Are giving presentations a part of your business model? Are you good at them or does the idea of public speaking terrify you? Have you ever been to a boring presentation? I would say a majority of the presentations I attend could benefit from stronger organization and clarity about their goal. I marvel at the speakers who just know how to capture an audience. Presenting is an art. I learned recently by reading Jerry Weissman’s book, Presenting To Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, that the key to giving a successful presentation is knowing how to tell your story.

I am a Story Consultant. After being in the corporate world for 17 years, over 10 of which were spent working as a Current Programs executive in television at top studios including Spelling Television Inc. and CBS/Paramount, I launched my own business in January of 2008 at I knew that as part of my business model I wanted to teach seminars. I was very excited about the idea of doing this and doing it well. Over my career, I had been to several story seminars including Robert McKee’s famous seminar. I learned a lot from watching what worked and what did not work. For 17 years, I had worked in offices and learned the nuts and bolts of telling a strong story, and now I had to figure out how to effectively communicate this insight and experience to an audience.

I learned a lot from my first few seminars about what I felt worked well and what could be better. I recognized that like anything in life, the more you practiced, the better you would get. I always felt that I had prepared myself well until I hit a bit of a bump in the road at a seminar I did in Seattle for the the Northwestern Screenwriter’s Guild. They say that public speaking is the biggest fear for most people next to death. I experienced the meaning of this first hand. I was about to begin my presentation when I suddenly had a mini panic attack. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and my mouth was so dry that nothing would come out. It was like someone had taken an eraser to my brain and erased the last 17 years of experience I was about to share. This whole experience went on for 5 minutes. My way out of it was to ask the audience to share their universal life moments, an exercise which I had intended on utilizing later in the presentation. I was thrilled to see it worked. As I listened to people opening up about their own personal stories without fear, I began to see even more that our story is the key to it all.

It was this unique, yet traumatizing, experience that led me to buy two books written by Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, and In the Line of Fire: How To Handle Tough Questions When It Counts. I connected with Jerry’s background because during his career as a television producer for CBS, a screenwriter and a sometimes novelist, story had been his foundation.

Some of the key points Jerry Weissman writes about that really resonated with me are WIIFY (what’s in it for you?) and tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, your point B. He guides you to recognize the value of helping your audience to better understand what’s in it for them. He also understands the importance of organization. He gives you several options of how to start your presentation including, Question, Factoid, Retrospective/Perspective, Anecdote, Quotation, Aphorism and Analogy. After choosing this, the next thing he suggests you do is give the USP, Unique Selling Perspective. This is a very succinct summary of your business, the basic premise that describes what you do and what your company does. He then suggests giving Proof of Concept, which is a single telling point that validates your USP.

I read these books as a way of preparing for my next seminar, a Pitch and Pilot Storywise Seminar that I did at UCLA. I knew when I first started that I could very well experience what I had in Seattle yet again. However, the difference this time was the way I approached my preparation. Jerry mentions in his book that the key to not being nervous is being totally prepared. I had done my homework. When I started this seminar to a very full room, I started with an Anecdote about my early experiences with story and what made me know that teaching story was the path for me. I also mentioned the tremendous affect that my mentor, Aaron Spelling, had on me. I then moved on to my Unique Selling Perspective by telling the audience all about the launching of my company. Next, I gave the Proof of Concept about the success I’ve experienced since I launched. I then told the audience what I was going to teach them, a new way of looking at how to structure their story in a pilot through identifying the goal/dilemma of their central character by the end of Act I and making sure that their other act outs resonated back to this goal/dilemma in some way. I told them how I planned to do this through my presentation, my workbook and my handouts. By looking at story and studying story through this unique perspective, I showed them “what’s in it for them” and how they could apply it to their own writing. I further illustrated this by giving them my back story and then sharing a few loglines with them that describe a show reflective of my life right now. Then, I asked them to share a logline that reflects their life at this point in time. It was miraculous. I had no nerves and I felt more connected to the audience than any seminar I had done in the past. I knew the keys: clarity about what I was teaching, sharing my story, telling the audience up front what I was going to tell them and being aware of and answering the question, “what’s in it for you?” The comments afterward and the e-mails that followed made me see even more that our story is the key to our success. If you’re wondering about “what’s in it for you” with regards to this blog, I’ll answer: if you read Jerry Weissman’s books and follow his advice, you will succeed in ways you never imagined.