Storytelling - A Founder's Superpower

Over the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to listed to literally thousands of pitches by startups around the world. In the previous phases of my career, I gave hundreds of sales and investor pitches. And, I was the recipient of hundreds of sales pitches.

Almost universally, these pitches were bad. Not just sort of bad. Really bad. This includes most of the pitches delivered. But I got lucky. In 2015, for my birthday, a friend of mine gave me Brian Boyd’s Book, On the Origins of Stories: Evolution, Cognition. In the book, Boyd explains why we tell stories and how are minds are hard-wired to understand them. It’s not the easiest book to read, but it was an eye-opener for me.

Like many tech entrepreneurs, my education was focused on science, the scientific method and data. Facts were highly prized. Analysis was king! If you could just assemble enough data and facts, you could persuade anyone. Collectively, we think of customers as “consumers” or “eyeballs,” not people who needed to be delighted.

Perhaps this was why so many of the pitches and presentations are so bad? So I began to read as much as I could about storytelling – and there is a lot of science behind why storytelling is so effective.

When we listen to a PowerPoint presentation filled with facts and bullet points, the Broca and the Wernicke’s area of the brain get activated. In simple terms, these are the language processing parts of the brain. Our brain converts the words we are hearing into meaning. And nothing more.

When we hear a story, something magical happens. Using a functional MRI, scientists have learned that If someone describes how a food tastes, the sensory cortex of the brain lights up. If you describe someone riding a bike, the motor cortex lights up. The activation of these other regions allows us to create a connection with the speaker because we in a way have shared experience. It is why we compare ourselves to characters in a movie or in a book.

Good stories do more than create this sense of connection with other people. They allow us to build familiarity and trust.

Over the last few years, I have introduced storytelling into most of my communications with others. And the results have been incredible.

And in case you didn’t catch on, shared this advice with you by telling you a story.

If you want to know more, here is an article that contains likes to several great TED Talks on storytelling.