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MyOwnBusiness Institute

Business Storytelling

OBJECTIVE:

As you travel along the road toward entrepreneurship, you will talk about your business to many different people and in many different situations. Sometimes it will be a formal business pitch, and other times it will be during a casual conversation. Either way it’s good to know how to talk about your business, to have a story in mind. In this session, Morgan Slain, Director of the SCU Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's Bronco Venture Accelerator and active private equity and venture capital investor, lends his expertise on techniques for successful business storytelling.

Image of a megaphone
  • Why a Story?
    • The best pitches are great stories
    • Stories are what we remember best
    • Entrepreneurs tell their business story often
  • What Makes for a Great Business Story?
    • Speak to emotions
    • Build common ground
    • Use the power of contrast
  • How You Tell Your Story Counts
    • The "how" of your story is the "why" of your business
  • Summary

The best pitches are great stories. We human beings are hard-wired to recognize stories and imagine them in our minds. Stories are what we remember best and so telling a good story, even if it’s short, creates a better experience for people who are hearing you talk about what you are doing and why you’re doing it. 

As entrepreneurs, you have the chance to tell your business story all the time. You tell a story not just when you are talking to investors, but also when you are recruiting employees, trying to motivate your staff, and selling to a potential customer. You even tell your story when you are asked about what you do by a friend or relative, or someone you don’t know.

  1. Speak to Emotions. The best business stories engage the listener’s emotions. As an example, consider the story of a visually impaired person asking for donations with a sign he had created. The sign says, “I am blind. Have a beautiful day.” He gets only a few donations. Then, someone walks by and rewrites the sign. Suddenly, there are many more donations. When he asks someone what his new sign says, he is told it says, “It’s a beautiful day, and I cannot see it.” Using nearly the same words and ideas, this new sign conveys a stronger emotional message. This story is powerful because it speaks to emotions, and emotions are more powerful than logic.

  2. Build Common Ground. Part of the power of the example above is that it builds on common ground -  as humans we can all appreciate beauty. It is something that connects us. You can do the same thing with your business whenever you are pitching. Establish common ground with your audience, and it really helps your story resonate and stick. 

  3. Use the Power of Contrast. The third element of a powerful business story is contrast and the surprise that goes with it. When you ask someone a routine question like what do they do for work, you don't expect the answer to be, “I make people happy,” or “I help people succeed,” or “I change people’s lives.” These answers show that what your business does every day is really a means of creating happiness and success for your customers and clients. You go beyond “what is” and begin talking about “what can be” - that can be very inspirational. It can provide a compelling contrast to the way a problem is commonly approached, or approached by your competition. Think of contrast as a new point of view that gives you the edge. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that often what you say is not really as important as how you say it. The truth and authenticity of what you say is more powerful than your message itself. Often how you tell your story is the “why” of your business. In telling your story, why you are doing what you are doing is more important than the details of what you are doing. And definitely more powerful than how you are doing it. 

I hope some of these suggestions are helpful in thinking about your own story for your business, product, or brand. For inspiration, you can draw most effectively from your own life, the lives of your friends and family, and life all around you. 

When you are talking about your business in your daily life, with customers, or potential investors down the road, I urge you to really think about your story. What emotions are you trying to reach? What common ground are you building on?  How is contrast and surprise inspiring your audience? And perhaps most importantly, how are you telling your story? Be honest and authentic, and your passion about your business will shine through. 

Business Storytelling session © Morgan Slain, Director of Santa Clara University’s Bronco Venture Accelerator within the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and active private equity and venture capital investor

For a quick reference guide on ways to impact your business from this session, download the Business Storytelling Take-A-Ways infographic.