– By Neil Parmar
Memorizing an elevator pitch is one thing. But being a good storyteller is another.
Investors, customers and employees all need to be engaged with a startup’s story before business leaders can expect to secure outside funding, gain traction with consumers or retain their top talent as they scale in size. “Everyone is upping their game as we look at storytelling,” says Peter Evans, who has helped numerous startups raise funding and is CEO of ExpertFile, a software provider for corporate thought leaders. “You’ve got to show some intrigue, you’ve got to provoke people, you’ve got to tickle brains in different ways,” adds Evans, who mentors JOLT’s startups. Here’s how:
1. Choose your words carefully
Do: Use simple, direct language and strong, active verbs when describing your offerings. Metaphors—such as “we’re like the Zipcar for designer fashion”—can prime “the brain to hear the second or third line of a pitch,” says Evans.
Avoid: Trying too hard while making comparisons to other companies. “Metaphors are popular in the Valley,” says Evans, “but don’t think of something unimaginative.”
2. Convey your core value proposition
Do: Explain why your innovation is faster, better and cheaper than competitors. Tech providers, such as those in life sciences or education, should also describe how a device or software is compatible with other systems. “If you’re trying to force systemic changes you need to be compatible,” says Evans.
Avoid: Missing the below cues, which may mean an investor isn’t interested—and that you have questions to address the next time you try to tell your story:
- “I still don’t know what you do.”
- “Isn’t your product a ‘nice to have’ versus a real market need?”
- “So how do you make money?”
- “Do you have the right players on your team?”
3. Note the problem you’re solving
Do: Be empathetic to consumers when describing how your product or service alleviates a specific pain point. “Trying to understand what their pains are, and how you can meet that, is important,” says Ryan Holmes, CEO of the social media management company Hootsuite, which boasts more than 740 of Fortune 1,000 companies as its customers.
Avoid: Too much detail, over-used buzzwords and industry-specific jargon. (Or jargon of any kind, for that matter.) Instead, convey the magnitude of the issue you’re battling by emphasizing the right key words—”toxins,” “overbuying” or “wastage,” for instance. “How is this [innovation] better than existing methods that I could use, and how is it better than do nothing?” says Evans. “We’re often competing against inertia.”
4. Get excited when telling your story
Do: Inspire investors, customers and especially employees. “If you as a CEO or leader can’t get people excited about the opportunity of your company and what you’re doing, I think you’re going to have problems getting anyone else on board,” says Holmes, who has grown his employee base from just a handful of workers in 2008 when Hootsuite launched to more than 700 today.
Avoid: Ignoring new recruits when sharing your business’s story. Says Holmes, “If you can’t get new hires excited, how do you expect to get teams you need to build a vision of the product?”
5. Engage on the right levels
Do: Touch on three levels during an investor presentation: emotionally, rationally and financially. “I’m very big on the right use of images and graphics to evoke emotion, to evoke rational logic but also that notion of appealing to people’s sense of greed and excitement around how much money there is to be made,” says Evans.
Avoid: Being all talk. “You can tell a great story, but you also need a great product to back it up,” says Holmes. “Eventually, it’ll catch up to you.”
6. Adapt your story
Do: Highlight different aspects of your business for different types of investors. “We know from a storytelling perspective not every investor is going to go for one single story,” says Evans. “You also have to do some adaptation. It’s not changing the company.”
Avoid: Failing to address the following core components when adapting your story to different investors:
- Your team, along with a blurb about their most relevant, past work experience.
- The size, and growth, of your market.
- Any intellectual property or proprietary value as well as your business model.
- Traction you have among early adopters.
- Significant technological advantages with your particular platform.