The Story Behind the Numbers

By Heather Baldwin

Whether you’re giving a sales presentation, starring in a movie or explaining to your boss that you really were sick during the Stanley Cup playoffs, great performances are all about telling a story that appeals to your audience’s emotions with compelling details. So for your next sales presentation, tone down all those statistics and facts, says Patricia Fripp, executive speech coach, sales trainer and author of Make It, So You Don’t Have to Fake It (Executive Books, 2000). Instead, find a story behind those numbers and your presentation will have a much better chance of sticking with your audience long after you’ve gone.

Fripp recalls working with a new Gap executive who had 8 minutes to excite 500 young store managers about a new program. The program aimed to get employees to contribute money-saving ideas for the company, and the executive had planned to use most of his time citing statistics to show why the program was worthy. Fripp’s response? Borrr-ing! “Statistics aren’t sexy,” she told him. “Numbers are numbing. Where’s the made-for-TV movie?” He had no idea, so they called the accounting department and learned about a Gap mail clerk who noticed the company was separately mailing seven newsletters to the same location. He put them together into one packet with a note asking that they be distributed on the other end. He then asked his co-workers to check for similar duplications and do the same. The result: Gap saved $200,000 in shipping costs that year.

“Whenever you tell a story, be ready to answer the audience’s next question,” says Fripp. In this case, they’re likely to wonder what Gap did with that $200,000. “So we researched some answers,” she says. As it turns out, $200,000 is “18 miles of shelving. It’s carrying an additional jean size. It’s a month of The Gap Rocks commercials.” The executive then segued into a discussion of the cash rewards that would be given to employees who contributed these types of ideas.

Think that presentation made an impression? You bet. So find the human stories behind your product or service and you’ll likely be remembered long after you’ve walked out the door.