Will Storr’s book The Science of Storytelling is intended for fiction writers to read. However, its messages are very applicable to any other domain that uses the tool of storytelling to capture and retain people’s attention.
As a startup founder, you need to be a pretty good storyteller if you want to attract different stakeholders to your project. This is especially true in the early stages of your project. When people buy your idea, they buy the story of how the project is likely to turn out.
With that in mind, here are some tips from the book that would help you become a better storyteller as a startup founder:
1. The brain wants change
“Almost all perception is based on change detection” – neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott
Change is either an opportunity or a danger. In this context, it is not difficult to imagine why our brains have evolved to adhere to perceived change as quickly as possible.
Therefore, if you want to keep your audience’s attention, your launch story must include a meaningful change.
For example, instead of selling customers X product with Y features, sell them the idea that there is a new way their colleagues are solving their problems. The perceived opportunity to gain a competitive advantage or the perceived threat of being left behind is what would hold your audience’s attention long enough to allow you to tell your story.
The important disclaimer here is that if your “hook” that promises change isn’t creative enough, then it won’t work. In an environment where every innovative company promises that it is a game changer, the same promise from another company would not represent any significant change – on the contrary, it would be business as usual.
2. Violation of expectations creates curiosity
In fact, falling into the “yet another company that…” category is the cardinal sin of startup storytelling.
You have to make your story different in some way. Perhaps one of your founders has an unusual background. Maybe your solution uses unusual technology. Perhaps you reached a stage in your startup unusually quickly or with unusually little money.
Anything that is counterintuitive and defies expectations is a great tool to grab the attention of various stakeholders. Your audience would like to know more to explain this anomaly. Information gaps create curiosity and people are eager to fill them.
To take full advantage of this trait, it’s important to guard against over-explaining. It would be counterproductive to pique your audience’s curiosity only to satisfy them in a few sentences. You need to get your message across before you shut them down and let them move on.
3. You are not the hero of your story
“Anyone who is psychologically normal thinks he is a hero.” – Will Storr
When prompted to tell the story of your startup, the intuitive thing would be to tell it from your perspective. After all, the founders are the heroes who lead the project to success against all odds.
While this can be an interesting story to tell the startup community after your startup has achieved great success (or failure), it’s not a story that actually helps you get to where you want to go.
To move people and make them act, you need to tell a story centered around them.
“If there is any secret to success, it lies in the ability to understand the other person’s point of view and see things from their point of view as well as your own.” – Dale Carnegie
Putting yourself in the shoes of others is one of the most important skills startup founders need to possess. It’s necessary to build a product that people need, but it’s also necessary to tell a compelling story that will influence people and get them to act on your behalf.
So when you’re telling your story to any stakeholder – make them the protagonist. What they care about is how your project would affect their lives, not how it affected yours.
In short, when telling your story:
- Grab people’s attention by pointing out a meaningful change
- Break expectations to spark curiosity
- The person you’re talking to is your main character