Entrepreneurs are constantly pitching, sharing their vision and venture in order to secure funding, make a sale, meet a new contact, and build out their team. Business plans are boiled down to bullets, and financials become memorized statistics.
Although these elements are vitally important to a successful pitch, the real power comes from telling a compelling narrative story.
“I see lots of pitches where the presenters are like ‘data data data data, industry, descending funnel’ and that’s it,” says Babson Entrepreneurship Senior Lecturer Caroline Daniels.
“If you can make your pitch an experience and talk about why you’re going to make a difference and how it will affect your customer, then your audience can get excited about it because you’re bringing them on board,” she says. “You’re reaching down into your human experience and inviting them to share it.”
How can you turn a pitch into an engaging story that motivates your audience to believe in your vision? What does it take to make a story sing? Here are five recommendations from storytelling experts:
Craft Your Story
Every story needs a beginning, middle, and end that leaves the audience informed about your passion and the action you’re taking. Remember that empathy is what grabs the audience, so build that sense of empathy as you tell the story. It’s often easiest when the narrator/entrepreneur stars as the protagonist, but try to shift the customer into that role early in your pitch. It’s more relatable for the audience, and more likely to get them hooked.
Enrich Stories With Data
Stories and data can and should work together. Stories set the context for a pitch and for your audience’s experience, so embed the data into the pitch in a way that extends and supports the story line. “Believe me, the VCs, angels, and customers in your audience will be listening for it,” says Daniels.
Empathize With Your Customer
The best businesses are those that solve a customer’s problem, but the solution doesn’t have to be flashy or sophisticated to make for a good story. If you understand the pain points for your specific customer and empathize with them specifically, you’re more likely to inspire them to buy.
Salesforce, a cloud computing company that provides software as a service is a great example of a company that tells its stories well. “Salesforce initially made tailored videos aimed at all their different kinds of customers such as small business owners and sales teams,” says Daniels. “They eventually switched narrators and now the customers are the ones telling the story in YouTube videos.”
Develop A Deep Bench
Entrepreneurs need to have more than one go-to story, because no two pitching environments or audiences are the same. Here are a few story lines that entrepreneurs need to master about their ventures:
- Genesis Story – This is your “why,” not the “what” or “how.” Why do you exist? What’s at your core?
- Core Team – How did you meet each other? How were the connections between team members formed? How did you discover you needed each other?
- Customers and Stakeholders – Why should they care about this venture? Who else do you need to take along on your journey?
- Short, Medium, and Long – Crafting a concise pitch is a challenge, but the key elements—why you’re involved and why your customers are involved—stay the same. This is best done in a story, just be sure to quickly move to the solution.
Richard Saul Wurman, master storyteller and the architect of the 18-minute TED talk, has said, “A good question is better than a brilliant answer.” Some of the most valuable feedback for an entrepreneur can come in the form of questions about their story. Daniels suggests enlisting help from friends to uncover these questions—find out what parts of your story were unclear, and what questions came up in their minds as they listened.
As someone who has sat in the judge’s seat in countless pitch contests and accelerators, Daniels offers one final piece of advice: “A good story is really what will differentiate your venture from others. I’ve noticed the ones who can best tell their story and get people on board are the ones that win.”