Tell the Right Story

By Phillip Khan-Panni

Your Business Presentation and your Elevator Speech have something unexpected in common – they possibly tell the wrong story. A very high proportion of business presentations fail for the same reason that Elevator Speeches frequently induce listeners to roll their eyes and drift away. The clue lies in the answer to the most frequently asked question in business, which is “What do you do?”

Most people think the question means, “What business are you in?” In fact it means, “Why should I find you interesting?”

When people deliver a presentation about their business, or when they are networking, and even when they compose their resumes, if they tell the wrong story it will fail to land.

Too many business presentations say: this is who we are, this is what we do, this is how we do it, and here’s a picture of our factory. No one cares! They only want to know what you can do for them. And that means, what’s your Added Value?

Let’s take a look at some people telling the wrong story, and you can decide if it applies to you.

What was he saying about himself?

Recently I was asked to review the resume of a young man in his mid 20s. As it stands, the resume is doomed to fail. Following an old-fashioned format, it opens with his education. I couldn’t believe he actually wrote, “Second class honours, averaging 67 % across all courses.” Then his high school qualifications!

Using the term “second class” Is a serious mistake. He’s telling the world he’s second class, fresh out of uni, 67%, no better than average, Why look any further? In the bin.

In reality, this is who he is:

Young achiever with a 2:1 in Economics and Political Science and a track record of excellence in a range of sports. Numerate Market Researcher and proactive networker with conversational Spanish and an eclectic mix of work experience, including re-insurance, marketing and dealing with the public. He has advanced communication and social skills, robust work ethic and unwavering integrity. 

That’s who he really is. He’s been telling the wrong story.

Exceptional turn-round

Margaret’s morale was on the floor. Unexpectantly made redundant from a senior role in industry, all her job applications were failing. Then someone told her about me. 

We met online and I set up a mock interview. I said, “Tell me about yourself” and she ran through her job history and qualifications. I said, “Wrong story. They don’t care where you’ve been. They prefer to know where you can take them – how they will benefit from taking you on.”

I showed her a picture of two men holding up placards. One stated, “Hire me. These are my qualifications.” The other stated, “Down but not out.” I asked her which was the more interesting person. She picked the latter.

Based on her understanding of that picture, I helped her to realise her own Added Value, telling her, “This is who you are, this is what you bring to the table. and this is what you tell them you are offering.” I re-wrote her CV and coached her in handling an interview. She sent the CV to six companies, got 5 interviews and four job offers.

All because she told the *right* story and believed in her own Added Value. 

Adding drama to the picture

Years ago I met a brilliant artist in St Ives, Cornwall. He was painting an underwater scene depicting a sunken man-o’-war with a couple of divers exploring the wreck. He called it The Final Resting Place. Someone had upset him by saying no man-o’-war had even sunk complete, as he was showing it. But he did some research and learned that The Royal George had done just that.

I immediately quoted, “Toll for the brave, the brave that are no more, all sunk beneath the wave, fast by their native shore.” Startled, he said, “What’s that?” I told him it was a poem called “On the loss of the Royal George.”

I picked up his leaflet promoting the new painting and said, “The Final Resting Place is simply about a ship that sank. It’s a label. Wrong story. This should be about the valiant men who went down with their ship. It adds drama.” So I redesigned his leaflet with the more evocative headline, “Toll for the brave, the brave that are no more.” 

Last August we met again in St Ives and he thanked me for my help, saying my leaflet had helped him sell many copies of the painting. It told a better story.

The one and only 

Also in St Ives we met Hillary Mayes, an artist who could make you weep with the tenderness of her pictures of animals. She asked for help with her leaflet which states: Hilary Mayes, Wildlife artist. I said no, wrong story. You are saying you are just another artist who paints wildlife. But you are better than most others. 

I added one word to the front, the word “The”. Now it reads: Hilary Mayes, The Wildlife Artist. What a difference that one word made! On the inside I added one sentence, “She captures the essence of the wildlife she portrays.” She said, “That’s exactly what I am about.”

So ask yourself this: what makes you “The” one and only something? You could be The Helpful One, The Problem Solver or something else. That’s a good starting point for the right story.

Finally …

A few words of guidance:

  • Don’t be a label: don’t define yourself by your job title
  • Find your Added Value: what’s the benefit of what you do?
  • Why would anyone deal with you and not with someone else?
  • Can you call yourself “The” something or other?

Above all, tell the right story, and tell it well.

About the Author

Phillip Khan PanniPhillip Khan-Panni is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit


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