Storytelling for dummies – P3 – tips and techniques

In the first installment of this 3 part series on storytelling we spoke about THE LEVERS OF GOOD STORYTELLING, that is, stories that connecting to mission and amplifying human emotion. In the second part we understood how to craft your story: Less Text, More Visuals.

In this part we will explore techniques that are essential cornerstones of a good story:

  1. A Moment of Transformation. All good stories hinge on the moment when a shift occurs. It might be as simple as a shift in thinking, or it might be as extreme as death. Good stories tell the before, after, and moment of change.
  2. Detail. Details immerse the reader into the story and keep them engaged. Ignite the imagination and you will hold attention. Start in the middle of the story—with the spotlight on the moment of most impact – use sensory language – hone in – describe the hairs on their arm, the pain in their stomach and the heavy breathing. Put your audience IN the story. Getting those emotional triggers is key!
  3. Emotion. If you can make someone feel, you can make them care. If you can make them care, they’ll remember you and your story.
  4. Universal Truth. This is the “human experience”. They’re the things that we all know and understand as humans: loss, grief, joy, failure, love, and all the lessons that teach us those things. Wrapping a story in a universal truth makes it applicable and impactful to everyone.

What do you think is essential in a story to make it compelling and memorable?

Zach Schildhorn, partner in Lux Capital, after analyzing thousands of stories told by entrepreneurs seeking funding, has distilled a formula based on three ingredients that can be helpful in creating effective stories:

Stories have the power to drive decision-making, even at the highest levels. It is because they possess human elements that span over history and time. **We are uniquely designed to respond to them, even in our sleep – our mind is telling us stories.

  1. Make someone care** – appealing to their interest. Investors: want to make money, by being part of something special – can you make them see the dollars at stake without spelling out for them the process of getting there.
  2. Make it interesting – build concepts, piece by piece and let the audience do the work of placing them together – rewire people’s brain, challenge their idea of where a market lies, yet keep it familiar through a simple storyline. Hinting is better than teaching.
  3. Make it human – relatability, through strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and challenges. Superman is not interesting without kryptonite. Emotion builds trust and credibility – connect through humor, empathy, vulnerability or other range of emotions – especially personal ones. Learning from failure is key here. Failure is a teacher, especially about approach to market, customer behaviors – clear example, MVPs showcase alot about resolve and perseverance.

Being genuine builds trust. Trust is the key to getting anything done, being vulnerable doesn’t weaken your authority. It strengthens everyone else around you.

You have to make investors believe how much you believe in it, and how much you want to go on that journey with them — even if neither of you knows how big it can get. When you’re in pitches, you should make your case not to raise money, but because you’re so excited about what you could possibly accomplish.

Great Stories Are Practiced

The first thing to know is that no pitch is static. It evolves based on whom you’re talking to, where you are, what you need to get across.

Your pitch has to be as dynamic as your startup itself. The best stand-up comedians practice their routine for a year, so many times that they can work a crowd back and forth, move the routine wherever they need to. It’s only by working the transitions in and out of your key points that you’ll actually get a real handle on the various bridges you can use to get to where you need to be in the conversation.

If they are trying to pull you toward one topic, listen to them and adjust accordingly but keep the story’s structure intact. You have designed the story to build toward the conclusion that they have to invest in you. You have to build that case no matter what.

Visual Storytelling

Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine… All these trendy social media sites are based on visuals.

“Facts bore, stories sell” is a common saying.

1. Show, don’t tell

It’s no coincidence that Charlie Chaplin’s movies remain among the biggest classic movies of all time. Possibly, not being able to rely on spoken word made him a better storyteller. He fully understood and used the power of showing without words.

Show the benefits of your product, don’t tell people about them. If you can feature someone using your product and service, and having an easier life for it, that will do wonders for your marketing. Avoid listing features you offer, demonstrate how you believe in these advantages through your product’s UX/UI design.

Turn bland sentences into an enthralling, full-color story. Showing means using sensory details and describing actions to direct a mental movie in your reader’s mind. Dramatize the key parts, with detailed and vivid descriptions.

2. Context Is Everything When it comes to brands, context can be the colors you choose, the fonts you use, your Instagram filters, or the very types of content you share with your followers. They all set the expectations of your audience, so choose them wisely.

Your brand is your story. Tell it simply. Decide on one word to own.

What’s the one word that you associate with each major car brand? “Honda is ‘reliability,’ Mercedes is ‘luxury,’ Volvo is ‘safety,’ BMW is ‘performance’ and Tesla is ‘innovative.’

Of course, different audiences come from different contexts. Your context will have to be different if you cater to baby boomers than if you cater to millennials. Or people in the US, versus people in China.

3. Show People

We certainly relate better to people than to a brand or business. So don’t tell the story of your business, but the story of the people behind it. You, your employees, your customers. Go behind the scenes, show your customers what they don’t normally see.

Make a client your story’s hero. At the heart of a client story is transformation—how a client learns, solves a problem, gains a new perspective or turns a failure into a success story. And by sharing such client success stories, turn yourself into a trusted guide.

4. Be personal, be true

Be YOU. Share something personal, unique. If you do so, no one else can share that same story, because they are not you. Carry a message. Give a lesson. Show or share a stance. Don’t be bland. It’s your stories that allow customers to get to know you and trust you. Your stories make you human, and when you dare to show your vulnerabilities, you connect with your audience more deeply.

As a general rule, true stories are powerful, because they’re human; they happened to someone like you and me. Spielberg finally won the Oscar as Best Director for Schindlers list. His movie won the Best Picture Oscar and is currently ranked #8 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute. So choosing to show your more personal side (his family was Jewish) can a have a great effect on how others perceive you.

5. Keep Moving!

There are very boring videos that show no movement at all. Just think of the way a conference talk video used to be, before TED came along. There was no movement, just a still frame of a guy talking to slides. TED changed this and took the world by storm.

Stories need some sort of timeline, a sense of going from place A to place B. This is called story arc, or character arc (whenever a character undergoes a transformation), and the best way to depict this is with movement.

In storytelling, lack of movement equals lack of conflict. That is why talk videos (before TED) were usually boring.

How to pitch

When you’re at a startup, you can’t afford to play it safe.

Structure your fundraising pitch like a hero’s journey. Humans have an innate desire for relationships they can trust.

When you design your presentation, you want to make sure to emphasize the points that will drive people to the conviction that they should back your idea. You want to build your presentation and slides so that your argument only gets stronger and gains momentum as you go along.

Put your most important information first. Give everyone in the room a reason to pay attention in the first 2–3 minutes. You can’t expect them to keep hanging on until you give them the reason to be interested in you. Try to tell them why they should listen with one simple message. What that message is will vary depending on what is the biggest strength of your business.

  • If your results are still early, but you have an A+ team in terms of experience, put that in the front.
  • If you already have strong traction with your market then this should be one of your leading slides. Paying customers (especially happy ones) are the ultimate measure of your success so tell the potential investors about them immediately.
  • Do you have great sales efficiency? If so, include a slide on that and give a short narrative around it.

Never read your slides. If you find yourself doing that, you’ve already lost.

You might have 10 slides of nerdy graphs in the appendix that you can use to answer questions, but your story should be condensed to the point that you’re never even reading your slides.

Have some well-known short stories as examples — a user who loves what you’re doing, for example. Those can be useful answers to general questions. When you tell stories like that you can find ways to move the conversation to other points you want to hit.

Metrics make it easy to convey what’s going well in your business: they distill the whole thing into a language others can understand. The quantitative story becomes more important as you move from early stage to a more mature business.

FOCUS. Two universal truths of first pitch meetings are:

  1. You need to deliver a tight, focused presentation, and
  2. The goal isn’t to get a term sheet — it’s to get to the second meeting.

Pretend you only have few minutes to get through your pitch. Technically, you might have as much as an hour in the room, but pretending you only have five minutes will give you focus, you don’t need to cover every single detail in minute exactitude.

A demo doesn’t do as good a job of answering “Why you? Why now?” as you should be able to.

Try to tell the story; the image, the benefits, the history of the company it came from rather than the product itself. It works!! Both consumers and investors want something they can tell their friends about. They repeat the story.

Get people to buy in to the dream, the goal, the story. They will talk about the meeting they had. Yes, the story may change, it will likely be embellished – as long as it is remembered.

Happy storytelling.

This post is part of a 3-series about storytelling:

Part 1 – its purpose and history

Part 2 – crafting your story (with bias towards startups)

Part 3 – tips and techniques to equip storytelling into your utility belt


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