The end of an intense innovation boot camp is normally heralded by the pitch panel – an opportunity to pitch your idea in five minutes to a panel of senior execs, hopefully to gain investment to explore your idea further. Recently, on a boot camp I was introduced to the concept of storytelling rather than pitching and thought it might be interesting to share some thoughts.
We are natural storytellers; we tell ghost stories around campfires, make up stories about the one that got away, re-tell our individual love stories and create amazing bedtime tales for our children; so why don’t use this skill more at work?
By using storytelling, we can paint a picture, a vision of the future detailing the benefits our new product or service idea will unlock for customers. This can require some hard thinking around the actual value you are creating for customers. When telling a story rather than making a pitch, it’s not enough to say we will save the customer time or money. To demonstrate you really understand your key characters, it’s important you bring to life what customers will do with that saved time or money. For example is Uber about cheaper taxi fares or is it really about busy working parents being able to maximise their working day but still get to nursery pick ups on time ? Once we have really understood the value we are creating, it becomes much easier for execs to buy into a vision of the future as our story is more compelling.
Building on this, the actual ask to senior execs can then become repositioned as transformational rather than transactional. So instead of asking for a pot of money, the ask is much more collaborative, it’s about making the execs part of changing something for the better for customers. This is quite a subtle adjustment, but the best investment panels I have seen are when the senior execs realise they are on the same side as those asking for investment, and use their experience to shape, improve and de-risk the idea, rather than criticising.
Vulnerability has an important role in storytelling, as we are trying to make others care about our key characters. This is where storytelling can sometimes be easier for start-ups rather than corporate innovators. Start-ups have often evolved from some personal frustration or pain point felt and experienced by the founders. Like the story of Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, getting ready for a party and realising her normal underwear was just not going to work. Forbes reports she now has a net worth of $1.11 billion. Corporate innovators don’t often have that personal story to tell so need to bring their stories to life using customer anecdotes and experiences. This can be more difficult but ultimately can drive empathy and engagement if done correctly.
If you are interested in the concept of storytelling and in particular the idea of telling stories to make ideas stick, then you might like to read ‘Make to Stick’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. A book which codifies why some ideas stuck and some don’t. Particularly memorable as it explains why the urban myth of travellers being drugged and having their kidneys stolen is still retold many times when most people cannot retell their company strategy with the same clarity and detail.
I’m not sure storytelling works better than pitching in every situation, I think it’s important to understand your audience first. But I certainly think there are elements of storytelling which can certainly help enrich and differentiate a typical pitch.
I'd love to hear about other peoples experiences of pitching and story telling, maybe there is even a hybrid of the two ? Please get in touch at Hello@freestyleinnovation.co.uk