Thursday, May 13, 2010

Telling Your Story: The First Step to Doing Business

I had the pleasure to work with The Difference Engine teams in Middlesborough. The group is being funded by a group of North East UK government schemes to generate business in the area.

Last week marked my second visit, and I continue to be impressed with these start-ups' energy, intelligence, and speed of uptake.

Transforming Presentations through Storytelling

A month ago, I focused on helping teams understand how to present in general terms. This time, we worked on creating business cases within stories (or pitches) that would transform presentations into conversations listeners (here, investors) would want to continue.

In the event you might need such information, here is the strategy I suggested and tips to get there.

1. Be aware that you are telling a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end with transitions that lead from one to the other and tell the listener where you’re going.

2. If you are unclear what the structure looks like for your story – which elements lie in the beginning, middle, and end – put each piece of your presentation on colored note cards that distinguish the sections of the story. It’s a good exercise no matter what-- so that you really understand how you’re telling your story and why.

3. The point of the pitch is for the investors to feel it’s obvious to meet you and to learn more about your company. However, the reason for telling the story must have it’s own, more specific internal logic. This is the logic that drove you to your start-up/product design journey – and now drives you to give the highlights. It’s what gets the investors to feel (not think) that you have it going on. Even if you’re only doing it for the money, your investment in this project needs to be felt. If so, it will be contagious.

4. No one ever made a decision based entirely on data – it’s how much/in what way the data supports the feelings you can generate in the rest of the story that will win your audience over.

5. It helps your audience to engage to give specific, concrete stories within the story. These can be very short, but any time you offer an abstract concept, offer a concrete example.

6. The key elements you should address are: Problem, Solution, Current Market, *How Much Money You Want, *Exit (eg When Investors Get Their Money Back), Financials, Team.

Obviously, the asterisk items are very important to investors.

7. The key elements do not have to be in the order I’ve listed.

Note: There are two exceptions:

(1) You should get to your money sections by the third minute of a five-minute presentation and (2) the team should always go last in order.

However, if you want to say How Much Money You Want or any other financial issue before the third minute and get back to money later, that’s fine, too. The important thing is that your story has its own coherence, flow, and reason for each piece to be in its place.

8. The key elements do not have to be separate but can be grouped together: for example: The Current Market might be the Problem or Solution, or it might be tucked inside the
Competition section.

All comments are welcome -- is there anything we didn't address at the Difference Engine sessions that you find important when you pitch?

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