Pitching & Presenting

Great Story. Wrong Hero. The Value of Being the Mentor.

Great Story. Wrong Hero. The Value of Being the Mentor.

So you’re preparing for an important presentation or pitch, and you’ve crafted a great story. But do you have the wrong hero?

Here’s why it’s more compelling — and valuable — to position yourself not as the hero in the story, but as the mentor.

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Several years ago, the CEO of a startup was preparing for a prospective client pitch. He was also planning to use much of the material in his upcoming Talk at an important industry conference. He had several anecdotes and stories, all of them powerful in their own right.

When he began his third one, my discomfort became noticeable.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You’re not going to like this,” I replied. “All your stories are about you.”

“Hey! You’re the guy who says that emotions sell,” he said. “This stuff comes from deep within. What better way to tell an emotional story than to be my story?”

“You want to give the most compelling Talk you can, right? Ultimately, you want to sell.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Stay with stories,” I said, “but tell someone else’s story! When it comes to conference Talks, audiences today are getting tired of the ‘My Struggle and Your Lesson’ Talks. This will sound brutal, and I’m not singling you out, but, rather, an entire army of presenters and vendors out there today. It’s all becoming… a bit narcissistic.”

“But I want to show the audience that I’m battle-tested. What better way to show my expertise than to show them I’ve been through this, too?”

“Do you want your prospects to see you as likable and emotionally vulnerable… or professional and commercially valuable?”


“A knee surgeon may have never had knee surgery. Does that make the guy with the bad knee the expert? Which one of the two would you wish to give you advice on your knee, or even operate on it?”


You are not the hero. Your customer is.

The best salespeople know this.

So do the best writers throughout history. They know what makes a great hero… and what makes a compelling and “valuable” mentor.

In storytelling, the hero is not what many of us, exposed to pop culture, think it is. She is not the one who has all the answers and solutions. He is not the one who rescues another cat from another tree.

In great literature over the centuries, and in great storytelling timelessly and universally, heroes struggle! They don’t have all the answers, and they crave for… love guidance.

No struggle, no story. And the more compelling the struggle, the more compelling the story.

A classic example is Harry Potter.

One of the great lines in this great work of our time is when Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry is the Hero. And Harry was, at this point in the story, struggling with a decision, a choice.

Your prospects have a choice, too: the competition, no decision at all… or you!


So now you have a choice.

When you prepare your next pitch or conference Talk or speech around a story, do you want to be the Hero… or the expert?

Before you answer that, also consider this: Do you want to both captivate your audience and be seen as valuable?

If you stand up in front of a few hundred people, and essentially say, “I’m going to tell you about my struggle and what you can learn from this,” is it not possible that a third of the audience will switch off, and another third will say to themselves, “Here we go again. Another touchy-feely, vulnerable narcissist”?

Congratulations! A mere third of the audience will still be with you, and you’re not even sure if it’s the top third of your target audience!

Cynical, perhaps I am. But I’ve sat in audiences… surrounded by other audience members… and this is reality. Sure, some audience members will smile endearingly. But don’t limit your observation to the supporters.

Some audience members will quietly look at their mobile. Some will quietly leave the room. Some will look around hoping others will join them in the “Here we go again!” roll of the eyes!


So, yeah! Give me a struggle. Just make sure it’s somebody else’s.

Crafting a Talk, and certainly opening a Talk, around your “glorious struggle” really runs the danger of positioning you as self-absorbed.

If, however, you build your pitch around someone else’s struggle, it will position you as someone who has, at very least, done good research or, even better, as a professional who has helped heroes through their struggle to success.


In sales, you are not the hero! (You are the mentor.)

Harry Potter was the hero.

And Professor Dumbledore was the mentor. And what a valuable role he played, to the story… and to Harry!

Silly example? OK, let’s take the film, The Matrix.

Neo was the hero. Morpheus was the mentor.

Who can forget the classic moment in the film when Lawrence Fishburne’s character, in those mirrored sunglasses, tells Keanu Reaves’ character: “You’re the one, Neo.”

Wicked, isn’t it?

For me, it’s really wicked because like Harry Potter, The Matrix is classic, classic, Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a formula for storytelling that applies not just to literature and film making, but to business. And built within every Hero’s Journey is Finding The Mentor, and the mentor is… valuable!


The mentor is also a great salesperson!

The mentor doesn’t tell the hero too much, too soon. The mentor, or one of his tribe, entices the hero to cross the threshold, then persuades the hero to walk through the fire. (Some Hero’s Journey experts would say, to enter the belly of the whale.

The mentor can’t accomplish the mission him/herself, usually because he or she doesn’t have the power or the ability. Clients do have the power and ability, but they lack the knowledge and wisdom.

The mentor often helps the hero, um prospect, discover three things:

  1. that no one else can accomplish the mission, only the hero is capable, and
  2. that if the hero still decides not to do it, then the world will go to hell in a hand basket, evil will rule, and
  3. that the hero doesn’t have to “go it alone;” he or she can rely on a trusted advisor.

This is very persuasive. (I’ll write another post soon about how you can do this through questions, as opposed to statements, so that the prospect sells himself.)

Harry faced many choices…. and so did Neo, as so famously laid out by Morpheus.

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”


So, be the mentor, and make a past customer your hero.

There are two benefits of playing the role of the mentor, when done tactfully, of course.

  1. You won’t run the risk of two-thirds of the audience emotionally checking out of your Talk early on. A story of someone else’s struggle, on the other hand, is not self-important, and it is insightful.
  2. You will be seen as valuable!

As always, be careful not to sell from the stage. Don’t talk about your value but, indeed, show it.

That’s the craft of great business storytelling: woven into the story should be your value statement.

Even Einstein said, “Seek not to be a person of success. Seek to be a person of value.”

When people see you as the mentor, they see your value, and… they more often buy from you.

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I help sales teams improve their performance by putting the “love” into the sales process. The tools and techniques vary, but the mindset is simply a heart-set.

Let’s talk about love… and your sales performance. Contact me here or subscribe for my blog posts below at the very bottom. on the top-right. I only post about once or twice a month. So I hope you feel the value… and I hope I leave you wanting more.

I also love the telephone. (And, if you’re in sales, so should you!) So feel free to call me at +41 76 43 43 043.

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Photo by Bart