A step-by-step guide to planning successful SKOs (sales kickoffs)

Dave DeFranco

Written by

Dave DeFranco

Since we’re a story telling company, we are going to share two quick “speed stories” about two of our favorite sales kick off presentations we’ve worked on here at Duarte.

We had the privilege working with a Fortune 100 tech company that was going to announce a reorg and a new commission structure at their upcoming Sales Kick Off (SKO), and they expected people to be very emotional about it. They told us their sales team was already tired and had some morale challenges. Our client asked us to help them deliver their sales kick off presentation in a way that would minimize people quitting and get their reps through the emotion of the new commission structure as fast as possible to avoid a dip in productivity.

We’re proud to say that we did it! We unpacked the news in a way that led to almost no attrition and almost no dip in productivity. In fact, the sales team’s feedback was quite positive, saying things like “I felt seen and cared about,” and “You answered everything I needed to know, before I had to ask it.” That was fun. 


Executive Communication colored butto


Next, we had the opportunity to work with a Fortune 1000 security company planning for their SKO meeting. This sales organization had a unique situation where they were gathering an elite, specialty sales group for their own kick off meeting a few days prior to the general sales kick off meeting.

These specialty sales teams had done such a great job selling the company’s emerging technology that it was now time to integrate these products into the general sales force, to be sold as part of their broader solutions. This meant those specialist sellers would be also moving into the general sales population. 

We were able to help the comms team understand that these specialty sellers thought of themselves as lone wolves – and they were going to have issues becoming just one in the pack. These elite sellers wouldn’t be receptive to hearing about future sales targets unless their concerns about being integrated into the general sales force were addressed.

This sales kick off talk needed to drive sales alignment. This team needed to hear:

  • What their roles would be in the new team structure;
  • That they’d be held up as the experts and closers;
  • And that they’d be part of more sales deals – that were also much bigger.

We were able to influence the president to change their sales kick off presentation to focus on the team’s integration so these elite sellers would understand their role, and would be more receptive to what was being asked of them. 


Best sales kick off ideas

These two stories are some of many of our best sales kick off ideas. Over the years, we have developed quite the library, but we shared these two in a recent words go hereDuarte webinar hosted by Becky Bausman, Executive VP of Customers & Growth, and Dave DeFranco, Director of Strategy Services. Also shared – and the main topic of the webinar – were 4 tips to nail your next sales kick off or revenue kick off (RKO).

4 tips to nail your next sales kick off

There are many ways to approach your sales kick off, but we believe if you follow these four tips you can elevate your next kick-off keynote, hitting all the right content and emotional chords, and boost the impact from just good to potentially great.

  1. Start with them
  2. Establish a Big Idea™
  3. Structure the talk into 3 acts
  4. Weave in a personal story

Throughout the webinar, Becky and Dave followed two different example cases to demonstrate how each of these tips applied to different and unique situations. They also provided a useful framework so you can think through each of the tips as it pertains to your sales kick off situation.


Sales kickoff talk


Sales kick off tip 1: Start with them

How many times have you started your presentation by thinking about all the things you want to say? A lot of us, right? We start with a list of what we need to cover. Maybe we even open a blank presentation and type up a sales kick off agenda. Resist that urge. Instead, reflect on the question, “Who is my audience?” 


Audience resources colored button


Consider where they are when they come into the sales kick off session.

  • How will they be feeling?
  • How are they performing?
  • What information and skills gaps would they perceive they have?
  • What do they need to hear from you at this sales kick off event to be successful in the new year?

If you don’t know what your audience needs to hear, the things that you want to tell them will fall flat. If you don’t pay attention to how they’ll be feeling, you won’t strike the right emotional chords, which can prevent this sales kick off meeting from helping you meet your goals.  

This is going to give you a solid empathetic foundation from which to build your talk, so it lands. This will also set you up for tip 2.

Sales kick off tip 2: Establish a Big Idea™

OK, so you’ve reflected on your audience and their need by downloading our Audience Needs Map™. Great. Now it’s time to think through the list of messages you want to get across. What you want to do next is to establish a single, concise Big Idea™ – think of this as the one thing you really want your audience to take away from your talk, if they only remember that one thing.

There’s an art to formulating a Big Idea™ that really works. In The Duarte Method™, used by high performing brands at high stakes moments all over the world for the past three decades, a Big Idea™ has a formula that looks like this.


Take your unique point of view – coupled with the stakes of your audience believing or acting on your idea – or not believing and acting on it. Aim to make this a single concise sentence. Make it clear.  If you can’t do that, and your page is too crowded, ask, what would I cut if I had to? What’s really the essence of what I want to communicate?

This statement will be your north star for writing and structuring your talk. What to include, and what not to. If it’s not serving the Big Idea™, consider communicating it outside the realm of this speech.  

  • Think like your audience, consider your analysis of them.
  • What does it all boil down to if you had to write just one POV?
  • Consider what the stakes are.
  • Can you get it to one tight sentence?

With that complete, you’re ready for tip 3.

Sales kick off tip 3: Structure the talk into 3 acts

Okay, so now that you have considered your audience and established your Big Idea™, it’s time to determine the flow of your talk. Tip 3 is to structure the talk into three acts that make up the most basic of story structures: A beginning, middle, and an end.

The beginning is just that – the place your audience begins. Use this act to set the stage, explain what “is” and acknowledge the feelings, gaps, and needs that you know are in the room. The middle act is where the action happens – it’s where things get messy, and challenges arise and are faced. And the third act is the end, where heroes emerge transformed, where resolution happens, where the tension that’s been rising gets released.

You’ll want to organize all your thoughts into a flow that capitalizes on this fundamental story form, because it helps your audience follow and connect to your story so much more.

The middle is the area where most of your content will fall. The Duarte Method™ would advise you to fill this section with a sort of call and response, alternating between the lows of “what is” and the challenges you face, and the highs of “what could be” and the opportunities you have.

The founder of our company and of the Duarte Method™, Nancy Duarte, calls this “give and take” the “shape of a great presentation,” and refers to the shape as a “Presentation Sparkline™” or the “Persuasive Presentation Form™” – note the contrast and movement between what is (at the bottom), and what could be (at the top). She gave a great TED talk on this so you can learn more about this.

  • Create a “messy middle” and put the Presentation Sparkline picture there.
  • Use stickies to structure your talk points.
  • Give your talk an opening that sets the stage and acknowledges your audience’s needs.
  • Consider the points that support your Big Idea™.
  • Think through how to toggle between a possible objection or concern, and your vision or answer to it.

You’re now ready to start thinking about the right story that will make the connection to your sellers.

Sales kick off tip 4: Weave in a personal story

You started with audience empathy and their needs. You framed your talk using a succinct Big Idea™ to help you focus your talk. You structured your supporting points in a three-act structure using contrast between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’. Weaving in a story is what’s going to elevate the emotive power of your talk just one more level.

Maybe you’re a natural storyteller (we have a training for that by the way). Maybe it’s muscle memory. But for a lot of us, it doesn’t come as easy, and that’s okay. It’s a practice. To those of you in this camp, our tip is just to try it. Weave one story into your talk track and see how it impacts the way your presentation lands with your team.

Your story doesn’t have to be deeply personal and vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be a fluffy fairytale. But done well, adding a story will:

  • Drive a point home;
  • Build trust and rapport;
  • And sometimes simply make you as a speaker more believable, memorable, and approachable.

If this feels unnatural or new for you, consider the one aspect of your talk that might be the hardest to believe, embrace, or understand. Reflect on what’s underlying that. Can you tie it to an emotion? Or to an attribute, like the complexity or abstract nature of the idea? 

Then, brainstorm a story from your own life and leadership that might help. An analogy. Add it in. Try it and see how it feels. Dip a toe, if nothing else, take the risk if it’s uncomfortable, and then ask for feedback from some trusted audience members about how it worked. With practice, the right stories can move people in heart and in mind.  

  • Choose one tough point and its underlying concern.
  • Brainstorm possible stories that address that concern.
  • Insert one. Just try it.

Watch the full webinar

Now that you understand the tips – hear Becky and Dave put them into action as they contextualize each tip for two different situations. The examples in the webinar can help you work through your own framework for your next SKO or RKO presentation.


4 tips to nail your next sales kickoff colored button

Need some fast help to get your SKO talk over the finish line?

If you have a start to your SKO deck, but you need some expert help to make sure it will resonate with your sales audience, join one of our expert facilitators in a series of working sessions that guide you confidently through the Duarte process. Our Accelerator Lab™ lets you walk away with lifelong skills – and a new SKO deck.

We’re here to help you with your next sales kick off presentation

Duarte’s agency creative teams have made countless sales kick off presentations for leaders, from keynotes to breakout sessions. We work with teams end to end, we have a lab where we create them side by side with the presenters, and we have team training workshops where we teach people how to structure, design, and deliver impactful presentations. This has given us a line of sight into what works and doesn’t, at companies just like these – and many more. Reach out and let us help you go from good to great at your next SKO.


Resonate course workshop CTA

Duarte logo

Check out these related courses

Presentation Principles™

Learn presentation basics

Follow a step-by-step method to write compelling stories, amplify ideas visually, and present with confidence while learning at your own pace.