People in business are turned off by storytelling because they think it takes too much work. But storytelling is a very important tool to have so that you can build your audience. You don’t have to be super personal in your story; you just need to humanize it. To help in building your story, join your host, Michael Zipursky and his guest, Janine Kurnoff. Janine is the Co-Founder of The Presentation Company. She helps companies translate their ideas into authentic, audience-centric business narratives. Learn how to transform all your data and ideas into a story. Find your big idea today!
I have Janine Kurnoff. Janine, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
Janine, you’re the Cofounder and Chief Innovation Officer at The Presentation Company. It’s pretty clear what you do right with that name. I love it. It’s very direct. You’re a business storytelling expert and you worked with organizations like Facebook, Nestlé, Marriott, a whole bunch of other Fortune 500 organizations. You’re also the co-author of the Everyday Business Storytelling book. I must say, it’s a pleasure to view it. It’s one of the nicest designed books I’ve come across. I do read a fair bit. We’ll talk more about it but job well done on the book. It’s quite beautiful.
Thank you so much. That warms my heart, Michael. That’s was our intention, to make it easy and scannable. Thank you.
We’ll get into it because I want to make sure that people check it out here. What I found to be very interesting is you do incorporate a lot of your frameworks. The way you think and approach giving a presentation or taking information and figuring out how to present it in a way that will be effective and compelling. Before we dive into all those details, let’s go back a little bit into your start. What I want to find out first is, were you always interested in stories and storytelling? How did you get to where you are now?
Storytelling has always been part of my life. I think that in some way it’s part of all of our lives. We’re human. It’s how we come into this world, as story listeners. Any of us who have children, you’re reading to them at night. That was where it started for me. I always remember as a young child, I was very much into reading books or performing the book. I remember our neighborhood crew of friends when I was young, we would perform plays out of a book and different people played different parts. I remember my sister, who’s now my business partner. She’d be the director. She always wanted to be behind the scenes and with all the friends of the neighborhood, we’d rally around and perform and bring these stories to life. It was always something that was comfortable to me and familiar.Storytelling is taking all your ideas and wrapping them in an easy-to-digest framework. Click To Tweet
Fast forward, coming into my business life. In my early career, I was at Yahoo in the Bay Area at Silicon Valley in a sales training role. I was supporting the sales team for them to tell stories for them to sell advertising on Yahoo at the time. I was always very intrigued with how do we breakthrough in this case. We were selling something not physical. How do we be a value, be of service in a way that didn’t feel forced or didn’t feel salesy? I think I had the entrepreneurial bug then and I became known in my little circle at Yahoo as the PowerPoint gal that knew how to do a thing or two in how to tell stories at that level. Fast forward, I started a company around this. The presentation company does just that. We help people tell stories using everyday business conversations and communications.
Is this something that even a small company or an independent solo consultant can use? First of all, storytelling is maybe not even applicable in the B2B arena, which it is. You can tell me more about how it is. Also, maybe if storytelling applies to a business, it will be for a larger business where you have more of a story to tell or more assets or just more things to say. What would be your perspective on that in terms of storytelling being applicable in the B2B space but also for even a small firm or independent solo consultant?
Let’s unpack what storytelling means because it’s this big word in some ways. It’s quite popular now. It’s the buzzword in business, yet it can mean many things to a lot of people. For a lot of us, we might think storytelling is like a TED speaker who gets up on stage and delivers a story. For others, it might be that senior leader in the organization who’s always presenting and has a speechwriter even. That feels very unattainable for a lot of us. For a lot of us, that is not our day job. A lot of us are in the grind and we’re delivering what I call the not sexy. It’s the product updates or the QBR, the Quarterly Business Reviews. We have to make a recommendation or maybe we’re checking in with a client and giving them an update on how the program’s going or a plan or a campaign.
For us, storytelling is the idea of taking your ideas and all your data because we all have a lot of data these days and wrapping it in a framework that is easy for you to organize and for your audience to digest. When I think about storytelling, it’s not that you need to tell a personal story necessarily. You could. That is one way to connect but it’s about structure. It’s a very simple framework we introduce in our book but it can be applied to many modalities. It could be the standup and deliver or it could just be, “I got to pull together three slides because my boss needs that.”
How do I tell a story in three slides? How do I organize my ideas and my data and tell a compelling story? That’s the avenue that we take when it comes to storytelling. Most people in business have this trigger effect when you hear the word. Especially if you talk to an engineer or a technical person, they’re like, “Storytelling? That’s not for me,” and they opt-out. It’s a real shame because storytelling is such a great way to break through, to be heard. Especially in this always-on, never-done culture.
When we opt out, I think we lose that opportunity to influence conversations. The first thing I always tell folks is that mindset shift has got to happen. Just knowing we are all capable of telling stories. They may look a little different for you versus me or for that product engineer or that salesperson and that’s okay. Finding the way to structure our ideas and organize them in a meaningful story is truly a game-changer and we’re seeing it happen. That’s what’s so exciting about this. The career-changing opportunities for folks, the ability to be seen in an organization using something as simple as storytelling is helping them get there.
Let’s take the example of somebody who’s running a consulting firm. Maybe they have a few employees or team members and they’ve never been intentional with developing a story. Before we talk about the framework and how they can take an idea and apply it to the framework and tell a story or develop a story, where should they start to actually identify what story they should tell? There are a lot of things going on in their business, experiences, maybe successes, failures. Where do you typically encourage somebody to find that first story to build and to lean into the framework?
We always say the best stories are not about you. They’re about your audience. What that means is we have to walk in their shoes. A lot of us are in a hurry. We want to put together the proposal or the deck. We’re like, “We know what our audience needs.” I always say like, “Don’t open PowerPoint, please. Do yourself a favor and walk in your audience issues. What’s going on in their world. What are they challenged with? Who do they care about? What do they care about?” Once you go through that analysis of who they are and what’s going on in their world, that will start to inform all the little decisions you have to make along the way to structure your story. That’s like basic 101. Don’t start with you. If we can get away from starting with us and talking about ourselves or our solution or our consulting services, your audience is going to lean in and listen. A lot of us like to talk about what we can offer before almost giving a reason for the audience to care. That’s the first place.
They want to make it very tangible for everyone reading. Would you suggest trying to identify maybe a specific pain point or an issue that your ideal client is likely dealing with or being challenged by it and use that to build the story around as a starting point?
That’s exactly right. Every story, depending on your audience and that day is going to possibly be different. I always say, “There isn’t a one size fits all story all the time.” I think that’s hard for a lot of us to hear because we’re like, “I got to come up with a different story every time?” You might have to tweak it. You do, depending on the circumstance. I would start with what are we trying to solve? What’s going on in their world? Be specific. The more specific you can be, the easier it is to start building the story blocks if you will. We believe there are four simple signposts to any story. This classic story narrative. You need a setting, characters, conflict and a resolution. On the surface, those seem simple but a lot of us in business forget that setting is providing context. It’s letting your audience nod their head and go, “Yeah, I got you. I’m with you,” but just that level setting. I see people not doing this even as something as simple as an email.
How many emails have we all read where you’re like, “I have no context for what this is about,” and you’re hitting me up with some requests. I don’t remember what this is about. Taking a moment in an email, first line and giving some context is huge. Characters in the business help us relate and it humanizes the information we’re trying to share. This is something where people will think like, “Wait, characters in business? I am an engineer. I don’t need characters in the business. I just got to report the facts here.” There are a lot of different ways to introduce characters in business narratives. It’s not what you think. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re telling this big, dramatic Hollywood story. In our book, Everyday Business Storytelling, we give people ways that they can still add that human element without it feeling forced or, in some cases, inappropriate for their audience and then conflict.
Can we walk through it for a quick moment? An example is let’s take a setting. One of the things that I appreciated and liked about the book is that you provide what you call the before story and the after story. It’s very visual. You have slides that show here’s what a poor presentation looks like. You explain why. You then have the after story of how you made it better. For everyone who’s who doesn’t have the book in their hands and they’re wondering, give us an example of a setting to begin with. What might that be? What might you say? A brief bullet point, what would that look like?The best stories are not about you; they're about your audience. Click To Tweet
Thank you for the reference in the book. I’m a big fan of before and afters because I feel like otherwise, everything feels very conceptual but not practical. I always say like, “It’s grounded in theory but we smother you in practicality.” The setting of a story can be really quick. It can be verbal or visual. It can take 30 seconds or 30 minutes. It truly depends on who you’re speaking to and how much time you have. In some of the examples, I’m flipping through myself. I’m looking at, I believe it’s chapter ten, where we give a sample recommendation. You can see how the story goes wrong because we start with resolution. As in, there’s talking about themselves early on.
A good example of starting with context, if it’s internal, could be like, “In our last meeting, we talked about X.” There’s nothing fancy about that. It’s just level-setting and saying, “This is what we know.” If you have data, that’s a great opportunity to bring in the data to say, “Here’s what we know. Here’s what’s happening. This is what our customers are saying.” It may not necessarily be new, absolute, earth-shattering information but it’s just enough to let everyone in that meeting or virtual meeting understand, “We’re all on the same page. This is what’s going on.” Where it gets interesting is when you layer in the conflict. Every great story needs some tension, even though for some of us that’s hard. We want to shy away from bad news but conflict is critical in any good story.
I want to make sure I understand. The first part is the setting. That’s essentially saying to people, “Here’s why we’re here. Get on the same page. Here’s the context.” Is that correct? You then move into talking about the characters.
The characters of a business narrative sometimes blur with the setting. Sometimes, the characters can be our team. “In the previous week, our team met to discuss XYZ.” I’ve just introduced some context, the setting and I’ve mentioned some people. In business narratives, it’s not that we need it to be big dramatic, “Meet Michael. He’s a customer.” That can be appropriate. We do show you ways where you can bring in named characters like personas. It’s very powerful. I think that sometimes feels frightening for a lot of us in business because they think, “I don’t think I could do that. That feels a little too forced. A little too dramatic.”
What I love about this approach is it’s like choose your own adventure. You can go full throttle and be super dramatic and introduce named characters. You can put yourself in the story and be a character and share something personal. More commonly for a lot of us, we introduce unnamed characters where it’s more referring to broad groups of people like our customers, team or Millennials. We don’t name them. We don’t get to know them personally but it’s just a way to humanize.
You have a very good example on page 118 where we talk about the after story. You have the setting and the characters first, getting clear about why we’re here and what we are talking about. The next part is the conflict and you’re going into the challenge that we need to overcome. Anything that’s important is to point out you can learn a lot more about this by diving into the book and other resources that you have. Is there anything you see where people typically maybe gloss over or don’t pay enough attention to when you’re talking about or bringing up and presenting the conflict?
I think the hardest thing about conflict is it starts with having a good headline. We should say that when you’re finding these building blocks in your story, they have to show up in the form of what we call headlines. A headline is a conversational statement and it should be just that. It should be conversational. It should allow you to flow in and out of these signposts very seamlessly because we’re not always there to deliver our story. You got to send a deck to someone and they’re now the storyteller. They’re reading it themselves.
The first thing is coming up with a headline that summarizes the story’s conflict accurately and comprehensively. Using tension language like but, however or to make matters worse. You start to get this tension-driven language that helps your audience and you know we’re entering into conflict. That’s hard for a lot of us. I worked with hundreds of folks trying to do this and you’re not used to it. We’re just used to doing what I call vague headings like update, customers. What’s going on with those customers? What is happening? It’s like you’re reporting the news and you have to encapsulate that in a headline so that your audience knows. “I get it. I know what you want me to know or do right now.”
I know we’re not going to do justice to all this because there’s a lot in the book and the framework that we’re trying to distill years of experience here in just a couple of minutes. I would be remiss if I didn’t hit on the overall framework. You have setting and characters then the conflict then you bring up the big idea and the resolution. Can you speak for a moment as to what is the big idea? The resolution sounds pretty straightforward. It’s like, “Here’s what we propose to solve and to overcome the conflict.”
The big idea is that one thing you want your audience to remember because they’re not going to remember everything. We can’t. When I think about putting together a story and when I say story, it could be a deck, an email, a set of slides. It could be a one-pager. What is that one thing that I want my audience to remember or do differently? That’s your big idea. Interestingly, out of nowhere, you can’t just come up with a big idea. It seems like you could. You’d be like, “I’m going to sit down and here’s the one thing.” There’s a very specific way that we recommend you build your story. In order to capture your big idea, you need to go back a step and figure out your why, which is the setting, characters and conflict. Specifically, the conflict is important because once you’ve identified the conflict, that’s going to help you answer your big idea. What a big idea is doing is addressing the conflict and teeing up what’s to come and the resolution.
When you think about what happens when we introduce conflict in a story, in a conversation, it challenges the status quo. It creates tension in the room. It can make your audience mentally uncomfortable. Maybe your prospect or your customer has been doing something a certain way for a long time and it’s worked for them. Now you’re coming in as that consultant and saying, “That’s not the best way. There’s a better way. Have you thought about this?” All of a sudden, their world is like, “What?” The status quo has been challenged and so you need what I call a mental bridge out of that conflict before you head to resolution.
The resolution is that’s where you get to roll out the solution and your big vision of how you’re going to solve the world. Your audience needs that instant gratification of, “I got you. Hang tight. I just disrupted. I might’ve said something that is challenging and tension-driven.” That’s your big idea. It gets you out of that conflict. It previews what’s to come in the resolution but it does not include all the details. It’s what we call a very simple, what I need you to know and do statement with some benefits.Every story is different depending on your audience. There isn't a one size fits all story all the time. Click To Tweet
What have you seen and what have your clients experienced in terms of the before and after? When it comes to the results of using these presentations, what are the typical outcomes or benefits that they get by going through this process or making these changes?
The behavior change is real. Truly, it’s what keeps us going here at The Presentation Company because seeing the transformation, it’s not just like the visual transformation. That’s one thing but the confidence-boosting that happens. Most of us, when we have to put together some presentation, we go to the last deck that we built because we’re looking for a quick fix. We’re thinking, “I’m going to save some time here. I’m going to open up a file, save as and start anew and we borrow slides from colleagues or our boss. Maybe we find something internally from a marketing site. There are so many places we can all go. We focus on the visuals first because we’re looking for the, “I want to get this done.”
The challenge with that is it doesn’t give us permission to step back and say, “What’s the narrative? What are we trying to do?” What we see is the Frank Index. It’s a very technical term we use. It’s this hodgepodge of an incoherent story that actually might look pretty. It’s like the lipstick on the pig. There might be slides in there that are beautiful because you grabbed them from somewhere or maybe you’re just good at building slides but there’s no narrative flow. It’s not truly a story and it creates confusion. It doesn’t have a clear call to action and you’ve missed that opportunity to influence the conversation.
When you apply this storytelling framework, it’s very simple and you can do this whether you have an existing deck that you want to re-look at or you’re starting from scratch, you’ve got to build an email or a one-pager. All of a sudden, we’re seeing the confidence in people go higher. Even when they present, they’ll say, “I’m not a good presenter. I didn’t train to do this,” but when you’re armed with a story narrative with headlines that get you in and out of those different signposts, the hard work is done offline. The hard work is not done in front of your audience. It’s done beforehand. That takes the pressure off you as the storyteller or the presenter in that case. It also makes it a lot easier for your audience to take it in, digest and do something with it. Move business forward. Take action.
It reminds me of the common mistake that many consultants make when it comes to proposals. They try and sell through the proposal. They’re trying to make their case, whereas what they should have done, the best practice is to have a meaningful conversation or maybe an initial presentation to a buyer so that you have been able to identify and communicate the value. The proposal is like the formality. It’s getting everything you’ve agreed to on paper and going over-pricing and so forth but that makes a lot of sense.
We’ve done a little mini masterclass on the presentation. People should check out the book for a lot more details and more insights into the framework because I know there’s a lot of things that we haven’t even touched on. We haven’t done them justice. Make sure you check out Everyday Business Storytelling. It’s a beautiful book. I want to get in a little more about your background. In terms of how you went from working at Yahoo, putting together some nice presentations, I feel like there’s something there. How did you and your sister go about building The Presentation Company? Where’d your first few clients come from?
I was at Yahoo. I was in Sales Training. What happened is I had the entrepreneurial bug. My parents are immigrants. My sister and I moved as young kids. They are from England and brought us over. I think we’ve always just been exposed to the entrepreneurial way. What happened is this email got sent around at Yahoo at the time that’s like, “We’re looking for talking heads that can come and join this Financial News Show.” At the time, it was called Finance Vision. “Are you interested? Come audition,” and I was like, “What? This is crazy.” I had always had this interest in acting or theater or telling stories. This was like my thing. Even at business school, I was always the one that was happy to get up and deliver the case study.
I went and auditioned. By audition, I mean they started hitting record and said, “Start talking about the markets. Started talking about financial news,” and I’m like, “What?” I had an MBA but all of a sudden, I was thrust into this world of talking about the stock market. What they were looking for were approachable talking heads that could interview market strategists, analysts and CEOs for this new broadcast show they were developing. This was in 1999 or 2000 right before the dot-com to dot-bomb.
I got chosen as one of six of us and they brought in news anchors. They brought all different folks but they brought two people from Yahoo that were already there so that was me. I got this taste of how to connect with an audience. It was live so we knew in real-time how many people were viewing. If there was a drop-off, which questions we were asking were resonating with the audience, where things were going great and where things were tanking. It was an interesting time for me.
Fast forward to now so much of that can be applied to virtual training, virtual meetings. Where you’re like, “I’m losing my audience. What do I need to do to get that lifeline back?” Anyways, that was almost too ahead of its time because this was before we all had broadband on our phones and at home. I moved off of that and they started a shopping vision version of that. This is all tied back to the Yahoo sites like Yahoo Shopping, Yahoo Finance and that got cut. I got laid off.
I enjoyed three months in Europe and said, “Peace out.” I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I was young. I wasn’t married, didn’t have anything. It was an easy time. I packed everything up in a box and took off. I came back and I remember very vividly, I was walking on the beach with my dad. He’s entrepreneurial and has influenced me. He said, “What are you going to do with your life?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “What do you love to do?” I said, “I love helping people make better presentations. I love helping people communicate.” He said, “Go do that.” I said, “How? What do I do?” He’s like, “Why don’t you just start?” There was an opportunity, some friends of my parents were having a dinner party and I went. Someone said, “What do you do?” I said, “I help people make better presentations.” Literally, they were like, “We need you. I need a PowerPoint.” It started off like that. It was me helping people build PowerPoints, like one-on-one consulting. Not scalable.
Did you do any marketing at all at that time? Once you got through to family and friends, was it just referrals? Someone said, “I talked to Janine. She can help you with the PowerPoint.”Good storytelling is about putting that human element without it feeling forced or inappropriate. Click To Tweet
Early days, it was just testing my way to even see this is something I want for myself as a life. I had come from Corporate America and got that taste. Now it was like, “This is what it’s like when you’re on your own.” You’ve got to find the business and do the business. In the early days, it was super scrappy. My sister Lee, at the time, was in Silicon Valley working in market research on the marketing side of analyst firms. We kept talking. She kept seeing these Frank index coming into her world and I had seen it from the sales side from the work I was doing. We put our heads together and said, “What if we created this business?” With the intention of helping people ultimately communicate better. At the time, we didn’t know it was storytelling. That wasn’t a thing. I think what helped us go from being the small mom and pop shop of hourly consulting, was that switch to training, that switch to more of a subscription model, that longer-term, bigger type work with a big company.
You just dropped some powerful stuff that we need to unpack a little bit. You said, getting into bigger companies and subscription model training. From working with random family, friends, whoever it might be doing work on PowerPoint slides, do you and your sister now decide to go, “Let’s team up together. Let’s start to win larger clients.” How did you go about, first of all, winning larger clients? Let’s tackle that one first.
Getting out there was key. For us, getting out there meant speaking events. When you are small, you’re starting out and you’re nobody, you cannot have high expectations of what these speaking events are going to be. I was thrilled to pieces to go to anything. Anyone that invited me for lunch and learn for free, I’ll do it. It allowed me to test my way through and to see real-time, “This is resonating. This is interesting.” There was a Silicon Valley Women’s Networking group. I remember it vividly, exactly the hotel that it was at, right off the 101. It was a one-hour. It could have been anything like Top Ten Tips on How to Do XYZ with your presentations.
There was a woman in the audience. I still remember her. She came up after. She worked at Symantec and said, “Can you do what you just did for my team?” I was like, “Yes, I can. This is what I do.” All of a sudden, I went and did that thing at Symantec and literally, the VP in the room was like, “Can you also teach us how to do this?” Yes, I can. No problem. This all translated to late nights, running to Kinko’s or wherever it was to build the training manuals. It was so scrappy in the early days.
I’m proud of that because you have to put in the hard time to know what is going to be scalable, what is crazy and what is going to work towards something. That was a big change for us in getting out there, making presentations, giving back, truly imparting knowledge. All of a sudden, it changed the conversation from it being a pitch to now I’m giving you something and the prospect of that case could kind of see in their mind, “I could see we need this at a team offsite,” and so on. That’s how I got started.
At that time, in those early days, how much of your time are you spending going out and trying to land speaking engagements and just getting out there? Was that the majority of your time when you weren’t working on client projects? Did you find yourself oftentimes staring at a piece of paper or your computer screen thinking like, “What do we do now? How to plan?” The reason I’m asking is a lot of people will delay. They’ll hesitate to get out there because they want to have the right messaging, the right website, LinkedIn profile, whatever it might be. There are always reasons for them to try and prepare more but that over-preparation often will hold them back from getting out there. Janine, in your case, it sounds like you were getting out there. I’m not saying that you weren’t thinking but you weren’t hesitating as much as maybe others do. That’s what led you to get traction. Is that accurate? Was there something else?
You’re making me think of this mindset of, “Done is better than perfect.” I have to give all the credit to one of our best client’s Facebook for that. When you’re on campus there and in the park, they have these amazing posters all over. One of them is like, “Done is better than perfect.” Even to this day, I stare at that in my office because it’s a constant reminder of sometimes we need to get out there and we can iterate. I can say working with amazing customers that trust us and love us, they want to come to play with us. They want to iterate. They’re okay that it’s not maybe going to be perfect to day one. I don’t think I have that confidence back then because you want to be buttoned up. I wanted the website and the business. You wanted it all.
If you have a true core differentiator and you have a service or something that you do that is very special, in some ways, there is nothing more powerful than being able to give that away like through a speaking venue where you’re the speaker and imparting knowledge because that’s going to be your best self. That’s your true authentic self in your element for some people. It may not be for everyone. Not everybody likes to present. For me, this felt like home. All the other stuff, the websites, the perfect brochures, it didn’t matter because what I was getting judged on is what they saw in the moment, what they experienced and thought. They could see their team also getting access to or being exposed to. That whole mindset of iteration good and it doesn’t have to be perfect like done is better than perfect. I’m still trying to practice that. It’s a good reminder whether you’re starting out or you’re twenty years in.
Janine, I have a few more questions. You’re in Symantec and you’re moving up doing client development where you’re getting deeper and deeper into the organization. How do you leverage that? How do you get into working with Facebook, Marriott and some very well-known brand names? What would you say over the last period of time and even now, if there’s a difference, has been most effective for you to generate leads and to land clients? From a marketing perspective, what’s been working for you best in the past? What’s working for you?
When I think about since we started off, we were very heavy in tech because that’s where both my sister and I were from. She’s my business partner. It was easy to get word of mouth referrals into the next tech companies that Microsoft and HP. We were big early adopters of anything technology. In our case, virtual meetings were starting to come up with Webex and HP had their own virtual room and Microsoft had Live Meeting at the time. We were like, “Bring it on. What’s this all about?” We were small, scrappy and it didn’t scare us. We embraced it. Back in 2004, we were delivering virtual training. In fact, we ended up training Apple’s Channel Sales team on how to deliver Webex meetings effectively. That’s how we got in at Facebook as well. Not being afraid of change and technology not only helps us as a company to weather recessions in 2008 and you got a pandemic in 2020. It’s like, “Bring it on.” We were ready for it because technology has always been the power vehicle underneath it all. That said, things as simple as LinkedIn’s advertising has been amazing for us. To get targeted ads out to customers that we would not otherwise be able to reach, that’s been amazing.
On that, what have you been doing? When you say LinkedIn Ads because I think a lot of people aren’t necessarily familiar or aren’t doing that or think the cost is too high. If I was to see one of your ads on LinkedIn, what would it show me? What would it point me to if I clicked on it as an example?
They have a whole pay-to-play advertising model. You can do this on any social media platform but our customers are on LinkedIn. They’re more on LinkedIn than they are on Twitter and Facebook or Instagram, as an example. For us, we chose that as a platform. You can do very targeted ads or whatever you want to create. We found that the simpler the better.If you have something special, there is nothing more powerful than sharing it with others. Click To Tweet
For you specifically, what are you doing for your ads?
For example, our buyers are a learning and development buyer at a big enterprise company. It might just say, “Storytelling for teams,” and a beautiful high contrast photo with very little text on it and it’s like, “Click here to learn more.” That takes them to like a private landing page where they can self-educate. That’s the other big thing we’re learning. People don’t want you to call them. “Don’t stalk me. Let me self-educate because if I’m in the market and I’m interested, I want to go a little further. “This benefits all of us because then they become filtered and screened that they’re ready to buy by the time they come to us, they’re ready to buy. They’re interested in buying and they’ve been filtered through the system. That’s been helpful. You also have to have a content model with that and serve up content relevant to the buyer, depending on where they’re at in the journey. That’s something we’re digging into now. It’s amazing. There’s so much to learn about it.
Anything else from the marketing perspective you’ve been doing that you find worked well or anything that has made over the last decade even it’s just made a big difference? You mentioned LinkedIn ads. Is there anything else that’s been a bit of a game-changer for you?
Speaking at conferences in our industry has been a huge game-changer. It’s like instant street cred. One of the biggest conferences we speak about is ATD, the Association of Talent Development. It’s where our customers are going. It may not be for all your readers but the point is we’ve been speaking for several years there. We put in an application. Apparently, people we know take 8 or 9 years to get accepted. We got accepted on our first go but it comes back to know your audience. We knew the audience, what they cared about, what was relevant and put together an application that we think was on target and it was. We got accepted and being able to have that venue, to be seen as a thought leader, I’m now going back for their International Conference in Salt Lake. We hope it’s in person.
I learned that I have a supersession. It’s not only doing a small breakout but I’m also doing a massive 2,000 people in the room and they’re allowing three speakers. It’s almost like a silent disco. Who knows? I’ll let you know if that goes well. Being able to get that venue and think back to my small little room in that Silicon Valley hotel where I’m talking about PowerPoint. Many years later, I’m going to have a room of 2,000 people potentially. It just keeps coming back to our core, which is imparting knowledge, sharing insights and creating conversation. That’s what I think is the exciting part about when you’re speaking. It’s not that you have to be the expert and you have to dump a bunch of data on people. It’s creating two-way dialogue and sharing knowledge. To me, it’s what it’s all about.
You have a solid team and I think you’re about 30 or so team members.The big idea is that one thing you want your audience to remember. Click To Tweet
We’re smaller than that. We’re about fifteen. We hired a CEO. I should say it’s fifteen full-time and then we have a bunch of contractors to trainers and designers. In theory, you’re right. It’s about 30 in our sphere. We’re small but mighty.
You start off doing hourly work and going into training subscription models. Can you just talk about how you structure your engagements with clients now? What are you finding has worked best? Have there been any big insights or learning experiences that have led you to shift your pricing strategy and how you structure your offerings?
Our offerings, we sell workshops. They come in three flavors. You can purchase a workshop that’s delivered in a classroom. We call that Instructor-Led Training, ILT. It can be in a virtual classroom so that’s Virtual Instructor-Led Training, VILT or it’s On-Demand, Self-Paced, On Your Own. The On Your Own, On-Demand is newer in the last three years for us and it’s still evolving. We are still iterating on that one because the industry is still figuring it out. At the core, we sell workshops and we’re not a one-and-done type of transaction vendor. We are a true partnership. It’s a long-term relationship. Our clients have been with us for years and years in some cases.
Does that mean that the workshop, it’s not a one-time coming into doing a workshop? You’re providing, let’s say, a workshop every quarter or annually?
They’re usually sold in bundles. It might be a two-day program or a one-day program in the classroom and it goes into virtual or it goes into an on-demand environment. There are all sorts of blending those modalities. It’s a workshop and there might be refreshers, follow-ups or webinars. The reason we go after the enterprise is the volume because of the amount of energy it takes to sell a workshop. Sometimes our lead time can be six months with these big guys. They bring us in so that they can see the behavior change and create that culture of storytelling within an org. That doesn’t happen with a one-off.
Are you doing any of the presentation design and graphics? Are you doing any of the work for clients? Is it more about teaching them how to do it, giving them the framework’s best practices and overseeing helping them with it?
The latter. We used to do the fishing and we were the hero at the moment. We would build everybody’s stories and make them look gorgeous and then, you got to go find that next gig. That is hard to scale. We found that teaching our customers how to fish is far more valuable to them and to us because then they can create that culture of change within their team and organization. We’re all about practicality. We smother them with tools. We give them tools so that they can be empowered. For example, one of our classes, which is more about visualizing information or how to visualize data. We arm you with a 100-slide library that’s in your brand, all customized with your colors and fonts and photos. It’s a grab-and-go. That’s exciting for people because they can do it themselves and they feel supported versus, “I need an expert to do it.” It’s exciting to see that unlock moments for folks when they realize, “I can do this.”
I would imagine the objection would be, “We want somebody to do this for us. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the resources.” They want someone to create stuff. What you’ve done is you’ve productized what you were essentially delivering for people before arming them with that with an asset. The real compelling reason is rather than do it for you, let us teach you how to do it to build that culture and build that skillset in-house. We’re going to be there to support you and advise you on an ongoing basis rather than doing a one-time workshop where they might feel all excited by it and then forget it the next week or the next month. By having that ongoing touchpoint, the learning, the change and the transformation last.
We arm you with like manager checklists and peer coaching checklists. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s different angles of how to communicate. At the end of the day, people want to feel supported. I know that when I take a class, I think the class is one thing. You get the knowledge but you want to know that afterward, you’ve got your cheat sheet afterward or got your library of go-to plug and play. That’s where we see the behavior change happen.
Janine, thank you so much for coming on. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your sister Lee’s work. Everything that you guys are doing at The Presentation Company. Where’s the best place, the home base for everybody to go and learn more?
Thank you for having me. Home-based would be Presentation-Company.com. Our book, Everyday Business Storytelling, you can also find it on EverydayBusinessStorytelling.com and Amazon. We’re on all the social channels but LinkedIn is probably where we hang out a lot. That’s the place where you can get to know us. We share a lot about our story, how we got started our entrepreneurial journey if you will, as well as pushing out information that we think is going to be relevant for folks in our world.
Janine, thanks so much for coming on.
Thank you so much for having me, Michael.