Business Storytelling Techniques: Problem → Solution

We’ve spent a lot of time over the years writing about “the new communication age” and life in a “post-PowerPoint world.” Communication skills have never been more important than they are right now.

And one of the best ways to communicate in a powerful way is through the use of story. Story can be used in lots of ways. Story could mean an example or anecdote or experience that can be related to your business point. Story can also mean a certain type of technique to quickly explain your recommendation or idea. And one of the best story telling techniques we know is called “Problem→Solution.” We use it and teach it all the time.

The idea is really simple. Before you do anything else in your presentation or conversation, articulate the problem you are trying to solve. “We have a problem with our cost structure, because our supply chain isn’t as clean and efficient as it could be. And if we don’t deal with it, it will hurt us significantly.” Many people move too quickly in their presentation to trying to sell their idea. But often, before you can think about selling the idea, you first have to build alignment around the problem. Sell the problem first; build consensus around that, before you do anything else. If you and your colleagues don’t agree that there IS a problem, or don’t agree on the gravity or root cause of the problem, then nothing else in your presentation is even worth discussing. You’ll never get that far.

Once you have articulated and built alignment around the problem, THEN it is time to articulate your solution. “And our team is recommending that, as a solution, we take a look at our contracts with vendors in three areas – fuel, trucking, and air freight.

Then, after you have articulated the solution, the final step is to sell the benefits of your recommended solution, preferably in a list no longer than three items long.

So, as a basic outline, follow this:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Quantify and “sell” the problem. Make it feel real and unignorable.
  3. Identify your solution.
  4. Quantify and map out the benefits of your solution. Make it feel achievable.
  5. Ask for consensus.

All too often, the critical component of this technique, and the part that many people miss, is to first build awareness and consensus around the problem. Do that first, and the rest becomes comparatively easy. I say this all the time in workshops… make them FEEL the pain of the problem. Once the room agrees that there is a problem, and that it can’t be ignored, the easier it is to get support for the solution you are recommending.

Problem→Solution. It is a great technique, that will help you achieve clarity, brevity, context, impact and value.

Good luck!

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.