Startup Storytelling – Create a Business Worth Talking About, and Tell Stories About Your Startup

This is one way to approach the whole of business startup, I think. In fact, it is one way of considering your value proposition. If your business is not worth talking about, then you should probably not start at all. But your business is worth talking about. Avoid second-hand stories, because yours must differentiate you.

They have to be good stories and have a purposeful message. In these days of information overload, a good story will always win over dry ‘corporate speak’ or ‘marketing hype’. If you are starting a business, your experience is a treasure trove of stories. Do not be shy. You have learned many lessons and can make them useful for others.

Entrepreneurs Stories to Attract Attention

Entrepreneurs need stories badly. If you contact someone and say, “I’m calling from the Googleplex and I..,”you will probably get attention. If you are making a presentation and you are introduced by the chair saying, “Will is from Goldman Sachs..,” your audience is likely to be very attentive.

But neither of these apply to you. And you need to attract attention fast, however good your (unknown) product or service.

Injecting some humor is good, unless like me you risk forgetting the punch line. The story need not be long and should follow the advice of Chip and Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick) who say, “For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

  • Pay attention
  • Understand and remember it
  • Agree/Believe
  • Care
  • Be able to act on it.”

Reveal Who You Are

Your story will reveal who you are implicitly, without having to churn out out your resume, or hand out your business plan. The story will of course be true and even if you are telling a story against yourself or one that demonstrates a lesson you have learned, make it positive in tone.

That does not mean that stories need to be embellished and there is nothing wrong with revealing your emotions. It could be that the lesson learned was a hard one. Your brand certainly needs its story and it should not be defensive. It should be narrative. “It’s about communicating who you, as a business, are-discovering your identity, not inventing a new one willy-nilly. Positioning helps a company become what it is, not something it’s not,” says Stephen Dunning, author of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.

Rehearse Your Story

Storytelling may sound easy. It is not, and you need to prepare yourself, just like you would for any presentation. Craig Wortmann, author of What’s Your Story? has an excellent piece of advice, “Approach your presentations as if your clients or people will not be allowed to take notes or refer to any documentation.”

Craig’s storytelling mnemonic, IGNITE, is worth you noting for creating your own stories-make them:

  • Intentional
  • Genuine
  • Natural
  • Improvisational
  • Total
  • Engaging.

Find a storytelling buddy and rehearse your story together. If you do not like that idea, record it and listen to it on your own. Better still record it on your webcam and play it back to review how it goes. If if you have no webcam, tell it to the bathroom mirror! A live story telling will be different because you will get feedback from the audience, but a rehearsal will iron out obvious shortcomings.

Where the Subject Sources Are

The sources of subjects for your storytelling are most effective if they come from your own experience. But they can also be:

  • second-hand; I told a story to a trainer friend and he loved it enough to ask if he could use it and he has already told it with more panache than my original, but then he is an excellent storyteller;
  • from your company experience; successes of employees, customer experiences, neat problem solutions, examples of creativity;
  • from articles that quote experience or stories recounted in books; you will find Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing is full of them;
  • presentations of stories retold by you in your own context, if they make strong and memorable accounts that are pertinent.

A storytelling story

A former colleague of mine, George, whose storytelling is a big contributor to his business success, always made me smile when we were on gigs together. He carries a battered old leather briefcase with him. It is so old and worn that the handle is long gone. When he arrives at the front, he needs a large table by the lectern, on which he can spread out a whole bunch of notes and papers before he starts talking. He is a business school professor and this underlines his professorial status.

What the audience does not know is that, while he delivers his presentation as if he had never done so before and does occasionally refer to the papers on the table, it is a presentation he has made many times before, with the same old notes from the same old briefcase. But this ritual is one of many reasons why he makes the presentation a winner every time. He tells the stories like it is the first time they have been aired.