STARTUP

3 Reasons to Master the Art of Storytelling

Most entrepreneurs don't realize the art of storytelling can help you succeed in the start-up world.
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Storytelling is a timeless human tradition. Before the written word, people would memorize elaborate stories full of morals that shaped cultures for generations. Today, kids can barely sit through class, but spend hundreds of hours devouring Harry Potter books. We are wired for communicating through and learning from stories.

Unfortunately, storytelling has become a lost art in many businesses. This is especially detrimental to start-ups, because failed attempts to effectively pitch and present information to potential investors, customers, and partners can quickly result in the end of the business. Instead of taking the time to craft captivating stories, most entrepreneurs create dreary Powerpoint presentations filled with facts, jargon, buzzwords, and graphs. Powerpoint (and laziness) has killed our ability to tell good stories, but this is a habit we need to ditch.

Here are three reasons why storytelling is crucial to start-up success.

1. Stories are Memorable.

Like this video by Landor Associates demonstrates, when facts and information are framed by a compelling story, you'll not only hold the attention of your audience, but you'll also make the information presented more memorable. Many entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic about what they're building that they assume their audience is just as interested. They'll start rattling off the facts without first making an effort to pull in their audience. No matter how compelling your facts are, if your audience isn't invested in what you're saying, all the information will be lost on them. Take this hilarious video made by Dollarshaveclub.com, which has had nearly 4 million views on YouTube to-date. The story is so entertaining that the facts (high quality razors, for $1/month, delivered to your door) are not likely to be forgotten by viewers.

2. Stories Travel Further.

Because stories are so memorable, they're easy for listeners to recount in the future. So, if you arm your audience with a good story, they'll be able to communicate the details of your business more clearly. This is especially important for the start-up world. Potential investors and customers will need to recount the information you shared with them to their partners and colleagues, so it's crucial that the information you share is retold accurately. If you have not armed them with a good story, they may struggle to represent your company well.

3. Stories Inspire Action.

As a founder, a big part of your job is to move people to act. You have to court investors, great employees, and even customers who are willing to work through the kinks with you. Focusing on specifications or detailed descriptions of what you do will be lost on most of your audiences, while a compelling and inspiring story about what you do, why you do it, and how it will make something better will help attract and motivate people. Double Fine Adventure broke the mold on Kickstarter with a great story about why they wanted to exist.

It may be easier to put together a powerpoint presentation than craft up an exciting narrative, but as any storyteller will tell you, a little extra time and brainpower is definitely worth the payoff. With so many other start-ups competing for customers, funding, and quality employees, a good story will help set your company apart. So if you want your start-up to live happily ever after, make storytelling a tradition at your company.

Last updated: Apr 9, 2012

RILEY GIBSON | Columnist | CEO, Napkin Labs

Riley Gibson is the co-founder and CEO of Napkin Labs, a start-up that builds tools to help companies turn their Facebook fans into an army of collaborators for new insights and ideas. For more, check out the Napkin Labs blog.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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