The benefits of B2B storytelling vs PowerPoint presentations far outweigh the investment in developing them.
Why B2B Storytelling Needs to Be Embraced
Over five million businesses exist in the U.S. today, and over 500,000 new businesses are started each year. All of these organizations deliver messages to the market about their product or service. That’s all fine and dandy — however all the communications strategies of all these companies (plus, the existing businesses) frequently result in overspray—i.e. the communications end up reaching individuals outside of the organization’s target market. In addition, messaging can be problematic — organizations may have developed unique selling propositions or they may have generic messages that overlap with competitors or even outside of their target markets.
Research from B2B market analyst firms state that, more often than not, employees do not understand the marketing messages of organizations. And, when a message does resonate, employees have stated that they do not believe the claim that is being made. That’s because the organization making the claim has either not established that position in the individuals’ mind or they were not able to defend the claim.
Granted, it is extremely difficult to create an effective and unique selling proposition – especially for an organization with unique differentiation and supporting value drivers for the key personas in the customer buying process. In addition, the complexity of the task increases exponentially when there is a new, innovative or disruptive offering that an organization is bringing to market.
Visionaries and leaders have an extremely difficult challenge because they are able to see things not seen by others—that’s why they are visionaries and leaders. Their goal then becomes to open up the minds of individuals to consider new possibilities in order to gain their allegiance and support. Unfortunately, most people are reluctant to change, or if they do modify their behavior, they’ll do so at a very slow rate. As a result, visionaries and leaders must embrace a communications approach that includes successful techniques to overcome resistance in listeners.
B2B Storytelling vs Death by PowerPoint
One popular communications strategy for businesses is to gather employees together and deliver a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint presentations per se are not all bad; however, the numbers of people that effectively use PowerPoint to truly communicate (versus show up and throw up) are few and far between.
- A compelling event appears on the radar
- A need to communicate arises
- A meeting is scheduled
- PowerPoint is opened
- Slides are created
- Revisions are made to slides
- Creative is added to the slide deck
- The style guideline is applied to the PowerPoint
- The slides are presented
- The meeting is adjourned
It’s a fact that the absolute worst presenters (as well as the most abusive) are PowerPoint readers. These presenters typically have text heavy slides that they read while looking at the slide. PowerPoint slides should act as queue cards for the presenter, similar to an outline or a prompt. PowerPoint slides should be reserved for the big ideas and should not be the details that support the tactical message. The basic premise is that the PowerPoint deck is for visual reinforcement and the text or script is what is in the head of the presenter—not on the slide.
Why B2B Storytelling
A much more compelling approach to effective communication is storytelling – which is diametrically opposed to PowerPoint slide reading. Steve Jobs was one of the very best storytellers. The Steve Jobs formula for crafting and delivering a compelling story was:
- Craft the key messages that one wants to communicate
- Present ideas with passion
- Generate excitement in the room
- Deliver a memorable experience
- Create evangelists
In addition Jobs broke his stories into three acts:
- The first act was focused on creating the story
- The goal of the second act was to deliver the experience
- The final act was dedicated to refinement and rehearsal
Because the art of storytelling is a relatively new concept in B2B marketing, it is not leveraged by most organizations. That is a huge missed opportunity.
The ability to tell a good story is a compelling way to efficiently and effectively communicate one’s key message. Good storytellers use a story to engage and connect with their audience. Stories allow storytellers to blur the worlds of reality and fiction, and are an effective technique to open the audience’s eyes to new insights.
Creating a story requires the speaker to think the story through. It’s often best to start the process with the end goal in mind – i.e. what is the goal of this speaking opportunity? Then, reverse engineer the core themes to develop compelling messages and headlines that make it easy for the audience to follow, embrace and become motivated. This is the first step and an important requirement in selling an idea with conviction. Most people fail to think through their story and are mediocre communicators at best. The best storytellers effectively develop compelling messages and headlines to make it easy for their listeners to follow the narrative. They also frequently introduce a common enemy to in order to build drama.
The Science of B2B Storytelling
Here’s the science of storytelling. The two parts of the brain most relevant to storytelling are Broca’s and Wernicke’s area. These are the gray matter areas that work on processing language and speech.
Wernicke’s area is in the parietal and temporal lobe or the sensory speech area. It helps us understand speech as well as the usage and selection of the correct words to express our thoughts.
Our brains become more active when we hear stories and want to relate those stories to one of our existing experiences and emotions–that’s why metaphors work so well with us. Our brains are like computers. To store and efficiently load to memory, the brain looks for the cause and effect relationships of things we have previously experienced.
According to Princeton University Associate Professor of Psychology Uri Hasson, stories are the best way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. When the next opportunity presents itself to onboard people to an idea, simply tell them a story – with the outcome as the end goal.
Stories are easy to comprehend and relatively easy to remember. This is because not only do people pay closer attention to stories, but also because the story format is easy to understand and remember. Everybody loves a good story and retelling that story.
There are important cognitive consequences of the story format. Playwrights, screenwriters and novelists sometimes leverage what is referred to as the four C’s to tell their stories.
- Causality. These are the events in stories that are related because one event causes or initiates another.
- Conflict. In every story, a central character has a goal and faces an obstacle that prevents the outcome or goal from being met.
- Complications. These are the characters efforts to remove the obstacles that result in new deterrents or problems that must be overcome.
- Character. Strong, interesting characters are essential to good stories.
The most important thing to remember is that what makes a story great is not the PowerPoint slides, it is the story itself. PowerPoint presentations are useful in reinforcing a story, but to successfully transfer knowledge and motivate an audience, a storyteller must be passionate about the topic and deliver a well thought out story with conviction.