Storytelling is a really important skill for entrepreneurs or any start-up. Quite often ‘a story’ is the first thing we have (after our idea or business cards).
A story to tell potential investors
A story to tell potential customers
A story to tell potential employees
A story to tell…
The truth about stories is that they often have a corporate disguise. They are disguised as a strategy, disguised as financials, disguised as tactics. Then, on top of this, stories are obfuscated with jargon. Jargon is often the verbal license we need so that people pull down their guard. Jargon makes our stakeholders* feel comfortable that we’re on the same team as them. (* see, it does work)
Although disguised with strategy, financials and tactics, we’re trying to hold an audience – we’re storytelling.
Sometimes the audience will be VCs, sometimes the audience will be your employees, sometimes customers.
The art of the story
In fact, most of our favourite brands and revered entrepreneurs are simply great storytellers. We look forward to the next Steve Jobs instalment unleashing the latest Apple piece of gadgetry. Truth be told we look forward to Steve in his black polar neck and how he tells the story just as much as we like seeing the MacBook Air. He’s a true storytelling giant. His latest prop proves this. An envelope from which he slid out the new Macbook Air. A prop worth 50 cents. A story to remember.
An imaginative storytelling kid might have an advantage as a mid-20s entrepreneur, no doubt. But if you can’t hold a crowd in the office or the local pub, how can you sell a dream? We must be storytelling giants.
The good news is we can practice.
Polish the pearl
It sounds contrived and almost ridiculous to practice storytelling. But we’re much better off practicing in a forum where the cost of getting it wrong is nil. Getting it wrong in front of a major customer or in front of venture capitalists in a capital raising round can have a big impact, not only on your objectives and getting the venture off the ground, but on your confidence.
Any story will do. A joke, a recent news event or a quirky fact. The more we do it the better we’ll get at it. We just have to be good at talking. We’ve got to talk a good game, because this is what brings our venture to life. This is what helps us get it funded by investors, ranged in a store, reported in a newspaper. This is what gets it off the ground.
At some point we have to convince someone to do something. To take action in some way. In general, people take action because they believe in a person, not because the financials look good in a spreadsheet or it comes from a slick PowerPoint presentation. They invest in you more than your concept, product or company. Put simply, people invest in the words that flow out of your mouth.
Build your repertoire
Talking a good game doesn’t mean being funny, entertaining, hard-hitting, factual, inspirational, thought-provoking, exciting or empathic. It means being good at all of them – just at different times. We need to be able to switch our style depending on our audience. Venture capitalist certainly want a different story from our consumers, so we must adapt.
Once we’ve mastered storytelling 101 by impressing friends and family, it pays to take it to the next level. We need to be able to hold a crowd. There’s plenty of forums in which we can practice this. Your local toastmasters branch or even the Anthill Pitch Club when we’re ready to step it up and be judged.
Being a storytelling giant is not a skill anyone is born with. Like anything worth doing, it comes with practice and hard work. If we put in the effort any one can do it. Tell your story.
Stephen Sammartino escaped his cubicle after 10 years marketing global brands. He is now founder of two start-ups, recently launching rentoid – the place to rent anything – www.rentoid.com