Storytelling gives meaning and allows you to stand out from the mass of routine pitches. And storytelling can make the difference between a merely good pitch to an outstanding pitch.
“Those who tell stories rule the world” — Plato
Imagine this. A cozy fire burning. Embers sparkling now and then. A group huddled around the fire. The evening is sultry and warm. An old woman holds forth to her enraptured audience. The air crackles with the hum of an ancient tale, skillfully told, and reimagined. This is a village called Panayakottai in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
Reimagine this in today’s corporate world. There is no fire burning. The air conditioners may be humming, instead. But there is an audience. And there is you — the entrepreneur. Imagine you telling a story. The story of your product. A story that your audience believes in. Imagine weaving a compelling narrative that forces your audience to relate to your company.
Now, think of telling a story instead of merely ‘pitching.’
What storytelling can do
I have always been an avid reader and the stories that interest me have a depth of relatable characters who inspire and transcend. With storytelling, you can engage your audience and invest them with your personality, imagination, and the unique story behind your startup. Storytelling gives meaning and allows you to stand out from the mass of routine pitches. And storytelling can make the difference between a merely good pitch to an outstanding pitch.
Every great product has a great story behind it
When you use storytelling, you don’t push your product. You create things that are fun to talk about. Things that carry meaning and deep resonance.
Entrepreneurial pitch stories should include not only the capabilities of the company but also make the problem and its solution relatable through specific examples. This is critical because that story should focus on how the consumer derives benefit from the solution. This benefit can be monetary and/or psychological, but in the end, a tangible benefit that consumers ultimately would be willing to pay for! For example, Dream11 is India’s largest fantasy sports platform where passionate gamers have fun and are engaged all the while with the possibility of turning Rs 25 to Rs 10 lakh in just 3.5 hours of a T20 match.
In today’s intensely online world, think of the best stories that go viral. Viewers devour TED Talks, and there are many books that have been published that guide you on how to give a TED Talk. What makes a TED Talk special?
- Ted Talks are short and concise — A typical TED Talk will be about five to 18 minutes.
- They are personal and take us on a journey.
- They are bold in showing us “ideas worth spreading.”
- Ted Talks often speak about that “Ah-hah!” moment — that resolution to the problem that the story has been building up to.
How to make your business or company’s pitch a Ted Talk
Business storytelling is, of course, quite different from personal storytelling. But there is no reason why we can’t merge the elements of a good story in your startup’s pitch as well. A startup pitch too can take the basic elements of a TED Talk and take the investor on a journey. The mechanics of storytelling remain the same.
Anecdotes make a great business story. For example, RedBus co-founder Phanindra Sama often relates the story of how he missed a bus one day, and struggled to book another, leading him to eventually make bus booking more of a hassle-free experience.
Start with the basics. How did you start this business? That makes a great foundation for your pitch. From there, go to the next step. For example, a healthcare startup that focuses on online counseling might have a great backstory. Perhaps, one of the co-founder’s friends might have struggled with finding reliable and accessible counselors? These are the building blocks from where you can weave a compelling narrative.
Build in the characters
Every entrepreneur wants to solve a problem. But here is where you can pitch it better. Define the problem in the way the customer can relate to.
The plot here for your story is the problem you are trying to solve. The character is the customer. The narrator is you, the entrepreneur.
In the case of OYO Rooms, founder Ritesh Agarwal realised as a young man, that it was difficult to find budget accommodation in India that also offered some degree of predictability in standards. Here, imagine the main character, who is the hapless traveler, stranded in a new city, struggling to find quality accommodation that can meet his budget. The problem here, Ritesh discovered, was not discoverability, but standardisation. And most of us would be able to relate to that story!
Weave in the Eureka moment
TED Talks feature that “A-hah” moment, as I explained earlier, which is the resolution to the problem the entrepreneur is trying to solve. Maximise your “A-hah” moment. The company’s story is really about your vision. Here’s a video which talks about how to communicate your vision.
As Nancy Duarte wrote in ‘Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences,’ you can create an S.T.A.R moment — Something They’ll Always Remember. You can use visuals to support your Eureka or S.T.A.R moment to create emotional connections to your pitch. With OYO Rooms, Ritesh’s Eureka moment was when he realised that there was a problem of standardisation for budget rooms in India.
Be aware of time
As with the TED Talks, brevity makes a great story. You’ve got limited time to capture an audience’s attention, or else they’ll be distracted. So, keep it brief and achieve your biggest impact at the beginning. Bear in mind that the context here should be relevant to the context of the pitch. You might have just enough time for a two-minute elevator pitch, or you may even have 30 minutes to narrate your story. Prepare your story accordingly. If it is 30 minutes, ensure that you keep adequate hooks at regular intervals to draw the audience’s attention repeatedly to your story.
Many entrepreneurs sometimes make the mistake of thinking of a pitch only in terms of a PowerPoint presentation. Given the potential reach, impact, and virality of videos, see if you can integrate videos or other visuals into your storytelling pitch.
If you do want to use PowerPoint, don’t be dominated by the slides. Instead, allow the slides to be your guide, and use each one to advance your story, focusing on thought and illustration of key concepts.
This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised that most TED Talks are not spontaneous. They are carefully rehearsed. Practise that story with different audiences — from your co-founders to friendly customers to seasoned mentors. That’s when you can tell the story powerfully, authentically, and succinctly. And that’s what your pitch is — an authentic, powerful, and succinct representation of your business.
The stories that matter
This is your story. Not just your business, but your narrative. To sum up, start with what is personal to you and what you connect with. Take your audience on a narrative journey around that ‘plot.’ Build it up with an emotional connect, use powerful visuals, and always keep in mind the interest of your audience.
If you enjoy telling this kind of story, the chances are that your investors will enjoy hearing it too.
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