Closing Time

How to Create a Winning Sales Presentation That Captivates Buyers

Why do most sales presentations fail? Because the traditional presentation choreography, used by so many organizations around the world for many years, runs opposite to how our brains engage and decide.

They polarize rather than build consensus.

In this episode of Closing Time, Todd Caponi will explore why the traditional presentation and slide deck choreography doesn’t work, how to create a winning sales presentation, and how to use story-based selling to better choreograph your presentations to compel your audience to buy.

Listen to the podcast:

Watch the video:
Key Moments:
Why the current sales presentation choreography doesn't work

As an experienced sales leader and former sales rep himself, you could imagine Todd has created a few sales decks in his career. One important aspect of every presentation is what he refers to as the “choreography.” Don’t worry; it doesn’t involve any dancing.

When Todd mentions choreography, he’s talking about the order in which formal messaging is presented, whether through slides or the structured approach taken in interactions with buyers in a formal context. Traditionally, this sequence followed a specific pattern, and it typically included the following steps:

Slide One: Mission Statement. 

Slide Two: Awards and Analyst Reports

Slide Three: Company Map

Slide Four: Product Showcase

Slide Five: Logo Showcase aka “NASCAR slide” 

However, there’s a drawback to this approach. Commencing with logic and data right from the beginning tends to polarize the audience and disconnect them. It reinforces their existing opinions and can lead them to scrutinize later points.

Todd is an advocate for a different choreography—one that focuses on emotions, stories, and feelings. The objective is to take the audience on an emotional journey instead of bombarding them with facts right from the outset. 

Choreography of winning sales presentations

It might sound unconventional, but Todd has stumbled upon an effective approach for sales presentations that draws inspiration from reality makeover TV shows. Yes, you heard that right.

This unique choreography not only crafts compelling stories but also resonates well with audiences, making it easily adaptable to B2B selling.

Think about popular reality makeover TV shows like Queer Eye, Restaurant Impossible, Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and Bar Rescue. What makes them intriguing is their choreography, where the host becomes the expert, flipping the traditional order we often see in sales presentations.

Typically, in sales, we lead with ourselves, emphasizing how great we are. But in these TV shows, there’s a different approach. Here’s how it works:

Alignment: At the beginning of each show, they meet the individuals who’ve sought help. It’s like asking, “Why are we here?” They discuss the problem openly, starting with transparency and authenticity.

Ideas and Opportunities: The hosts delve into the issues, offering ideas and opportunities. They expand the horizons of what’s possible, building credibility as advisors rather than salespeople.

Leading to the Solution: Instead of pushing their solution, they guide the individuals toward it, a complete shift from the traditional approach.

It’s a simple but powerful change: start with the customer’s needs, build credibility along the way, and lead to your solution.

Just like in these TV shows, where every episode ends with heartfelt success and lasting connections, you can achieve the same in sales—building trust, credibility, and enduring relationships based on shared success.

Compelling your buyers to buy – with story-telling

To improve your sales presentations and truly persuade buyers, you need to guide them on an emotional journey where they feel compelled to take action.

Think of it like a personal trainer – you wouldn’t just hand them money and say, “I want to lose 5 pounds, so I’ll do a bit of exercise and leave.” The trainer’s role is to inspire you, explore your goals, and create a tailored plan with minimal obstacles.

Similarly, as a salesperson, your job is to help buyers see their world differently and propose solutions that align with their needs. Share your experiences with other clients facing similar challenges. Offer fresh ideas by stepping into the consumer’s shoes and presenting data and logic to support your recommendations.

Don’t rely solely on flashy slides, awards, or credentials to build credibility. Imagine if reality TV shows started with contestants boasting about their achievements – it’d be boring!

Instead, focus on making the presentation about the customer’s needs and how you can help them achieve their goals.

Ditch the logo slide

Recall your slide deck for a moment. Is there a logo slide at the beginning of it? You know, the slide with your company’s most recognizable customers across different industries.

Such slides can either unite or divide your audience’s opinion due to cognitive biases. Todd suggests reordering your slides to create a compelling narrative that brings everyone together.

Imagine presenting to ten buyers in a consensus sale. Half of them may be inclined to support you, while the other half could have reservations. If you start with a slide showcasing impressive logos, the supportive half will be pleased – they’ll see customers like themselves and think, “If they’re good from them, they’ll be good enough for us.”

Meanwhile, the opposing half of your audience may use that same exact slide against you. They’re thinking, “Those are some big companies, we’re going to be a small fish in a big pond.” Or they’ll say, “They cover all of those industries, no way they’ll be able to serve our niche industry well,” and they’ll quickly start using those same logos to support their opinion.

This pattern continues with every logical slide you present, not just the logo slide. Instead, Todd suggests structuring your presentation like a story.

Studies using fMRI machines have shown that when people watch a story together, their brain activity synchronizes. This unity of thought is what you want when selling to a consensus audience.

So, reorder your slides to craft a cohesive narrative that naturally leads to your solution, rather than presenting it upfront.

Creating a story arc in your presentation

The idea here is not to completely ditch slide decks but to enhance them with a compelling narrative.

Think of it as going from point A to point B. Point A represents the customer’s current situation, and point B is where they could be in the future. In between, you explain why point A might not be ideal.

Instead of starting with the solution, begin with the customer, help them understand their current state, provide a new perspective on it, and then introduce the potential future state.

This storytelling approach is what makes shows engaging and emotionally resonant, and it can have a significant impact in the B2B selling context.


Why do most sales presentations fail?
We’re exploring sales decks on this episode of Closing Time
Hey, I’m Val Riley,
head of content marketing at Insightly.
And today I am joined by Todd Caponi.
He’s an author, a speaker in the sales field
and a self-described
transparency nerd.
Welcome to the show, Todd.
Thank you for having me.
So Todd, I’ve built a lot of sales decks
in my day, so I’m super excited about this topic.
One of the things you talk about is choreography,
which I’m hoping doesn’t involve either of us dancing.
Can you talk us through it?
Well, when we think about choreography,
we’re thinking about the order by which we do our formal messaging
And that could take the form of slides or really the path that we take
when we’re in a formal environment with a buyer. But
this isn’t to get anybody in trouble.
But the traditional choreography that we’ve experienced through all these years.
And that traditional choreography, what do I mean?
It means, like slide one is the mission statement
like we believe in a world where we solve all these issues.
And then slide number two is the awards or analyst reports, right?
Slide number three, a lot of times
and I don’t see this as much anymore, but I used to all the time.
Slide number three used to be a map, right?
It was like our offices.
We’ve got one in Chicago and one in San Francisco.
We’ve got one in Singapore.
I know you don’t, but we think it’s cool.
And then slide number four, a lot of times was the product slide, right?
Like we have this product, this product, this product.
And then there’s a circle around it and it says solution.
And then slide number five so often was the NASCAR slide, right?
The logo slide.
These are all the companies we work with that we are
so proud of.
Well, if you really look at the behavioral science,
as it turns out, logic polarizes, but emotions and stories
and feelings are what bring us together.. And all that logic
at the beginning of a presentation, it literally disengages
and it polarizes audience into their preconceived opinions
of how they felt when they were walking in.
They will use the data and the research or whatever
it is from those first five slides against you.
And so I just truly believe there is a much better way.
There’s an easier way to reorder your formal messaging so that it
not only tells a great story, but it becomes really compelling to audiences.
OK, so it sounds like you want to take them on a more emotional journey versus
a logical journey. Is that right?
Well, yeah, and I know this is going to sound crazy.
So like, don’t turn this off when you hear it. But
I have found again, this sounds crazy
but that following the choreography
that’s used in reality makeover TV shows
not only tells a great story, but it becomes really compelling to audiences
And it is easy to apply to the world of B2B selling.
So if you would like, we can dig a little bit more into that
of course.
All right.. Let’s go on that journey together.
All right. Cool.
So, like, think about reality makeover TV show.
So you’re like Queer Eye on Netflix, which I highly recommend.
Restaurant Impossible.
Biggest Loser.
Extreme Makeover Home Edition.
Bar Rescue.
They all follow a choreography
where the individual who is the host of the show is the expert.
And what they do is really interesting.
They flip the order of the traditional choreography
in these things, meaning that, again, as salespeople,
we always tend to lead with ourselves, right?
Like, this is why we’re great.
This is why we’re awesome.. Did I mention how awesome we are?
Well, on those shows, what do they do?
Well, first of all, on each one of those shows,
these people have raised their hand, right?
They’re investing time because they know they’ve got an issue.
They just don’t know how broad it is, how big it is, and what the solution is.
It’s why your leads probably reach out to you.
Beginning of every single one of those shows,
the individual show up and they do an alignment, right?
They’re like, Hey, why are we here?. What’s going on?
We saw your application video, but tell us more about it.
And then they disarm through transparency.
Through being themselves, through authenticity.
And then they dig in to,. Hey, have you thought about this?
Have you thought about this?
Have you thought about this? Right.
They bring ideas, they bring opportunities.
They hope that individuals see that even what they thought was possible,
they could do more. Right.
And they do that through they build credibility through that process.
They become the adviser,
the consultant, instead of the person trying to convince them.
And they lead to their solution.
That’s the flip for everybody.
Super easy, just change the order.. Instead of starting
with you, start with them, lead to you.
That’s what they do in reality makeover TV shows.
And in every single episode at the end what happens?
They’re all crying together about the huge success they’ve had.
And we’re going to be friends forever, right?
Isn’t that what you want with your customers?
You lead to your solution.
You build credibility on the path, you build trust, and you build long
lasting relationships based on the success that you found together.
So it sounds like you’re saying that,
you know, because obviously the buyer needs to be compelled to action.
So in this case, when you’re taking them through that emotional journey,
they almost feel like they’re taking that action themselves.
Well, yeah, absolutely.
It’s really about this situation.
If you think about,. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone
to a personal trainer before or anything like that, but, you know, you wouldn’t
go to a personal trainer and go, hey, listen, here’s 50 bucks.
I want to lose a couple of pounds, like maybe 5 pounds in the next three months.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to walk over
to that treadmill and I’m going to go walk on it for 10 minutes.
I’m going to do 30 pushups, and then I’ll be out of your hair, right?
Like, that would be stupid.
Like, what’s the point of the personal trainer?
The personal trainer’s job is to sit there and go, Hey, listen,
I think you can accomplish more than you
thought you could.. Have you thought about this?
Have you thought about that? Hey, based on what your goals really are
and what we think you can accomplish, I’m going to put together a plan for you
that’s going to help you get there
with maybe the least amount of friction possible, Are you cool with that?
Who wouldn’t say yes to that? Right.
And that’s our job
as a salesperson, is to go, Hey, this is how you view your world.
Absolutely cool.
We work with a lot of customers and clients like yours
that have seen this, and this as an issue, too.
Have you seen that?
Especially if you’re selling to companies that their world is online?
You can actually experience what it’s like to be a consumer
and bring fresh ideas to them.
Like, Hey, we went through this process, we saw this and this.
It was something that we used to do a lot at ExactTarget,
where we would explore what it was like to be a consumer of theirs.
They would share what their issues are,
and we would go, Hey, have you thought about this as an opportunity or this?
It’s not that hard right?
And take them through the data and the logic around that.
And then again, based on whether there’s alignment
and how far they want to go with it, you then go to, Hey, listen,
based on our understanding of what you’re trying
to accomplish in a couple of these new ideas, this is the path we would take.
And again, it’s simple it doesn’t require all new slides.
It just means let’s change the order of them, move that NASCAR
slide to the end, move that award slide to the end and use it,
you build credibility through the approach that you take in your consulting nature,
not through your awards, your accolades and your NASCAR slide.
I mean, those reality makeover TV shows.
Wow would those be boring if every episode started
with 10 minutes of the individual sharing all the awards they won
and all the people they’ve helped, you’d be like, Oh, like, get to it, right?
Make it about the customer.
Todd, you mentioned that
those slides, like the famous logo slide, that that can actually be polarizing.
Can you explore that a little bit for me?
I’d love to.
So like think about that for all of you.
And when I was a chief revenue officer, my old my last company,
Power Reviews, I had a joke for my team and it was a joke,
but everybody was kind of like,
I don’t know
if I want to push that button, but the joke was if I see a NASCAR slide
in the first five slides of any deck you’ve put together,
whoever did it’s fired, right?
Not the funniest joke in the world,
but there was a reason I was so passionate about this, and here’s why.
Imagine that you are walking into a presentation.
It’s a consensus sale, right?
So you’ve got ten buyers that are sitting there waiting to hear from you.
Now, due to cognitive bias that we all have.
Right. Sir Francis Bacon the year 1620.
He was the one that theorized this idea that once we’ve established an opinion,
we will take in all incoming information to support that opinion.
Whether or not that information actually supports your opinion or not.
And so the same thing happens with the logic that you share.
You can’t imagine that all ten of those people walk into your presentation
with an absolutely clean slate and no opinion right?
They all do.
And so let’s think about those ten.
Five of them are for you.
You put your NASCAR slide up, it’s got all these amazing logos.
Those five people will look at that and go Wow.
Yeah, that’s impressive. You know what?
If they’re good enough for them, they’re good enough for us.
I’m going to use that. Right. Cool.
Same slide, same logos, the five that are against you, what are they going to do?
Well, three of them are going to look at it
and go, well, those are some big companies.
Wow. We’re going to be a small fish in a big pond.
You know what? I’m going to use this against them.
And those other two are looking at it going,
wow, these logos are all industries like, do they even know us?
Do they know
we’ve got
very specific requirements in our industry and they’re working on all of this?
I’m going to use this against them.
That same thing happens with each one of your logic slides.
One quick example that I think is kind of funny, but it was me, I guess
I was being I hope I didn’t come across as a jerk when I did this to a client,
but one of my clients is in the antivirus technology space.
Slide number two is their award slide.
And they this happened last year, so end of 2021
when I had this discussion.
The award slide had,
we are the antivirus technology provider of the year
for 2019.. And they’re so proud of it
because are so many in that space why wouldn’t you be proud of it.
And so we’re going through it and they popped that up and I was like hey
quick question, who won it in 2020?
Because clearly you didn’t right.
Otherwise you would have had the 2020
and it sounds like in that space with a lot of companies
there is somebody better that maybe we should be talking to
and they’re like, ah we hate you, Todd.. But the point being
think about your logical slide, right?
If you’ve got an audience that comes in with any kind of preconceived opinion,
what you’re doing is you’re not bringing them together, pushing them apart,
pushing them into the corners that they already came into the room with.
What happens in stories, is stories from a behavioral science perspective,
when stories are being played for individuals and they’re hooked up to
what’s called an FMRI machine, functional magnetic resonance imaging machine,
the scientists that are
looking at this, there’s ten people watching a movie together.
It looked like they were looking at ten of the exact same brains.
Now, isn’t that what you want when you’re selling to a consensus audience
that all of these people are thinking and paying attention and listening
on the exact same wavelength versus pushing them into their corners further?
I think, you know, it presents a tremendous opportunity
and it’s a simple flip, reorder your slides so they not only tell a great story,
but they lead to your solution instead of lead with it.
That’s so interesting because I do think that you’re giving
people ammunition to pick you apart when you give them those facts.
But when you’re telling them a story
they can’t help but go along that journey with you.
So just to be clear, you’re not saying abandon the slide decks altogether,
but you’re suggesting improvements that give it more of a story arc.
Yeah, exactly.
I mean,
if you want some simple way to think about it, right?
Like what I like to write down on a whiteboard is just, A to B.
So this is the choreography that you can use at the highest level
where A is the customer’s current step.
B is the customer’s potential future state and in the middle, is why A
is maybe not sustainable or maybe not exactly the way that you view it.
If all you do is reorder it that way, start with the customer,
teach them a little bit about their current state,
give them a new perspective on it, and then lead to what
a potential future state looks like again, instead of leading with it.
That’s the arc that all of these shows use that makes you want to watch them
and makes you want to cry along with them at the end of every episode,
but also has tremendous impacts on the way that you sell in a B2B world.
And it’s really not that hard.
All right.
Well, I am a bit of a reality TV fan, so that gives me a lot to think about, Todd.
Thanks so much for your insight on this topic.
Well, thanks for having me.
And I hope I haven’t ruined reality make over TV shows for all of you.
But it could be a new lens the next time you do.
Hey, thanks, everybody, for joining us on this episode
of Closing Time, the show for go-to-market leaders.
Be sure to subscribe.
Hit that bell for notifications and we’ll see you next time.

You may also like:

See all episodes
SaaS Demo Best Practices: How to Crush Your Next Demo Call
Sell More & Discount Less with These B2B Sales Negotiation Tips
5 Discovery Call Tips to Help Buyers Overcome the Status Quo Bias