Want to Sell Your Ideas? Tell Engaging Stories.
The following is the first in a series, "Talk Like TED," in which communications coach/author Carmine Gallo applies tips, techniques and insights to help entrepreneurs and business professionals sell their ideas more persuasively. These ideas are inspired by the TED Conference’s most celebrated talks in its 30-year history.
In a poignant scene in the movie Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) says to Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), “That’s what storytellers do. We restore order to imagination. We instill hope again and again.”
Stories connect us to one another. Stories stimulate our imaginations. Stories are at the heart of the most successful TED talks. As the TED conference celebrates its 30-year anniversary this March, it’s instructive to study how TED speakers have captured the imagination of audiences around the world and, most importantly, how entrepreneurs can adopt the same techniques to pitch their ideas more persuasively than ever.
Stories give presentations their soul. Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights attorney who successfully argues cases in front of the U.S Supreme Court. Stevenson’s 2013 TED talk received the longest standing ovation in the history of the conference. It was so persuasive that audience members collectively donated $1 million to his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative. In 18 minutes, Stevenson told three personal stories that reinforced his theme that, in underserved and underprivileged communities, many young people grow up without a sense of identity, causing them to make profoundly bad decisions.
When I analyzed Stevenson’s presentation, I discovered that stories made up 65 percent of the content. The data he used to support his argument comprised about 10 percent. Most entrepreneurs have it reversed when they pitch their ideas. They believe that a barrage of statistics will persuade investors to back their ideas or customers to buy their products. While statistics support an argument, they are not sufficient for persuasion to occur.
Many studies confirm that people are moved by emotions and that stories are the most effective way to tap into those emotions. In fact, Princeton University researchers discovered that stories enable “brain-to-brain coupling.” In other words, if I tell you a story, the same regions of our brains light up. That means we are literally in sync!
Stories break down walls between two people, leaving the listener more receptive to the numbers and the hard evidence. Let’s look at how stories impact some of the most jaded of all audiences -- early stage investors.
Angel investors invest in people, not products. While the big venture capital deals capture business news headlines, the vast majority of entrepreneurs get their start with smaller "seed" investments typically made by friends and family or early-stage investors. Yes, these small investors want to make money, but they also want to trust the people they back and to feel as though they have a connection with them on an emotional level. Storytelling is critical when pitching to these type of investors.
I recently met the entrepreneur behind a successful hair salon. He and his team had invented a mobile app for the salon industry. I reviewed his PowerPoint deck and suggested that he begin with a story about his family’s 100-year history in the salon business and the trends they had pioneered. I watched the live 20-minute presentation from the back of the room, listened to the investors’ feedback, and had the opportunity to speak to them after the meeting.
When the entrepreneur started the story, each of the investors -- who ranged in net worth from $25 million to more than $200 million -- leaned in, listening intently. After the presentation, an investor in the front row raised his hand and said, "Bravo!" The investor was moved -- not by the product as much as the story behind the product. The story gave the product an added dimension and built the team's credibility.
I wish I could tell you each of the investors instantly wrote checks that day. That's not the way it works. Smart investors don't hand over their money after a 20-minute pitch. The pitch, however, convinced several investors to schedule follow-up meetings. Within a few months the entrepreneur received the cash he needed to take his project from idea to implementation.
In the knowledge economy you are only as successful as your ability to transfer the information you have -- your knowledge -- to others. Stories facilitate the sharing of that information. Stories illustrate, illuminate and inspire. Tell more of them.