Within our Emerging Speakers community we discuss the power and structure of stories in presentations quite often. Many speaker presentations are powerful on their own without stories, but for Businesses and Startups pitching for support (monetarily or otherwise), stories are a critical, strategic component which lead to greater results.
Creating an audience connection on an emotional level is one of the most powerful things that occur during any presentation, startup or otherwise. As humans we need to establish a connection of some type before we will even listen to you, buy into your idea, support you, follow you or buy your product or service.
The goal of a startup pitch is to drive investment, establish a brand, or encourage partnering. Obviously we all know it’s much more important than that! You want to bring your vision to life! To gain the results you are looking for, you must connect with your audience first before you can pitch or sell. You have to give in order to get.
Story telling is one of the strongest ways to connect with people on an emotional level, and it is most effect when told well. The goal of including a story or stories is to increase connection with your audience, to draw them into your world. Telling a story for the sake of telling a story or telling a stpry poorly can have the opposite effect by severing that audience connections.
In a business pitch, story telling is a strategic tool. Sure – it has the typical beginning, a middle, and an end, with conflict and resolution, and your journey. The goal of your story within (or in some instances, in place of) your pitch is to establish a connection with the audience, and transport them from the current realm of listening into your world, or into the birth of your idea / concept. The story is strategic tool because it becomes a powerful, go-to, method to ‘influence’ your audience’s thoughts, and potentially, actions. Go beyond telling a story for story’s sake, and master your story. Aim to create several stories within an arsenal of call to action strategies that are appropriate for different occasions. Meaning, you may need to give versions of your pitch and presentations to investors, vendors/supplies, bankers, potential clients, and different stories may resonate better with a particular audience, or, a different part of your story may be more pertinent.
The 7 key elements for creating a stellar story within a pitch:
- 1: Relive vs Retell: To truly stand out and have an impactful story, re-living a story trumps re-telling a story. Re-telling a story is simply going through the motions. Re-living allows you to recreate the story, give it life, and draw people in. Paint the picture through your story and let people’s imaginations do the rest. Re-create moods, play the parts and character lines with different vocal intonations (adds life and humor) and postures, use movement.
re-tell: My mom told me I couldn’t open up a lemonade stand because she didn’t want people to think we needed money.
re-live: On a humid, boring, middle-of-summer vacation day, i went to work in the garage putting together pieces of scrap wood. My mother comes out, cigarette in hand, and hair in curlers, shouting: (and in a high pitch voiced u say) ‘Billy, I told you no son of mine is gonna beg for money’. ‘Ok, ma, I won’t’ (you reply in a kids rapid fire voice). I finished painting my stand ‘Not your mamma’s juice’ stand. And that started the ‘Not Your Mamma’s’ Legacy of products. .
- 2. Vulnerability: Presenting vulnerability in a story is not about showing weakness from a negative perspective, but to show your humanity, a weakness that drove an action, a blow that built character. Behind vulnerability are those things that caused a conflict, drove a triumph, crystalized a thought process. Show the flaws that drove the solution or resolution. Being fake here just to capitalize or manipulate will backfire. Let the audience know what you felt, what was going through your mind.
- 3. Posture: A greatly underutilized element, posture is a powerful element to your pitch, your presentation, and your story. From how you walk onto the stage, stand behind a mic or lectern, walk across the stage, or field questions, your posture can set off red flags, or strengthen a perception. You can give a very powerful story, but if you are slouching, shifting, have opposing body language, it adds inconsistency and distracts from your story. If you stand and walk confidently but don’t establish eye connection, or if you deliver a fast paced re-telling of a story, you’re giving power back to the audience in the form of distraction and mistrust. Match posture to the re-living moments in your story to underline a feeling or an emotion.
- 4. Vocal Variety: Vocal variety is critical in telling a story, especially when you are re-living a story, showing vulnerability, and using pauses for effect (make sure to use pauses instead of racing through your pitch in your variety to allow the audience to imagine, process, think, catch up, or to get the real power of your message). Varying your voice adds drama, creates pivot points, keeps people from becoming bored with the monotone or fast paced presentation), can highlight, and gives you range.
- 5. Eye Contact: ‘They’ say your eyes are the window to your soul, and it has never been more true than in telling a story, and telling a story within the context of a pitch. Your eyes convey commitment, confidence, power, weakness, humor, and give your story waves like the vocal variety does. When a speaker constantly shifts, lacks focus or intensity in the eyes, such like what happens with continued nervousness. the audience will second guess the speaker and not be fully focused. The audience wants to connect with the speaker, and from within the story, your eyes should match the character or strength of message in the story, when it doesn’t you leak power from your story. Eye contact is very important during the story, especially when trying to establish a strong connection with the audience for your company, product, or service.
- 6. Congruence: Beyond simple consistency and balance, congruence matches your behavior with your internal beliefs and motivators. When you are talking about taking over a market, or being a market interrupter, then there is a strong sense of self and all-wheels-aligned message that must be communicated unilaterally through body language, behavior, and what is said. Therefore, when delivering a story, the behaviors and emotions should match the character being portrayed. Congruence is ‘simply’ when behaviors match what is being conveyed. Most importantly, when an individual is congruent and shows that consistently through a pitch, presentation, and question sessions, it communicates emotional intelligence and leadership strength.,
- 7. Humor: Last but not least is humor. And we are not strictly talking haha funny humor here. Sometimes it could be a sense of irony that leads to a concept or solution. Or a thought provoking sense of humor that makes someone relate, laugh, and say, ‘hey – that’s right. why didn’t I think of that.’ Laughable humor helps bad medicine become acceptable and can win over contrarians and naysayers. This is when story telling starts becoming part of a strategy – when you know how to interject humor at the right points / times to drive a reaction .
All of the above elements work together as cornerstones to support the architecture of a story. Miss one of them, then the strength in the other elements may carry you. Miss 2 or more, and you are giving your power over to the audience and risk not fully connecting with them and drawing them into your world. While the audience does want you to succeed, there are way too many distractions for them to easily shut you out.
Many already don’t want to listen to your ‘same ole, same ole’ story, presentation, or pitch. Many in your audience are operating at $500/hr mode and every minute is listening to your same old pitch could be a lost deal. Many in your audience could be potential customers, suppliers, or vendors and a good story could give them a reason to connect and follow you for future deals.
Just a few additional Quick Delivery Tips:
- Memorize and internalize your stories, and have several of them that you can go to at a moment’s notice. When you memorize you can adlib, and be in the moment. When you simply memorize for the presentation, you will be in your head, stepping in a choreographed fashion, with even the slightest distraction (like a cell phone, or dropped glass) throwing you off balance. When internalized, you know the story cold and it’s easy to ‘re-live’
- Use the stage to setup a timeline. Use one part of the stage for the past, another for the present or future. Or use parts to show progression.
- Work to connect with as many people in the audience as possible. When you know who is in the audience you can swap out or add in elements to your story that will resonate with them, to make the story more personal.
(Bonus story creation tip: carry around blank index cards OR setup an Evernote folder, and write down stories as you think of them, or as they occur. Make sure to capture the moral, the resolution, the conflict or challenge. Capture the humor, or irony. Capture the characters in the story – facial expressions or lines spoken/actions taken that made you stop in your tracks or think. All these is helpful later when recreating the ‘re-living’ version of the story. Add keywords, tags to the story.).
Using stories in a pitch is a sure fire way to connect with your audience, and communicate the power of your message.
RAR rule: Within 4-6 seconds, investors and your audience have you sized up. Based on your posture, how you walk onto the stage, how you stand behind a mic (or at a lectern), how you project your voice, and how you cast your eyes…the audience has you measured, weighed, and quartered. They will look for inconsistencies and gaps and weaknesses to support their perception of you, and so they can move on. They all hear a plethora of pitches every day. It is your absolute duty to your business and team to draw the audience in, to change their minds, and to give them a reason to listen to you and buy into your idea/concept. It is only through a well told, well placed story (or two) that you can tap into where they are at the moment, and bring them into your world, for a real time connection. It is your job to create an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) to interrupt their game, so they can play into yours.
DID YOU KNOW?
- You can develop and practice your pitches, presentations, startup stories, and thought leadership at the Emerging Speakers Bureau where we develop Business Thought Leaders and Professional Speakers. Check out our meetup here at: meetup.com/emerging-speakers-bureau.
- You can also practice / present your startup story at places like the Burlington County Venture Hub Lean Venture Series Launch Party / Story Slam and Philly Startup Slam.
How do you use stories within your presentations and pitches?
Rae-Ann Ruszkowski is a Startup & Business Consultant, Speaker, and Coach. She leads the Emerging Speakers Bureau (a development and practice forum for Business owners, startups, and Speaking professionals), runs workshops on public speaking, branding, and digital marketing. She founded The Digitally Speaking Institute, to empower and establish Nextperts and Thought Leaders.