Our last post centered on creating the perfect pitch for investors, and one of the points we touched on was creating a story out of your business. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this tactic. While pitches certainly rely on hard numbers like revenue projections and growth potential, pitching your business is also an emotional process: you’re trying to secure buy-in, on a very guttural level, from potential partners in the project. But how do you do that? The answer is simple: narrative.
Simply put, creating a narrative is the process of taking a series of chronological events and weaving them into a sequence that makes sense on an emotional level. What makes it so powerful? Our brains absolutely love stories. Most people think of their lives in terms of a story, and we’re taught history in the form of one long narrative. In fact, our brains love narratives so much that we actually have to be trained not to fall for anecdotal evidence! You can use this inherent affinity for narrative to elevate your business and secure buy-in from customers, employees, and investors – you just have to learn to turn your corporate history, which is a dry, linear series of events, into a living, breathing story.
Follow the Forms
Thankfully, creating a story out of your business doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. While there’s some contention amongst critics regarding how many basic plot structures exist, most narratives do have a few crucial similarities. You can think of the shape of your story as a hill with a long, rising slope on one side, a sharp peak, and a falling slope on the other. Narratives generally start with an exposition phase, which sets the circumstances, a rising action, which introduces elements of conflict, a climax, which presents a seemingly impossible challenge, and a resolution, where the protagonist overcomes the challenge. Use the same structure when talking about your business: set the circumstances, describe your own seemingly intractable problem, then tell the audience how you succeeded against all the odds. Exposition, tension, release: it’s an age old formula, but it works.
Embrace Your Failures
While it may seem like people only want to listen to superhumans who never get it wrong, the truth is that people don’t relate to your successes: they relate to your failures. In crafting a story about your business, highlight the times when things didn’t go as you planned just as much as when they did. In addition to adding a sense of conflict and challenge to your story, it will humanize you and your business – a critical part of helping your audience relate to you and your business.
Run Towards Conflict
Narratives almost always arise from conflict, and this often manifests as a sense of inner conflict within the protagonist. As a business, incorporating conflict is easy: what problem are you solving? Why is that important? And, most importantly, how did the problem affect you personally? You can also find conflicts in other places: internal conflicts within your business, conflicts between your business and another business or environmental factor, or conflicts that you faced personally. Just be sure that after introducing a conflict, you resolve it before the story is over. Otherwise, investors may not think you’re headed for a happy ending!
Rely On Pathos
Facts, figures, and statistics are well and good for analysts – but they mean nothing when you’re trying to communicate and elicit emotions, which is exactly what you need to do to secure buy in. At every stage of your story, ask what emotion you want to communicate, then highlight information that supports that emotion. Remember, a linear sequence of events does not necessarily make a good story – an emotional journey, however, does.
Cut The Boring Stuff
The beauty of telling a story about your business is that you don’t have to recap the history – you only have to go over the stuff that matters. It may be that after you got the idea for your business, you spent 6 months locked up in a room researching markets. That’s well and good, but we don’t need a detailed account of every week from that six-month period – just skip ahead to what happened once you found your key insight and started your business. Keep the story moving at all times, and assign narrative weight to different events based on the emotional significance they have, not on the actual amount of time they took up.
Don’t Write The Ending
While novels generally end with a satisfying conclusion and a “happily ever after,” the story of your business shouldn’t. While it’s important to resolve the conflicts you’ve introduced and tie up any major loose ends in the narrative, remember that ultimately, you’re still writing the story of your business – and you should communicate that to your audience. Don’t finish your story with a definitive ending, but instead with the fact that you’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of room to grow. In addition to leaving the audience with a feeling of hope, this will communicate to investors that while you may know how to tell a good story, the story of your business is only just beginning – and that’s just how it should be.