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Storytelling for Startups: Practical Tips to Craft the Killer Pitch
Masterclass, Episode 6: Practical tips and examples for creating an engaging narrative that sells your vision
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Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time thinking about their slide deck, and not enough time thinking about the story they’re telling. The deck is an important visual aide, but it’s not the star of the show – investors can read from slides without you. You’re there to present a captivating and persuasive narrative that convinces them that you’re the right person to entrust with their money.
This article covers the importance of storytelling and offers practical tips to improve your fundraising pitch – including effective narrative techniques and common mistakes to avoid. We’ll learn from examples of Fusion companies (recorded as part of our bootcamp).
What you’ll learn:
The role and importance of storytelling when fundraising for your startup
Techniques for crafting and presenting an engaging narrative
Practical tips based on real-life examples (which are also included)
Common mistakes to avoid
Meet the expert:
Ori Luzia is a consultant and public speaking expert with vast experience working with accelerators, VC’s, and over 1000 startups in different verticals. Ori works with entrepreneurs in Israel and abroad on all things storytelling and messaging.
What is Storytelling in the Startup World?
When we talk about storytelling in business, we’re referring to a set of skills and techniques that makes messaging engaging and interactive, and which borrows from principles used in literature and journalism.
As a CEO, you are your company’s “chief storytelling officer”. You are constantly telling the world a story about your company – whether that’s on sales calls, hiring interviews, or when raising funds.
The good news is that as human beings, we have an ingrained ability to tell stories and a desire to hear them. Almost everyone is perfectly capable of telling a story to a friend over a coffee; as an entrepreneur, you need to hone your skills and become equally comfortable doing so in a business context.
Why Storytelling Matters in Fundraising
Makes information more memorable: You’re talking to VCs who hear hundreds of pitches every month – in a sense, you’re competing for memorability. Stories are ‘stickier’ than dry facts and a good one will give you an edge.
Creates order, clarity, and logic: It’s easy to get lost amidst figures, claims, and anecdotes. The story is the streamlining energy that connects all the bits and pieces on the slide deck into something coherent.
Creates a tangible and emotional experience: It’s been said before that we buy on emotion and justify with logic. Emotional resonance can make your pitch more persuasive and make listeners more open to the rational arguments you’ll present.
Creates differentiation: It’s more than likely that your idea is not completely one of a kind and that investors have heard variations of it before. Your story can make you stand out from the crowd.
Conveys confidence and charisma: The ability to capture the room and dominate a conversation is a good one to have, in pitch meetings and elsewhere - and being able to entice listeners through your story can help.
6 Storytelling Principles for a Killer Pitch
1. Start strong: Get your intro, one liner, and hook right
Once you start talking, an invisible clock has started ticking. If it ticks for too long and you’ve still not grabbed your counterparts’ attention, you’re probably not going to. We’ve mentioned that investors hear many pitches; this results in them having short attention spans and a lot of accumulated knowledge. You need to surface the information that will engage them quickly, and this starts with a strong opening.
Here’s a great example featuring Roy Cohen from Behavidence:
There are three components to any good opening, including this one:
The intro: “Every conversation needs to start by telling people who you are and what you do - name, job title”, says Ori. He recommends starting with this rather than a dramatic ‘teaser’ type opening, which can distract and exasperate investors.
The one liner: A simple formula for this is -
We are building a [product] that helps [target audience] do [action], [value]
This helps investors understand the basics and open the relevant ‘folder’. If they invest in healthtech and you’re building a mental health app, they’re already paying more attention. If they don’t, they already know that you’re barking up the wrong tree and can steer you in more relevant directions.
The hook: This is a rhetorical instrument that helps capture the audience’s attention and interest, and makes them want to hear more. Common examples include a personal anecdote, a fact or statistic, a question, a picture or video, a quote, or a prop. Finding the right hook is a big part of the challenge, and depends on who you’re speaking to, your company, and your background as an entrepreneur.
2. Find the right narrative for your startup
Every startup is a story, and each story has its own plots and twists. Having said that, you would typically be choosing from one of four archetypes:
The entrepreneur - typically revolves around the motivation to start the company after encountering the same problems in a past endeavor.
The user - describes the problem from the end user’s perspective. If this is a common issue, your listeners can identify with it; if it’s an area they don’t understand, this helps contextualize the problem and brings it down to Earth.
The evolution - how the company reached where it is today: where you started, why you pivoted, what milestones you’ve reached, etc.
The market - focuses on the industry, trends, challenges and opportunities. In the example below, you can also see the ‘domino effect’ of how every element in the pitch leads to the next. You get a lot of factual information, but it feels like a narrative.
3. Present a problem and a solution that corresponds to it
The problem should be described in a way that demonstrates the pain and the impact on users and the market. This part of the story is meant to show that there’s a real need for your product. The problem should be concrete, backed by numbers, and explained from the customer’s perspective. You should also address existing solutions and their shortcomings.
The solution should be explained in a simple and clear way, balancing the big picture with the technical details. (In early rounds you’ll probably focus more on the big picture since the details of your solution will still be murky.) You want to answer three questions:
What is it? It’s super important to be able to explain this very clearly in a minimal amount of words! Beware the ‘curse of knowledge’ – you typically know more about your product and industry than the person you’re speaking with.
What does it do? The key features and capabilities. Speak in actions: our tool collects, analyzes, consolidates…
What’s the impact? How your product affects users and the world at large.
You want your story to be coherent and logical. When you describe the problem in the first part of your presentation, the solution you describe in the second part should be the perfect fit, according to the parameters you’ve established. Not adhering to this principle can create a disjointed and confusing experience.
Here are two examples where this is done well:
There are a few other things you can see in these videos that are also useful for the problem / solution section of your story:
Describe your ultimate vision: “We’re creating a new method of commerce”
Help listeners by highlighting the details that matter most: “But more importantly…”
Mention validation signals such as customers and successful pilots. You should also signpost these with your speech: “And this is already showing great results…”
4. Practice your presentation
A professional, confident presentation is more persuasive than a mumbly and apologetic one. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone but you can practice it: notice things like tonation, eye contact, body language, smooth interaction with the deck, and apparel. Making an effort in these aspects shows that you’re serious and are taking this meeting seriously. If it’s a virtual meeting, you might want to pay attention to lighting, sound, and camera angles.
Don’t confuse professionalism with showmanship, which can come off as overly rehearsed and sketchy. Authenticity is key – practice until it feels natural. Find your strong points and learn how to convey the same relaxed, comfortable energy you have in conversations with friends and family.
Here’s a great example:
5. Show, don’t tell
Wherever possible, you want to include demos and tangible elements in your story - let your counterparts see it with their own eyes rather than telling them about it. This creates a more memorable, multi-dimensional experience. Here’s a classic, extreme example from the popular television show Shark Tank:
6. End strong
Before you finish speaking, you want to recap everything you’ve already said so far – the problem, the solution, your grand vision. Give investors something memorable to hang onto after the meeting and reinforce everything you’ve already said with something exciting or inspirational. Show an honest picture of the challenges but don’t add disclaimers – investors realize that you’re often describing a work in progress.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Presenting the problem without necessary background information. Your investors might have a lot of background knowledge or none at all. Read the room and don’t be afraid to ask.
Telling an overly long and overly detailed story, where investors get lost in the weeds.
Getting too creative and trying to add unique twists to the story – simple is usually better.
Using belittling language that sows doubt. (“We hope to…”)
Using multiple perspectives (such as shifting between the consumer and the buyer for a B2B2C product).
Incoherency and disjointed ideas.
Not ending with a structured summary.
Closing: Storytelling is More Skill Than Art, and Practice Makes Perfect
Some people might be natural-born storytellers. Most of us aren’t – but we can get better at it. It’s a skill and just like any other skill, it can be mastered with practice and consistency.
As an entrepreneur, becoming a better storyteller won't just elevate your pitches but can significantly increase your startup's chances of success in all aspects from sales to HR to marketing. So, get your story out there, iterate, and improve. A captivating narrative could be the game-changer your startup needs.
We hope you enjoyed this episode (and if you did, we’d love if you could tell a friend). As a reminder, all episodes are also available via Od Podcast.