Three Strategic Storytelling Strategies for Improving Your Sales Pitch Deck (with Examples)

Two Salesman at a Storytelling for Sales Training

When my friend Lisa was first preparing to launch her start-up, she spent days agonizing over her pitch deck. Lisa works as a designer in the food and beverages industry, where customers are particularly sensitive to the aesthetics of presentation.

She knew that your run of the mill Powerpoint deck just wouldn’t do.

Time was getting tight. Money was getting tight. Lisa was hoping that her deck would help her raise the capital she needed to take her organization to the next level. As she sped towards launch, Lisa could feel the pressure building. She knew that, in order to sell her concept and achieve her professional dreams, she would need a pitch deck that resonated.

Most sales teams and independent sales professionals can relate to this narrative. Pitch decks are used by executives debating an IPO, start-ups seeking capital and millions of people in between, who need to ensure comprehension and resonance to get their prospects to yes.

We live in a visual culture, so it makes sense that so many people rely on a pitch deck as a visual aid for walking prospects through key selling arguments.

As a Strategic Storytelling consultant, I see a lot of pitch decks. In general, they’re confusing, they’re unclear and they’re boring. There are as many sales pitch examples as there are sales people. There are also many, many examples of bad pitch decks.

Even though this sales deck helped Buffer raised $500K, it’s boring, too factual and lacks a single photograph of a human being.

Business people are people too. And all people respond better to information when it is structured in the form of a story — a story designed to strategically engage a prospect’s heart and mind as way of moving them to yes. When I’m approached by a client — or at one of my Strategic Storytelling for Sales Teams trainings — I guide them through a process that increase comprehension, retention and meaning.

My clients have been applied to sales pitch deck examples in industries ranging from technology, tourism, start-ups and finance — and food and beverages.

Today, I’m going to share these concepts with you.

How To Make Your Sales Pitch Deck More Like a Story

Three Strategic Storytelling Strategies for Improving Your Sales Pitch Deck (with Examples)

1. Make it Character Driven

Humans are social creatures. Through millions of years of evolution, we’ve developed an incredible attunement to the emotional needs of other people. This emotional attunement helps us raise children, develop social structures and, today, work collaboratively with our customers and teammates. Just look at politics, celebrity gossip or watch other people use Facebook: anytime a story is about another person, we immediately pay more attention.

Stories that are driven by characters are more than memorable. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, neuroeconomist Paul Zak said that

character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative.”

As a salesperson, the oxytocin released through a character-driven story heightens the likelihood of your prospect resonating with your deeper message. Oxytocin has also been linked with trust-based behaviours; telling a character-driven story increases the likelihood that your prospect will respond by divulging something more intimate — like a deeper problem — that you and your product can help address.

By defining clear characters, you will immediately increase your pitch deck’s emotional resonance.

How to Make Your Sales Pitch Deck Character Driven

  • Begin by creating a list of “characters” related to your pitch.
  • Push yourself to think in terms of humans, not entities. Think individual customers, individual purchasers, etc. Don’t name businesses that you’ve helped. Name peopleat businesses that you’ve helped.
  • Non-humans can be characters too. But they should be entities that have a broad emotional appeal to your target audience. For example, for a passionate sports fan, the New England Patriots are a character. For Lisa, in the food and beverages industry, “Merlot” could be a character. Or a wine bottle. Or a particular brewery.
  • Once you’ve developed a list of characters, hone in on one or two. For each character, create a simple “plotline” by focusing on a relatable problem that the character has — one that relates to your product or service.
  • I like to put this plotline at the beginning of my sales pitch decks, to guide the prospect into the story.
  • By introducing the character, you’ve “primed” them into your audience’s short term memory. Feel free to return to their story several times during the narrative. Each time you do will heighten your audience’s sense of resonance.

After introducing us to a compelling character at the very beginning of their sales pitch deck, Manpacks takes just 3 words to explain their product. (They raised $500K with this deck.)

strategic storytelling sales pitch examples

2. Make it Solutions Oriented

I have a neighbour, Gary, who’s one of these guys who sees the dark side of everything. If the sun is peeking out of the clouds, Gary is sitting in his rocking chair, smoking a cigarette, complaining that it won’t be long until it starts raining again. Predictably, conversations with Gary are pretty short lived. I say hello, ask him how he’s doing, then say goodbye not long after hearing the same stock answer.

Improv actors have a term for this. They call it “Yes, But.” Picture this: you’re in a scene, improvising, and you invent a new direction for the conversation. Maybe you say — to a character like Gary — “at least when it rains, it will be good for the flowers.” A Yes, But answer is like a nuclear bomb for an improv scene, because it ends the conversation abruptly.

The contrast is a term that improv actors call Yes, And — or what storytellers call Solutions Oriented Storytelling. A Yes, And response takes the conversation to a new, deeper and, in the case of improv, funnier direction. “It’s been raining so much that there’s a jungle in my backyard, and I’m afraid of the snakes” is a perfect example of a Yes, And response. Suddenly, the conversation is bristling with opportunities.

Yes, And responses can’t help but increase the level of audience participation.

The same concept applies to our sales pitches. If your pitch is Problem Oriented — if it focuses on what’s bad about the competition, or it has a defeatist tone — it’s like a conversation with Gary. But by shifting your pitch to being Solutions Oriented, you invite new ideas and open the potential for collaboration.

By being Solutions Oriented, you naturally show your prospect an easier road to yes.

How to Make Your Sales Pitch Deck Solutions Oriented

  • Start by thinking through the context of your pitch. What’s happening in the world around your prospect’s decision?
  • Bigger contexts create more impactful stories. For example, Elon Musk and Tesla aren’t selling cars; they sell a solution to climate change. Tesla customers are motivated by the desire to participate in a solution. The fact that it’s a stylish and well-designed car helps, but it’s not the deepest impetus. What bigger issue can your prospect participate in through purchasing your product?
  • Use your character driven story as a way of engaging your prospect with the context first, before moving into the features and benefits of your product.

Farmeron spends the first 12 slides of its deck introducing both character and context. By the time we get into the nuts and bolts of what they do, we can immediately empathize with both the problem and the scale. (They used this deck to raise $4MM.)

Three Strategic Storytelling Strategies for Improving Your Sales Pitch Deck (with Examples)

3. Make it Clear

You may have heard of this recent invention called “the Internet”. Since the turn of the millennium — and especially since the introduction of the iPhone — most of us live in a world deluged by information. In fact, some modern thinkers have gone so far as to name this newest version of a human being homo digitalis. 

Chances are, you’re one of these people too.

There’s a downside to being perpetually connected — there’s always a new angle, a new piece of information, a new perspective that can shed doubt on everything that’s come before. In fact, a recent study by the global communications firm Edelman shows that, all over the planet, trust in our major social institutions is at an all-time low.

There are many explanations for this “trust deficit”, but one of the most profound ones is information overload. The social psychologist Roy Baumeister has proposed that

self-control (is) like a muscle, which can become both strengthened and fatigued. The researches proposed that initial use of the “muscle” of self-control could cause a decrease in strength, or ego depletion , for subsequent tasks…Experimental findings showed support for this muscle model of self-control and ego depletion.

What that means is that it takes mental effort to parse through a crowded Powerpoint sales deck, and that mental effort literally makes us tired — or, more specifically, even more tired than we already are, because of all the insistent pulls on our attention.

Walking a prospect through a crowded deck is like shouting in their eyes. It’s likely that they’ll recoil from your message without even being able to tell you why.

How to Make Your Sales Pitch Deck Clearer

  • Start by defining a standard design approach for the whole deck. Choose three or four main page layouts. Pick an attractive colour palette from a site like this one. Choose at least two different typefaces: one for “body” text, and another for your headings.
  • Once you’ve chosen all of these, stick to them throughout your entire pitch deck.
  • Do all of this before you start putting together your deck.
  • When constructing the deck, follow all the common sense communications rules. One idea per slide. No more than six words per line. Especially if you’re going to be presenting the deck in person, you don’t want your prospect reading. You want your prospect looking as you guide them through the deck, like an art historian explaining a photograph.
  • Be as visual, and as differentiated in your visuals, as you can be. Great graphic designers are worth the investment.
  • Before you present, review the deck and ask yourself “is this totally clear?” If the answer is no, work it through again.

This sales pitch deck from Tealet uses a beautiful combination of imagery, characters and a consistent design ethos to communicate a clear message. (They used this deck to raise $200K.)

Three Strategic Storytelling Strategies for Improving Your Sales Pitch Deck (with Examples)

What Happened to Lisa

Lisa put these pieces together. She found a character — a customer — and began the pitch by taking her prospect through this customer’s personal story. She made it solutions oriented, by contextualizing her start-up in terms of a larger design trend happening in her target industry. And she made it exceptionally clear — so clear that some slides didn’t even have any words on it.

The result? A sale. She raised the $150K she needed to take her business to the next level.