The Power Of Storytelling - Tips To Make Your Next Proposal A Winning Read

The art of storytelling dates back tens of thousands of years. It is an essential element of the advancement of our species ? the telling of fables, parables, myths and legends was the vehicle of choice for passing on advice and guidance from one generation to the next.

The first written form of storytelling dates back some 6000 years - the early cave drawings soon evolving into complex hieroglyphs. Around 2500 years ago, Aristotle codified the art of storytelling by introducing ideas of plot, character and a three act structure. And only 2000 years ago Marcus Tullius Cicero demonstrated why the Roman Senate nearly always said ?yes? to his proposals by providing a structure for persuasive argument.

It is not surprising then that we are still very receptive to receiving information in story tale form.

?The storyteller creates the experience, while the audience perceives the message and creates personal mental images from the words heard and the gestures seen. In this experience, the audience becomes co-creator of the art.? - Wikipedia
Yet the approach to the (relatively modern) phenomenon of written sales proposals rarely exploits the readers? appetite for a story.

In the modern era we can look to Hollywood for inspiration. Before any film is made, the budding writer produces a script outlining essential elements of the story (stripped of everything that does not contribute to the story?s key message). Should the script gain buy-in it is then embellished by creating a storyboard to show how the film might look visually. The power of the storyboard is that it conveys different information to the various roles involved in making the film, e.g. casting, camera positioning, set making, identifying the props which will be required etc. The storyboard is used to help plan who needs to do what when producing the film. Finally, before the film is released it undergoes test screening to gain feedback from people not involved in its creation to assess how well the story is received and where, if necessary, it can be improved.

In proposal writing this can be applied as:

  • Script = the customer requirement, your competition, your win strategy, your sales themes
  • Storyboard = your proposal breakdown structure and a thumbnail for each section.
  • Production = the bid plan
  • Test Screening = proposal review (aka red team reviews)
Applying Hollywood film-making techniques can also help overcome one of the most dangerous tactics in proposal writing ? the ?cut & paste? from your last proposal. This is mostly due to the stage fright of starting with a blank page! Producing a script is a lot less daunting.

These techniques have a cost reducing effect on your proposal effort too. It is a lot cheaper to change your 'plot' at the scripting stage than at the production stage. Yet, many of us have experienced the late nights and the last minute rush caused by late changes to strategy. Scripting and storyboarding are excellent tools to help you visualise your offer in the eyes of the buyers. And remember, test-screening doesn't have to wait until you have the completed proposal. It is just as valuable to test-screen your script and your storyboard.

Have you ever lost a deal due to the quality of your presentation at the beauty parade? No matter how good your proposal is, you can (and will) still lose if the quality of the presentation does not match. The same scripting and storyboarding techniques can be used to develop your presentation too.

Give it a go - unlock the creative potential from your bid team - and have fun at the same time!

Good Luck

Andy Murray

Outperform UK Ltd

p.s. please avoid the temptation to add 'credits' to your creative masterpieces. Your audience will have left the cinema by then!

Andy Murray is a PRINCE2 Registered Consultant and a director of Outperform UK Ltd. Andy holds a Diploma in Company Direction from the Institute of Directors (IOD) the final step to becoming a Chartered Director. Andy has been consulting in bid and project management for the last 15 years helping organisations across the globe win and then deliver profitable contracts.

Outperform UK Ltd is an Accredited Consulting Organisation (ACO) licensed to consult in the OGC's best practice products. Outperform is a corporate member of the Association for Project Management (APM), a corporate member of the Best Practice User Group and is ISO9001 certified.