“Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories.”

Andrew Stanton, Pixar Writer

This quote perfectly describes the message from our June Lunch & Learn webinar on business pitching through storytelling, featuring Anita Leffel. Anita is a business owner, a former university Professor and Dean, and an expert at business pitching. In her presentation she shared insight on how to tell your story and turn it into a business pitch for your specific audience. Read on for highlights from Anita’s presentation.

How you frame your message depends on these factors:

Who is my audience?
Why am I giving this pitch?
What do I want out of this pitch?

Each audience has a different expectation from the presenter. You wouldn’t say the same thing to a group of investors as you would to a group of individuals who have no business or financial ties. This is why it is important to understand your audience and your goals for each and every pitch.

According to Anita, misunderstanding the audience and what they expect is the number one mistake she finds with business pitches.

An example of storytelling gone right is the story of Surbhi Sarna, a woman entrepreneur who founded a startup called nVision, which makes a specialized device for detecting Ovarian cancer. Lacking professional connections and funding, Sarna set out on a quest for fundraising. When her fundraising efforts seemed to fall on deaf ears, she went to her mentor to seek advice. She opened up to her mentor about her own scare with Ovarian cancer when she was 13 years old and her mentor urged her to share this story in her pitch. When Sarna began to share her story, the money began to come in. Sarna is now selling her company for $250 million. When she began incorporating her personal story, she brought the vision for her company to life, which is the power of storytelling.

Sarna’s story goes to show – For your startup to succeed, you must have a compelling story. Your story should make the audience want to know what comes next and how the story ends.

Make to Stick is a book recommended by Anita, on how to make your ideas stick. In today’s world, it sometimes seems like lies carry on better than the truth. This phenomenon makes it hard for anyone with an important message to make their idea stick. According to the book, good ideas are simple, concrete and do something unexpected.

Another book Anita recommended on storytelling in the business settings is Tell to Win. This book suggests, humans aren’t moved to action by data, they are moved by emotion. When we hear something that is factual and dry, our instinct is to challenge, because we are naturally critical and skeptical. The process of changing someone’s mind begins with something like, once upon a time…

Chris Anderson, the owner of TED, defines storytelling by saying, “Your task is to transfer an idea into the minds of your listeners, who perhaps hold the key to your future and the future of your idea.”

In order to transfer your idea, every point should connect to your overall message. The ideas you present and the order you present them is crucial. In addition, you must constantly bring the listener into your story. If you are fighting to solve a problem, make them feel the problem and understand why there needs to be a solution.

As mentioned before, your idea must be simple. As a rule of thumb, consider you grandparents. If you cannot easily explain your ideas to your grandma, you have not explained it well. It is better to give a simple explanation than to talk over your audience’s head.

When it comes to pitching biotechnology versus other business ideas, there are a few obvious differences to consider. Pitching in the biotech space includes: Longer development time, exorbitant development costs, more stringent regulatory, and need for diverse skillset. However, biotech is also unique in social significance and the type of ROI it brings.

Regardless of what story you tell or what idea you pitch, all stories follow a similar structure, which looks something like this:

  • Characters
  • Motivation
  • Plot
  • Symbols

Pitches follow a similar structure

  • Customers – the characters in your story
  • Insights – the motivation
  • Problem/solution – the story plot

In addition to this basic structure, all pitches should include the following topics:

  • Company, purpose, mission
  • Problem or pain point – that the audience can feel. Who is facing it? What does it look like?
  • Solution – keep it very focused. No fluff
  • Competition and substitutes – The answer is never nothing
  • Market opportunity and strategy
  • Business or revenue model
  • Reimbursement strategy
  • Product development and regulatory – milestones, time frames, follow up products
  • IP and secret sauce – Don’t have to share confidential info, but share enough so investors understand and appreciate what you are working on
  • Leadership team – investors don’t write checks to the products, they write them to your team. Show credibility and describe key partnerships
  • Estimated exit
  • Financials
  • Risks and mitigation
  • Summary
  • Thank you and Q&A – let them know you are finished and don’t leave them guessing
  • Support slides – things you feel like the investors might ask

When it comes to you as the presenter, keep in mind:

  • Show passion and enthusiasm for your work
  • You must be knowledgeable about the business, product and market
  • Show your ability to inspire others and to execute
  • Be willing to receive advice, listen and learn
  • This is your show – Take control of the stage
  • Be prepared for time limits! It looks unprofessional to go over time

There is so much power in a succinct, focused and compelling story. Mark Twain said, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.” Telling your story takes time, practice and careful planning, but in the end, it is the key to a winning business pitch and a successful startup.

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