Presentation Planning: Be a storyteller

HOW to tell your story. Final blog in a 5-part series guiding you to presentation planning success.

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl

Sep 28, 2023


This is the final blog in my 5-part series that outlines how to plan a presentation using the Slide Zero framework, a framework for presentation planning.

In the earlier blogs of the series, I delved into the WHO, WHY, and WHAT of presentation planning. The WHO shifts your presentation from being product-centric to audience-centric. The WHY covers the significance of beginning with the outcome in mind. And the WHAT highlights the importance of simplicity and clarity in the message you are delivering.

Now, let's dive into the HOW, as we discuss a few of the essential ingredients for crafting how you will tell your story.

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell. —Seth Godin”

Let's explore what’s required to tell a great story and what information your design team needs from you to begin the storyboarding process. The HOW element of the framework helps you define the ingredients that will be used to craft the story. When planning your presentation, your answers to these HOW questions will help create a presentation that’s unique, engaging and relevant.

First, let's start with the hook.

The hook is the opening idea that captures the audience's attention and gives them a reason to keep listening. It can take the form of a question, quote, statistic, or anecdote. It may also involve discussing an industry trend, a competitor's successful change in strategy, or a new way of doing business. The hook forms the basis of the WHY CHANGE part of your story, as it highlights something that the customer may not have considered.

We then need to inject a level of urgency into the hook to provide a reason for the audience to act NOW. Coupling urgency with the hook is critical to avoid "status quo bias" and the choice to do nothing. Introducing urgency will help establish the WHY NOW part of your story.

Next, consider why it might be challenging for the audience to make this change now and what stands in their way of moving forward.

Be clear about those roadblocks and problems that you can help overcome and the value that will deliver to your audience. Talk in their industry language using their terms. The story your presentation will tell revolves around how you help them overcome these roadblocks.

Potential customers often struggle to understand the differences between vendors' pitches, leading to an extended sales cycle or a decision to do nothing. Having a unique point-of-view to solving their problems is the way around this. This is necessary if you want to stand out from your competition. Craft a well-articulated point-of-view that could be used as a theme throughout the entire presentation. It should explain how you look at the problems differently and why this new perspective is the best approach to overcoming the customer's challenges compared to the competition. This is important as it differentiates you and gives the customer a new perspective. It also positions you as a guide to help them solve their problems with new approaches. For the product marketer, this requires an in-depth understanding of your competitive differentiation. Once created, this will form the basis for the WHY YOU part of your story.

Finally, nothing is more important than demonstrating proof of having solved similar problems before.

These proof points are critical to build the confidence that you can do the same for this audience. If you tell your story through your customer’s successes, it will resonate and build credibility. Proof makes it real.

The HOW element of the Slide Zero Framework creates the ingredients necessary to build a great story and constitutes a critical piece of presentation planning. When you combine the hook, urgency, roadblocks, point-of-view, and proof, you ensure that you stand out from the competition and build confidence in your audience that you can add value to their business.

I developed the Slide Zero Framework to provide a structured approach to presentation planning for product marketers. Whether you use the framework formally or informally, it's essential to consider the questions each part of the framework raises - WHO, WHY, WHAT, HOW. You can use it to guide a simple 1-hour planning session with your stakeholders or follow a more formal process to deliver documentation to your outside design agency. Regardless of how it's used, you'll gain the confidence that your presentation is heading in the right direction, tailored for your audience, and hitting the mark. The structured, top-down, and outcome-centric approach of the framework will elevate product marketing to a strategic level, and your presentations will be developed in less time and at a lower cost.

I collaborated with the team at GhostRanch to develop a set of tools that put the Slide Zero framework into action. Pitch Planner is a presentation planning tool now available on their website. It provides product marketers with an easy-to-use workbook to capture the answers to all the framework's questions related to WHO, WHY, WHAT and HOW, along with a templated executive summary slide for the presentation review process. Developed by product marketers and presentation designers, Pitch Planner is a practical tool that empowers a more strategic approach to presentation planning.

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About The Author

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl is a B2B marketing leader with a thirty+ year career in the technology industry, including over 20 years leading strategy and product marketing teams in developing and executing go-to-market strategies. Steve has held product marketing leadership positions at leading technology companies including Oracle, Kronos, Webtrends and Peoplesoft. His was most recently the VP of Product Marketing at Oracle, leading teams responsible for Oracle Marketing Cloud and their entire Oracle Customer Experience application business. As a product marketing leader, Steve believes in the value of storytelling to engage B2B audiences and has developed and delivered presentations for many different audiences in 14 countries. A strong proponent of frameworks, Steve leads his teams to always make the complex sound simple and to work collaboratively across marketing, product, and sales teams to ensure alignment and consistency in how a business goes to market.

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