What is a story and why should you have it?

A story is a flow of information that has a narrative.
It may include people, characters, objects, actions or situations.
Since day 1, storytelling has been the part of human history, starting with how God created the earth till the small story you just passed to your friend. But the most interesting stories are the ones that we tell ourselves because those are the ones that we believe in. And, after a while, one cannot even remember who has the ownership of the story, as it has passed through lots of brains and hearts and added up more and more facts and emotions, eventually ending up as our own beloved little piece of consciousness.
Not surprisingly, business people, and in particular - marketers, have utilized the art of storytelling and use it relentlessly to promote their products and services.
And yet, again, simillar to just about anything, stories can be good and bad.

How do you define a good story?

Well, as we consider ourselves rational creatures, we define a product by its inputs and outputs.
A good brand story firstly should be able to trigger an action, a better one will trigger the action we want.
For example, while pitching to investors the trigger that we want to generate is fear of missing out. That will "force" the listeners to consider being part of our company and invest in it.

Another important point is that the storytelling should be native, made for a certain group of people and relate to the target audience; the brand story must speak to people.

Needless to say, your brand story must be unique, because if your brain has already heard anything similar before, your given information/story will not spark interest or else new thoughts, and hence, it will not be unique. Basically, as a reaction to Your story, people will be repeating Others stories in their heads. This could be crucial because the overload of information and messages your brain receives each day becomes higher and higher each day. Now, let's try to understand the information chaos and the main asset of the 21st century: attention.

We live in a world of Information Chaos

This is the average number of professionally tailored & prepared messages we see each day.
Billions of dollars have been spent by companies on industry professionals, delivered through myriads of channels: online & offline, for the one and only purpose - being remembered and worth a remark.

Of course, the average human brain is able to remember only a fraction of them, that does not stop the advertisers and marketers from flooding basically every space with another ad.

Going a little into physiology, we can see that these messages go directly into the operating memory of our brain, which has limited capacity, and those that are not worth remembering, get shift-deleted shortly.

Attention is today's currency

With all due respect to the Federal Reserve, the US dollar, as well as Satoshi Nakamoto with Bitcoin, there is a much more valuable currency that EVERYONE is fighting for - our Attention.

We all have a limited amount of attention. No matter the circumstances, we "see" and memorize only a little bit of information. If 20 years ago one ad shown on a TV could grab everyone's attention, nowadays the information around is too overwhelming, hence all brands are looking for an alternative and new ways to grab attention, which highlights the importance of storytelling.

Now, the answer is again scientific: to be able to penetrate the human memory, moreover, stay there, the information has to present a certain value, or as we say it, be structured in a way that it represents value.

Studies show that information presented through storytelling is up to 22 times more memorable than just facts.

Utilizing the attention of the story for good purposes

So, let's talk about attention; what is attention and how to use it?
The first thing that comes to our mind is that attention can get your product sold. Logically, getting a product into peoples' brains will eventually get it into their hands.
Attention is used everywhere on a daily basis, especially in politics. Similarly, attention can translate into votes.

But if you can direct everyone's attention towards a great cause, you can unite people and make a change. Storytelling can be a powerful tool to raise awareness about an important issue, and trigger an action to solve it.
A great example of a story which sparked action is what happened in Darfur.In 2005, one of Hollywood's well-known actors embarked on a trip that changed his life forever. After visiting Darfur, one of the regions in western Sudan Don Cheadle experienced hardships returning to his comfortable life, as the situation in Darfur opened his eyes and he was not capable of going back to his privileged Hollywood lifestyle.In collaboration with the human rights activist John Prendergast, Mr. Cheadle published the book "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond". This helped raise awareness about that tragedy and later on led many activists and peacekeepers to be more alert and active about the issue.

Structurally, he told the right story to the right people in the right way.This leads us to the conclusion that if you can master the art of storytelling right it can eventually spark a solution to a great cause. Historic facts do not grab attention; the story that revolves around them is what we remember and act upon.

Vision. The ultimate tool for Negotiation and Management

Almost all great leaders of all times have been told to have a solid vision regarding the future. They havespread that vision as a virus through their people and triggered them to act.
So what is it? A gift from above? A supernatural ability to hypnotize people?

Let's dig into that. Recently, I came across a paper by the European Commission called EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework.

They had developed a list of entrepreneurial competencies and defined levels of development for them.

Vision is one of the most important competencies and it turns out that you can train your vision. Interestingly, the first level of developing the "vision skill" is to be able to imagine a desirable future. According to the EU, the next level is to inspire others with your picture of the desirable future.
And the third and the most advanced one is impacting strategic decision making with your vision (which again is your picture of the desirable future).

Question: What tool do you use to pass your vision?

The knowledge-injector used in Matrix, which could come in handy for sure.

2. Taking a more realistic approach, we come to the conclusion that describing the desired future is not more than simple storytelling.

Just imagine, in our desired future, people tell only the stories worth telling, where only the urgent issues that need immediate attention eventually get it.

What a wonderful world will that be...

Emotional expectation management

Numbers, dates, duration, materials, functions.
All of these tell us what we will experience when we buy a product.
But do they? What about the feelings?
The statement above would be true if people went to Starbucks just for the coffee, or bought an iPhone because it has a good camera.

When people are thinking of making decisions they are not actually thinking about it, they are generating feelings around what they want to do, and how they will feel when they eventually do it. None is connected with the tangible world.

What a good brand story can do (and a bunch of them have already done) is tell you how you will feel when you interact with a product.

Storytelling is a way of disciplining emotions and setting the right emotional expectations regarding your products. Moreover, it also helps target the right audience, because otherwise, the story will not work.

Getting to Business Storytelling

Business-wise, the brand story touches upon the communication strategy of the company in the first place. We firmly believe that the storytelling should be the ultimate communication tool used in all development-oriented strategies including PR, Marketing and Sales.
Besides the development, storytelling is an effective tool when it comes to the inner PR strategy of the company. In companies with a big staff, the management may have serious issues with misalignment between different departments of the venture. So, on the strategic level, they create their brand story and tell it to the employees.
Once the staff is aligned with the story, hence the vision, they are aligned with the strategy of the company.

On the other hand, the right storytelling hugely impacts the brand of the company, which is crucial. Valuations and even employee loyalty are proven to be related to the brand of the company. But, first and foremost, the brand is a feeling. The emotions you get when you interact with a specific brand or encounter it, are what makes the brand unique or valuable.
So, if we could rename the "brand" as "emotional expectations", we would be completely right.
We already know what to do with that.


Why do we need pitches and, moreover, great ones?

The pitch is what we call the most spectacular communication tool of all times.Although we mostly associate the pitch with fundraising, it is not the only time we use the pitch During our life, we pitch all the time:

  • dating
  • asking parents for money
  • applying for university
  • selling our product

Out of all life situations, the investor pitch is the most similar to dating/hookup. Just think: both are binary, both have high stakes, and most probably you will never get a second chance with the same pitching "object".

We almost never get a second chance to leave a good first impression, so the high stakes bring along a certain amount of preparation.

Getting the right amount of attention, delivering the right messages, telling the right brand story... but let's get back to this later.

How people listen

Before we get into the specifics of the pitch, we have to go over the basics.

It turns out, as studies have shown, that the way we tell and the way we listen are radically different, and to be able to be heard, you first have to know how you tell it.

Attention, not what you say, but how you say it.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with psychology.

What matters is the structure of the brain, because each time we hear something new, our brain starts working in a specific manner.

There is a specific path that the information passes by in the human brain, through a specific structure that is set up to metabolize all the new info.

Let's dive into the structure of the brain.

Generally, when we refer to the brain we refer to the neocortex, which is the big part of the brain with two semi-spheres (3). Firstly, it is not your whole brain it is just one part, but it is responsible for your analytical thinking and decision making, and anything that has to do with cognitive thinking.
Now, the trick is that this part of the brain is extensively energy-consuming and if a person uses the neocortex a few hours in a row, he/she may run out of energy or simply fall asleep. And as our bodies are super sophisticated, ideally crafted and ultra-intelligent machines, they developed a unique mechanism of keeping the neocortex inactive and on low energy when not needed.
This is exactly what we will use to crack the human brain so to deliver our pitch.

Apart from the neocortex our information processing unit consists of two more brains: the midbrain and the crocodile brain.

The midbrain is responsible for our emotional state towards different objects, it is not cognitive and it tells us just the simple signals: do we like or we don't, is it stronger than us or is it weaker, basically setting up our attitude towards a specific object, giving it a status.

The crocodile brain or the reptile brain is the oldest and the most ancient brain and is responsible for very primitive perceptions. It answers questions such as "Is it dangerous?" "Can I eat it?" "Can I mate with it?" It acts on the instinct level and does not "think" at all.

And yet, what the hell does this have to do with pitching?

The most interesting part is that the crocodile brain acts as a filter. If a piece of certain information "is not interesting" to the crocodile brain, it is never going to pass and get to the neocortex. This is how neocortex stays at a stand by mode and does not waste energy. But, let's imagine that we have eventually passed the crocodile brain, and the information is in the midbrain, where the person quickly decides whether or not they like or do not like us. That's not all; they automatically give us status.

Question: what happens if we do not pass the crocodile brain?
The answer is simple, the brain just deals with that information the way it did the last time in the same situation, and i.e. if our info is not new or exciting the brain just repeats what it did the previous time. You may have noticed in your own brain, that sometimes you are doing background thinking, for example driving each day via the same road to work. A lot of times you do not remember the road because your brain was not in the analytical state.

And just like that an investor listening to something that he/she has already encountered, might seem very attentive but in reality you will be just speaking and they will be thinking about their weekend plans or the new car they want to buy, you hair color and you t-shirt choice, but not what you are talking about, as their attention is not there.
This is a cruel world, my friend. But luckily, we are here to help.

To sum up, all we have to do during our pitch is:

  • 1. Work around the crocodile brain;
  • 2. Create a high status in the midbrain;
  • 3. Successfully penetrate the fortress of the neocortex and deliver.


Hunting down the crocodile brain

Just like crocodiles, (with all due respect to the crocodile population) the brain is stupid, and also primitive. So, first of all, we have to be a little (don't go too wild on that) flashy, because the pitch is a short-term high-impact practice, as we need to use fast and effective tools to grab the attention.

Some attention tools are questions, emotionally immersive intros, and bright examples. Frankly, getting attention is not what is crucial, changing the emotional state of the listener is what is important. Actors call this "building the scene" when everything you see in the theatre play is coherent with the decorations and music.

Create your decorations, music, and vibes with your effective intro.

Steal Attention

Only losers pay for someone's attention.
The real masters of the business know the exact techniques on how to steal your attention, keep it as long as possible and later to use it for their needs. It happens because they know the storytelling techniques, they do not lie and they touch the hearts and minds of the audience.

Gaining respect in the midbrain
As we said in the beginning, the ultimate goal is to create fear in the listener's brain. Now that is not just fear or fear of existence or a threatening danger. The decision making a trigger for most of the investors and buyers is FOMO - the fear of missing out, the fear of regret, the constant notion that others are having a rewarding experience and you are not. Kilometer-long lines to watch the new Star Wars, last savings invested into Bitcoin and many other examples are majorly describing the scalable effect of FOMO.

How do we create this without breaking the bank?
The interesting thing is that fear happens as a result of something, in other words, something needs to happen before fear comes in.

That cataclysm is called change.

Change is what we fear

Everybody, especially business people are afraid and even terrified of changes. Business or market changes cause instability, need for reshaping strategies, firing or hiring people, and many business inconveniences, which are anything but anticipated.

So, as we can figure out, we have to vividly show them a relevant change that is happening to them and their industry, which will swipe them off their feet, which will shift the power paradigm.
All you have to do is to show people that the world is changing, moreover, they are not aware of that change, and you are just about to enlighten them with that information. This will create a subconscious vacuum forcing them to look up to you in anticipation of new solutions. Essentially, this means gaining respect for knowing more about a specific industry niche, which shows your competence and wholesome understanding of the situation.

Local Star Power

Let us give you an example. Let's imagine a commonly recognized powerful person, like Donald Trump, walks into a restaurant to have dinner. He calmly lets the waiter guide him through the dinner process, recommending and rejecting Trump's requests regarding the food.
Literally, on the most powerful people on earth is guided by an ordinary waiter.
That's because Trump recognizes the waiter's power in that framework.
This is called a "local star power", a term introduced by Oren Klaff, where you are the master of the domain; regardless of the size of the domain, you get utter respect from anyone who enters that domain.

Delivering value

After we have the attention and status, all we have to do is to make people think about our product. This is what we meant by having a coherent brand story, in the beginning, that is because if your product is not valuable, then this will not work, because up till this point everything has been done for the "target" to grasp everything when you start actually presenting your product, market, team, etc.
Needless to add that the Value Proposition has to be very precise and clear. The more specific your domain, the more background you should provide to be able to deliver a clear value in the end.


Let's recap on the logic of the pitch on more time.
It's pretty simple

  • 1. Attention and Emotional Immersion
  • 2. Relevant Change
  • 3. Delivering Value

Now, the structure can be practically anything you want, if it keeps and supports the aforementioned logic.

I intentionally will nor provide any numerated slides, because every pitch is unique, so you better come up with your structure.

However, we will provide some tips to help build the Killer Pitch.

Investor deck vs Demo deck

First of all, figure out the exact situation you are in.
When you personally pitch to an investor, there is a higher chance of being able to go through all the aforementioned steps. In this scenario, your visual material is the demo deck, the main purpose of which is to accompany your pitch, hence we have a minimum amount of text maximum amount of visuals, the main numbers, basically everything we want others to remember.

Things get a little tricky with the investor deck when we have to grab attention, create status and deliver value through silent presentation, using only texts and visuals. In this situation, you need to pass all the important details of the speech to the slides.
A good solution could be writing down the speech, then highlighting the main ideas, and building the investor deck accordingly on them.

Types of Slides
Our experience brought us to using three main types of slides in pitch decks:

These are the slides that have to pass the emotional state and touch upon the non-logical aspects of the presentation.
The Story, Solution, and Team are all examples of soft slides.

As you may have guessed from the name, we are giving cold, hard facts in this one, no bullshit. Figures, facts, numbers, tables charts, and all the concrete info.
The problem, product description, business model are all examples of hard slides.

These are a little know-how of 99.
The first and last slides are the ones that have the most emotional impact, the ones that change the emotional state on the listeners and leave the needed aftertaste when the pitch finishes.
Tip: leave the main 3 messages of the presentation on the last slide, because it stays on most of the times during questions and answers. And pay the designer a little more to create an effective intro slide.

This is it.