As a business leader, you have to tell your story all the time. To customers, partners, media, your own partner, your children. What are you really up to, do you know? Do you have trouble explaining? It is almost like framing a vision but in real terms. How do you work on your storytelling?
First and foremost, you need to know the story. I know it sounds obvious but the truth is each business has multiple stories around its core (hopefully it has a core).
As in every good lesson, there is a what, a why, a who, a where and a how. Good rules are those that apply to different walks of life and this is no exception. Here are some of my storytelling tips.
The what: the core
Hopefully, this is the easy part. You can explain in a heart beat what you do, which product or service you offer. That is the centre of the circle, the base of the pyramid, whatever you want to call it.
What do you mean you can’t?
Settle down, it is only normal. CEOs are so often immersed in passion for their own business that it all seems obvious to them. Be it a complex financial product or a plain retail solution, the product is often obvious for those that create it and less so for everyone else.
I guess that is why the concept of elevator pitch comes from, to ensure everyone has bothered sitting down and written it down. In summary, my tip #1 would be KISS: Keep It Super Simple S*****. If your mother or uncle would not understand the basic idea, you are over-doing it. You don’t have to go straight into features, just try and explain the concept behind the product. In less than 60 seconds.
The why: what is the problem
The best way to convey a message, especially when trying to ‘sell’ is to create empathy. A shortcut to do this is to talk about problems. Yes, you heard me right, my tip #2 is to talk about problems.
For someone to obviously see how they would “need” your product, this is best demonstrated by showing the need or problem that you are trying to solve. That approach allows you to create empathy in those in front of you, who will quickly understand “I absolute need this” or “I must own a share in this company“, depending on what your main target is. If they have lived the problem, it is ideal, but sometimes you just need to be able to quantify the problem for them.
This is a key part of the storytelling, the description of the environment in which the problem arises (hopefully often) and how your product (or service) is the thing to solve it.
The who: who is it for?
Linked to the above problem you will have to be clear on who you are doing this for. I know, sometimes you start thinking this is great for early 20 year old single males living in cities with >1 MM people and suddenly you conclude that the people buying are young couples in their late 20s living in small townships. It happens.
Finding your avatar can be one of the most difficult things to make a business successful. And truth be said, Avatars can evolve over time. Firstly, because early adopters can be very different from mass adopters. And secondly because your product version 1.0 may be very different from the version 3.0 with additional bells and whistles.
Overall, tip #3 is: what you need to understand is who has the problem. Who is the individual facing the problem only your product can solve in a unique way.
So ensure you can understand as best as you can in which way your product solves the problems of different people, so you understand which features different versions may have and what message will you craft to each of them. A selling point to a customer group can be totally different from a selling point from an adjacent group, on the same product. Confusing right?
The Who: Part II – the Receiver
The other important Who in this story is the receiver of your story. Yes, not your avatar, but rather who you are delivering your message to, as that is not always the client.
- Are you trying to sell your product, in which case dwelling on the product features and benefits to solving the problem are key?
- Are you trying to seek investment, in which case showcasing your vision and how it translates into real money because people want to buy your product is key?
- Or are you trying to seek partnerships, in which case showing the complementary nature of the businesses and the proximity between customers is key?
You may have a standard pitch of your business. But it is only through personalizing it to the person in front of you that it really works. That is where the concept of the elevator pitch starts faltering.
In reality, the elevator pitch needs to be re-done almost every time you take that elevator.
The where is the message being delivered
We are now entering in the field of form, rather than content. Yes, form matters and not an insignificant amount. In fact, the paragraphs in this article, the bolds, the spaces, the quotes, they all matter to the overall consumption of the message. It is no different when you are telling your business story.
The content of the message is no doubt the key part but then you need to understand the context in which you are delivering your message. Formal, informal, board meeting, dinner party, 1on1 meeting, pitch presentation. Each of these will require a different set up, a different preparation, different materials. As an example:
- Board materials require advance preparation, meeting materials, agenda, Q&A anticipation (more here);
- 1on1 meetings require an advanced knowledge of the person across the table, simple materials with back pocket ready information, focus on listening rather than just speaking;
- Pitch presentations required short and slick materials, ideally with some sort of demo or testimonials that quickly bring about the empathy in a larger audience which is likely to be unknown;
- Dinner parties require mostly passion for what you are doing and ideally a wing “woman” who will vouch and introduce you to those you want to speak to with an endorsement of your expertise.
The how: chose your form
Yes, a full section on form only. You have to have all sorts of materials handy in your business. As an example, in the charity we have
- Short intro emails or letters that we can send on a cold call or that someone can forward as an intro;
- A 2 pager leaflet covering our areas of action that can be handed out in events or be delivered in partnership sales;
- A general presentation that extensively describes our areas of action and allows for people to know more than the headlines. However, it may be rarely used and be replaced with a
- Corporate partnerships presentation, which explains what we do but more importantly explains how we fit with the organization we are trying to partner with;
- Website, blog and all sorts of social media.
And this is on the core story, which is our overall mission to break the cycle of poverty.
If we then go into areas of operation or “product features” we have snapshots that are visual for the individual donors that have little time to waste, descriptive project plans for those that want to be in the weeds and to support our grant writing or HNWI proposals, informative newsletters for those that have supported us for a long time and want to know (and do) more.
Whatever format you chose, keep the consistency of the message and the core story (the what) but ensure you emphasized to the right audience and right context
Storytelling for your Passion
When we are talking about your passion project and telling you to be structured and concise, I know it is like asking a parent to tell us what they like the most about one of their children. It is a virtually impossible ask. You will want to tell me all the reasons your product is great and how it will change everyone’s life and get worldwide recognition.
Whilst with the children it is impossible to focus any of their great merits to a single paragraph, in business that is more achievable. So grab that passion and put it into words. It will be worth it.