Will Storr’s book “The Science of Storytelling” is intended to be read by fiction writers. Its messages, however, are very applicable to any other domain that uses the tool of storytelling to capture and hold the attention of people.
As a startup founder, you would need to be quite a 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 are buying your idea, they are buying the story of how the project is likely to unfold.
With this in mind, here are some tips from the book that would help you become a better storyteller as a startup founder:
1. The Brain Desires Change
‘Almost all perception is based on the detection of change’ – neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott
Change represents either opportunity or danger. In this context, it’s not hard to imagine why our brains have evolved to lock in on perceived change as fast as possible.
Because of this, if you want to hold the attention of your audience your startup story needs to involve meaningful change.
For example, instead of selling customers product X with Y features, sell them the idea that there is a new way their peers are solving their problems. The perceived opportunity to gain a competitive advantage or the perceived threat to get left behind is what would capture the attention of your audience for 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 wouldn’t work. In an environment where every innovative company is promising that they are changing the rules of the game, the same promise from yet another company wouldn’t indicate any meaningful change – on the contrary, it would be business as usual.
2. Vialotion of Expectations Triggers Curiosity
In fact, getting into the category of “yet another company that…” is the cardinal sin of startup storytelling.
You need to make your story different in some way. Maybe one of your founders has an unusual background. Maybe your solution uses an unusual technology. Maybe you got to a stage of your startup unusually fast, or with unusually little money.
Anything that is counter-intuitive and violates expectations is a great tool to capture the attention of different stakeholders. Your audience would want to know more in order to explain this anomaly. Information gaps trigger curiosity and people have the desire to fill them.
To fully exploit this trait it’s important to keep yourself from over-explaining. It would be counter-productive to trigger curiosity in your audience only to satisfy it with a few sentences. You need to communicate your message before you give them closure and let them move on.
3. You Are Not The Hero Of Your Story
“Everyone who’s psychologically normal thinks they’re the hero.” ― Will Storr
When you are prompted to tell the story of your startup, the intuitive thing would be to tell it from your point of view. After all, the founders are the heroes who carry the project to success against all odds.
While this could be an interesting story to tell to the startup community once the startup has achieved great success (or failure), it is not a story that actually assists you in getting 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 one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” – Dale Carnegie
Putting yourself in the shoes of others is by far one of the most important skills startup founders should have. It is required in order to build a product people need, but it is also required to tell a convincing story that would influence people and make them act in your favor.
So, when you are telling your story to any stakeholder – make them the protagonist. What they care about is how your project would impact their lives, not how it has impacted yours.
In summary, when telling your story:
- Get people’s attention by indicating a meaningful change
- Violate expectations in order to trigger curiosity
- The person you are speaking to is your protagonist