How to tell your startup story with integrity, simplicity, and humanity

image via http://startupstockphotos.com/

Storytelling has emerged as one of the biggest business marketing trends of 2015. The word is so ubiquitous, it’s in danger of being relegated to the status of business buzzword (right up there with synergy and disrupt).

But the art of storytelling is anything but a trend. It’s as old as, well… history. Stories are our way of finding common ground, offering solutions to problems, or gaining a deeper understanding of the world.

To explain why compelling stories matter so much — to businesses, as well as society at large — the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center sat down with Michael Margolis, Founder and CEO of Get Storied (a business storytelling school) and speaker at the upcoming event “An Introduction to LeanStory” at the Center on February 29.

Why are stories important to how we connect with one another today?

Story is the most basic unit of communication and how we find what we share in common with each other. I need to know your story before I can trust you with mine. These days, there are so many demands for our attention 24–7. Everyone’s saying, “Look at me! Be a part of what I’m doing.” We’re all trying to figure out, “Do I belong in that story? Is this relevant to me?“

What makes a good business story?

It’s actually very simple. The question is, “Do you really give a sh@% about this, or are you just trying to sell me something?” That’s the ultimate question in everybody’s mind when they’re presented with a message. We ask ourselves, “Do you care about my world and making it better, or are you just treating me like a sales funnel of aggregate data?”

When you’re learning how to tell a better business story, presence trumps performance. It’s not about finding those perfect words that can help you dominate the marketplace. It’s about being confident in and connected to what you do, why it matters, and why it’s a gift that makes a real difference in people’s lives. There’s nothing wrong with selling — we’re all selling something. But how much do you really believe in what you’re offering? This reveals some part of your own humanity.

I’m not into a formulaic 1–2–3, perfect fill-in-the-blank MadLib type story. People are disillusioned and turned off by that. When you’re an entrepreneur or innovator, the nature of what you’re doing is disruptive. It challenges people’s current understanding of the world — it’s a confrontational story. So how do you tell and frame your story in a way that doesn’t put people on the defensive? We teach a specific storytelling structure and approach to addresses just that.


The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is a San Francisco-based non-profit that educates, innovates, and connects current and aspiring entrepreneurs. We provide access to quality resources, including mentors, training, and networking.


What’s the biggest mistake people make when telling their stories?

They’re not connecting. And usually when we’re not connecting with others, we’re not connecting with ourselves.

We bring the wisdom of The Lean Startup into our storytelling methodology. Because the question is, “How do you bring integrity to the process of speculation?” By definition, as an entrepreneur, you’re making something out of nothing. It’s a speculative act — you’re still laying down the train tracks. How do you establish context and create enough reality so that people are willing to go on your journey with you? So they can deal with the uncertainty of being part of a story that’s still a work in progress?

That’s the fine balance that every entrepreneur has to bring to any audience. If you go too far into “make-believe,” you lose people. And if you go too far into over-rationalization, everybody’s bored to death.

How can entrepreneurs become better storytellers right now?

One place to start is the origin story. Ask yourself: Where did this idea come from? Why are you doing this beyond your own self-interest? How is what you’re doing now connected to or informed by anything you’ve done before? What’s going to convey to people that you have natural authority, the right to tell this story, even though you’re doing something that’s never been done before?

You need to know this not just for your audience, but also for yourself. If you don’t believe in your story, how can you expect somebody else to? When we hear someone with a sense of conviction, that’s the undeniable story — you believe in that person. They have the “it” factor. It’s in their bones. Of course, we all have a story in us.

Looking to become a better communicator and business storyteller? Eager to improve your presentation skills? Join us for our free event, “An Introduction to LeanStory” on Monday, February 29 at 9:30amPT. We look forward to seeing you @theCenter.