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Telling a Story vs. Speeds and Feeds: Presentation Tips for CEOs Seeking Investors or Selling Their Businesses

I had a conversation with the CEO of a startup in the medical devices field recently. We were talking about upcoming presentations to investors and I riffed on some insights that I've developed over the years on what makes a great presentation when the topic is complex and the attention span is short. Here’s a synopsis of that talk, which I hope helps other entrepreneurs seeking strategic investors and to sell their businesses.

People process information in chunks of three or four. That’s why things like phone numbers are so easy to remember. A three-digit exchange followed by a four-digit number. I can still remember my home number from the 1970’s. For the younger crowd (and folks like me) who live and die by the cell phone contact list, this might not be such a strong analogy, but it remains true. When structuring messages for a presentation, try to have no more than three or four main things you want to communicate. There’s a good chance they will be remembered.

Primacy and latency and recall. We best remember the first and last things we hear or see in a presentation. Much of the middle gets lost. The longer the presentation, the more this comes into play (see “chunks” above). So put your most important information in the beginning and end of the presentation. I fully expect you to forget this middle paragraph of my blog (there will be a test at the end).

Repetition is important to forming memories. In media buying circles, it’s still a rule of thumb that three impressions of an ad are needed to make an impression. This is true in presentations as well. That’s why any presentation skills class starts with the golden rule of presentations: Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction and agenda); Tell them (the meat of the presentation); and, tell them what you told them (summary). Note that this outline is three items. Hmmmm.

 A visual narrative makes the story stick. In the case of the medical device CEO, we talked about the technical benefits of this new technology. And there are at least three or four solid reasons this company should be funded and its technology used in medical care. But the performance and money-saving aspects are not memorable; that is, you can’t relate to these things as a human being. But when you use a narrative form to explain the benefits, the technical advantages come to life. I encouraged her to use a “before and after” form for her storytelling, to describe the problem state and future/solution state in terms of a patient and physician’s experiences with and without her invention. That got her very excited to tell the story of her invention and will no doubt increase investor interest, too.

Storytelling is what makes technical advantages meaningful in B2B marketing as well. If you review the text of this blog you’ll see the narrative form throughout, used as a means to carry a message: Good content marketing, presentations and selling requires that you tell a story, and tell it with an understanding of how people process information.

If you’re working on a presentation for strategic investors or potential acquirers of your business, keep these ideas in mind. Even though your audience may have a good understanding of your industry, they probably don’t share your vision nor understand why you are so important to your customers. Effective presentation organization and use of the narrative form will make your business a much more compelling investment or acquisition.

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