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Does Your Startup Have a Good Story?

Never underestimate the importance of having a good story when pitching your startup to potential investors, clients, partners, and journalists. As Seth Godin writes in his 2005 bestseller All Marketers Are Liars, “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread or you’re going to become irrelevant.” Godin’s book addresses a shift in marketing – away from simply presenting factual information and towards telling great stories. As Godin suggests, these stories make us want to believe – in a product, in an idea, in a company.

As you craft a story for your startup – whether it’s to be used in marketing, in a pitch to investors, or in conversation with friends and family – here are some things to keep in mind.

Your story should be short. Your story doesn’t need to start at the birth of your idea and move through every detail of your startup’s history – from inception to launch. . Crystallize the most interesting part so that your story is succinct.

Your story should be easy to tell. Avoid stories that have convoluted plot twists, intricate details, numerous characters, epic history — you aren’t relating War and Peace here. Avoid a story in which you’re likely to stumble over names and details.

Your story should be memorable. You want to have a story for your startup that is compelling as people listen, of course. But you also want to tell a story that people will remember. You want your audience to walk away with some nugget of information about you, and while facts, figures, statistics can be interesting, they are sometimes more difficult to recall (or recall accurately) than the gist of a story.

Your story should make an argument. Your story should help make your case with your audience, whether it’s an argument for the great opportunity it’ll be for investors, or an argument for the strengths of your company, or for the need for your product or service. My academic background here – and I do apologize – compels me to add Aristotle’s classifications of rhetoric. According to Aristotle, there are three modes of persuasion: ethos – making an appeal to your credibility, logos – making an appeal to reason, and pathos – making an appeal to emotion. Consider your audience as you weigh how best to make your argument.

Your story should be strategic. Think about what you want to communicate to your audience, and craft a story that will help you do that. Do you want to highlight your vision? Your background? How your product was created? How has it helped meet a customer’s needs?

Your story should be relevant. This seems obvious, perhaps, but don’t let the pressure to tell an entertaining anecdote sidetrack the actual purpose of your presentation.

How to Tell a Good Story

Ira Glass, whose radio show This American Life is one of the best examples of compelling storytelling, offers this advice: a good story has the momentum to keep your listeners interested. But is also contains some reflection: what it means, why it’s important.

You startup should have a good story. Try telling one. If it doesn’t work, tell a different one. And if your story does work – if people “buy it” – make sure your startup lives up to it.

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