Why Storytelling is Your Startup’s Secret Weapon — and How to Use it NOW

Storytelling — it seems to be one of the hottest buzzwords today. Everyone says that you must be a good storyteller — but does anyone really know what that means?

Omer Perchik, CEO and Founder of Any.do, who has raised several million dollars and grown a very successful company commented on an entrepreneur forum discussing tips and tricks to put into an investor deck:

“The ability to tell a story is crucial for every business, but not every entrepreneur has the ability to do it flawlessly from the get go. There are those that it comes more naturally to (Like Steve Jobs) and there are those that need more help and practice.”

So who was right? Are people born storytellers? Can everyone do it on their own or do they need the help of a professional storyteller?

I actually think both hold true — on the one hand, I’ve seen great startups struggle for way too long to tell their story because, well, it’s hard to “sell” our own baby simply and to the point. On the other hand, storytelling is ingrained in our DNA.

People often are confused by the term “Story” — they think it’s just about standing around telling anecdotes, insert a meaningless joke or “dumbing down” serious materials to the level of stupid or silly. On the contrary -

  • Stories are thousands of years old, they’re the reason information has survived from generation
  • Our brains are hardwired for a structured story — while they can’t deal with mounds of data
  • We learn through stories — I’ve seen my 8-year-old niece, actively discussing elements of the story from her favourite book with zeal, even though she’s heard it hundreds of times. She gets it and has become a storyteller in her own right
  • Stories inspire, captivate, resonate and influence! — aren’t those the things you want when pitching for fundraising or sales?
  • And the best thing — Stories are universal — we find storytelling in every culture, religion, and geography

Storytelling is the difference between rattling off data and giving it meaning. When we read a good book, — we are swept into the story, time and space fall away — and it’s sad to end it. We don’t look for 100% historical accuracy, technical data or facts and figures — we just give ourselves over to the experience.

So how do we take this into creating winning pitches? Whether you’re raising a $1M dollar Round of funding or closing a $1M contract, here are some storytelling tips that you can start using today:

  1. Write From Your Audience’s Perspective — As the author or speaker, we already know the material well. We live and breathe it. Our audience might be hearing it or reading it for the first time. Take a 180° turn and sit your audience's chair. If you didn’t know anything about your product, what questions would you have? Make a list of those questions and make sure to answer them as you go.
  2. Ideas that Grandma Would Understand — Often we think that big words and professional jargon give us more credibility. The opposite is true — if someone in the audience doesn’t understand us, they will feel dumb and disconnect. Imagine giving your presentation to your Grandma — she’s a very smart woman but probably isn’t very familiar with what you do — so you have to explain it in a way that she understands. Finding a metaphor, an analogy or a story that illustrates what you’re doing is a great way to get through to the audience. It’s not dumbing it down, it’s making the audience feel smarter which draws them to you and invite engagement. Even if you have a room of technical experts, elevate it — they get bored too!
  3. Build the Suspense — Every suspenseful story has a great villain. What is the villain/pain/challenge/struggle in their life that you’re solving? Open with this, tell a story about how the Villain has affected you, people, you care about, the world at large. Let them feel the pain, see that you “get it” and really want to know how your product/service/idea will solve it.
  4. Visualize the Idea — We are visual creatures, we need to see things to understand them. Imagine Steve Jobs just telling us about the iPad instead of showing it when it first launched. Would it have had the same effect? Images on your slides that illustrate the big idea help us understand, grasp the concept and make us smile or even laugh. Showing a simple demo or video of your product can also achieve this.
  5. Close with a Punch — There’s nothing more disappointing than reading a great book and having the ending feel like the author ran out of ideas and ended haphazardly. If you open with a bang, end with a punch — cap off the “Villain” story you started with, add an inspiring quote, or maybe a vision of what’s to come — something that leaves them going “Wow, I can’t wait to read the sequel!” Meaning you’ve won an avid follower and believer.

Omer is right — some people simply need more practice than others and there’s no shame in that — but the more you practice the better you’ll get and the easier it becomes. Suddenly, stories are a part of all of your communications — and as Rudyard Kipling said -

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

So, become an unforgettable storyteller for your company, and get the results you want.

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This article was originally posted on Medium.com by Donna Griffit.