Prior to becoming a Solutions Engineer, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies. It was a pretty incredible experience. I spent my undergrad watching and analyzing the classics — The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca — and learning from the masters in visual storytelling. I also had a chance to tell stories of my own through writing, directing, and producing my own films. Since pivoting my career to SE work, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I learned in my time studying and making movies and how many of those lessons are incredibly applicable to telling effective stories in our demos.  

Something we spent a lot of time on in film school was the concept of “show, don’t tell,” a screenwriting and storytelling tenant that helps writers root their storytelling in action. It’s about showing your audience your story, characters and themes rather than simply telling these things to them. 


Think about your favorite movie. Picture the main character in that movie. Does that character tell you everything they’re doing as they do it, or detail everything they’re thinking and feeling? Or do they express emotions, take actions, and make decisions right before your eyes in ways that move the narrative forward?

Great stories show us, rather than tell us, what’s happening. And if we want to inspire our customers to buy from us, we must do the same things as Solutions Engineers when we show our product. Every SE has an opportunity to tell incredible visual stories through their demos, and we do this by showing, not telling.

To learn from the masters of “show, don’t tell” and become effective storytellers, let’s turn to Pixar. From Finding Nemo to The Incredibles to Up, Pixar is second to none in taking their audience on an emotional journey through incredible character development and masterful storytelling. 

Emma Coats, a story artist at Pixar, documented 22 rules of storytelling in her book “The Pixar Touch” - and I thought these 4 in particular really resonated and translated to how we can be more effective storytellers in a demo. 

#2: You’ve gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

Focus on the audience, and what impacts them - not you or what you think is cool or interesting about your solution. It is all about them. 

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

By showing less, you can simplify and focus your demo down to what matters most to your customer. You don’t want to show them everything that your software does — just what is going to change something for them. 

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

If you’re going to inspire conviction in your buyer, you need to feel that conviction too. Help them understand why you believe they must buy your solution.  

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

What happens if your customer doesn’t buy from you? What happens if they don’t make that change? Help them understand what happens if they do move forward so they understand the stakes and risk of going a different route.

There’s so much we can learn from Pixar, and so many other great storytellers. I hope you’ll think through how you can do the same when prepping for your next demo!

Source: https://www.davidaprice.com/pixar-story-rules

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