want funding for a new initiative, you’d better make the most of these opportunities and tell the most compelling story possible.

With that in mind, here’s my quick guide to the Art of the Story:


Chapter 1: Story Concept

What is the value of your idea

Before you put pen to paper, ask yourself the above basic question. If your idea doesn’t do one or more of those things, stop right here and go back to the drawing board; your idea simply does not have justifiable value. Once you determine the value of your idea, consider the following:

  1. Make sure you can easily quantify the value of your story: In other words, consider how many degrees of separation there are between your idea and delivering this value. For example, if your idea is implemented, will it directly generate revenue? (One degree of separation) 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? (Four degrees of separation) The more degrees of separation, the less desirable the idea. It’s that simple. My rule of thumb: If you’re proposing anything beyond two degrees of separation, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
  2. Be sure you’re looking at the value-proposition through the eyes of your customer, not your own. It’s critical that your message resonates with your audience.
  3. Timing is everything; make sure this is the “right time” for your idea. And, seize the opportunity when the events dictate.
  4. Ensure your analysis includes the total cost of ownership. A discrete-cost only discussion will end quickly and badly.


Chapter 2: Story Outline

storytelling slow seduction

The key to crafting your story outline is to remember that you want to “walk” your reader/audience through the story and keep their attention focused through to the punchline. While you are determining the flow to your story, keep in mind these important factors:

  1. Executives are top down thinkers: Don’t beat around the bush: send your message right up front.
  2. Your story is not a soap opera: Avoid compound storylines; remain focused on one and only one message.
  3. Actions impress, words confuse: Don’t use large, complex words. Most of the time you don’t sound smart, you just sound pompous. More importantly, if the audience can’t understand your story, how and why would they fund it? Keep things “stupid simple.”


Chapter 3: Story Development

Align your story

You are now ready to craft the contents of your story. Ensure that before you get to the details, you really know your audience and align your story to their values. Below are tips to keep your content efficient and effective:

  1. Don’t boil the ocean. Identify the particles of clarity in your audience’s chaotic world and synthesize your message to maintain limited focus.
  2. Illustrate your ideas.  A good picture is worth a thousand words: Using graphics and illustrations can communicate volumes.
  3. Transcend subjective analysis and rely on objective analysis. Your analysis has to be substantiated by metrics and definitions that lead to empiric data.
  4. Keep your story brief and to the point. Use appendices for the detail data. 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.
  5. Looks matter. A good looking presentation can sell itself and vice-versa. Spend some time “punching up” the document/presentation.
  6. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Tell your story in their words. Select language and use-cases that resonate with your audience. This story isn’t about you or what you want. It’s about them and their needs/desires.


Chapter 4: Story Delivery

Time is right

Finally, the time has come to tell your story. When the timing is right, seize the moment; remember that no matter how good your idea or presentation is, if it is not the right time nobody will listen. When the opportunity arises, maximize your story:

  1. Have a specific outcome in mind. Enter the meeting seeking a very clear and quantifiable result. And, have a “punt position” in your hip pocket to adapt as the meeting dictates.
  2. Check your emotions and pride at the door. This is not about you: This is business; handle comments and even criticism with dignity and respect.
  3. Anticipate the questions and setup the audience. And be sure you 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.
  4. Allow people to participate but control the room. Stay on target and focused.
  5. 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.