Your investor pitch deck is one of the most important presentations you’ll give as an entrepreneur. Although the stakes are high and the pressure is intense, using storytelling in your pitch will go a long way towards capturing an investor’s undivided attention. This article will explain how such a pitch can be conceived.  

by Jasın Beever

The greatest business idea in the world—a guaranteed moneymaker that could influence the future of society—can still fail to launch if it isn’t explained in the right way to investors. Don’t assume that the wonder and awe of your company’s potential will seem obvious when presented through boring data on PowerPoint slides. From the investors’ perspective, if the presentation is a snooze then it’s likely the business opportunity is as well.  

As the greatest tool of communication, storytelling will help you achieve the winning pitch you need. Venture capitalists, like any audience, are far more engaged and receptive to stories compared to traditional lectures. In fact, audiences are 22 times more likely to recall facts and data when the information is presented in a story. 

Let’s look now at how three useful storytelling tips can turn an ordinary pitch deck into a captivating tool for VCs to buy into your vision of the future. 

Hook Them From The Start

It’s common wisdom that an effective pitch deck should last no longer than 20 minutes and generally contain no more than 10–15 slides. Usually within the first few minutes of a presentation, investors know through experience who is deserving of their attention or not. Your first impression, then, must grab interest right off the bat—there isn’t a moment to lose in hooking your audience into the value of your proposition.

Unless your company’s origin story is a riveting tale of overcoming insurmountable odds and adversity, starting things off with your personal background or history will more likely inspire snores than interest. A better tactic for inciting curiosity is to begin by posing a relatable problem.

Conflict is the driving force behind good storytelling. By flipping a situation on its head right at the start, investors are compelled to lean forward and listen to how this conflict will be resolved. In movies and television, this dramatic trigger point is referred to as the inciting incident: the moment where a character’s life is thrown out of balance, propelling her on a quest to restore this balance.

This essential moment of a story’s arc must generally happen within the first 10–20% of its runtime; therefore, make sure you’ve introduced this dramatic tension no later than the 2nd slide of your presentation.

The problem is what inspired the creation of your company. In your assessment of the market and society at large, you discovered a gaping hole that currently prevents us from living our best lives. We are intrigued by this conflict you’ve introduced, because we too have felt this pain in our lives. Now that you’ve sparked our interest, we avidly await what you offer as a solution.

How can you be sure the proposed problem will resonate strongly enough? It depends on who’s listening.

Know Your Audience

As we’ve said before about storytelling, an important shift you must make in your message is to avoid positioning yourself as the hero of your story; instead, make it about your audience. Doing this requires both research and imagination in order to understand the intimate daily life of your hero, discover her greatest frustrations and desires, and envision how meaningful her transformation will feel once her pains are alleviated.

To get VCs excited, you need to instill in them a shared passion for the vision of your business. To accomplish this, present your pitch in terms and goals they’ll understand. Investors are of course motivated by profits, but they also realize that they’ll never see a return on their investment unless they are first invested emotionally.

Presenting the VC as the hero of your story suddenly makes them an active participant in the outcome. Through an empathetic connection, they will see the character’s problems and desires as their own, leading to a clear “ah-ha!” moment in the presentation when they realize that your product is the key to positive transformation in their lives.

How do you create a character that most any VC can relate to? Surely you cast a wide net and make the character as general and undefined as possible, right? Quite the opposite in fact...

Tell ONE Person’s Story

When you attempt to tell a story about everyone, you inadvertently make it about no one. Specificity is hugely important in developing your hero, setting and context. While it may seem counterintuitive, the more detailed and specific a character is, the more an audience will relate to her.

Consider how the original smartphone, the BlackBerry, may have initially won investors’ hearts:

Perhaps the story could open with Bill, the busy CEO of CommCorp. From the moment he wakes until the late hours of the night, Bill’s typical workday is an onslaught of phone calls, meetings, and tough decisions that can never wait.

When the company car picks him up at his Central Park North address at 6am, his pager already incessantly beeps for attention, reminding him of simple correspondences that must be done through phone calls. Barely having enough time for a cup of coffee and a muffin, time-sensitive emails await Bill when he arrives at the office. While away for lunch, his pager continues beeping, reminding him of more phone calls and emails that must be done the moment he returns to work.

This is the problem in Bill’s world. As a busy executive, juggling the needs of daily communication poses a significant challenge and inconvenience. Until now, Bill’s only solution was to take quicker lunch breaks, spend more time at the office, or delegate tasks to assistants.

That is, until the BlackBerry appeared. Now phone calls, email and text messaging can be accomplished through one device, eliminating the need for pagers. The BlackBerry follows Bill wherever he goes. Decisions can now be made through a simple five-word text. Emails can be written at his convenience. Productivity has never been better or more efficient. He now has more time for his wife Linda and their two children. This is Bill’s transformation—and for any investor who shares a similar life, the value of this product is obvious.

The BlackBerry’s creators could have taken a much different approach in their pitch: throw numbers on a slide that indicate the total hours a typical CEO spends on phone calls every day; show some graphs that display the percentage of time saved with the BlackBerry; recite some useless data about retention rates in email vs. in-person meetings...   

Your audience will never recall the exact numbers or data afterwards. They will, however, always remember the story of Bill and his struggle for more time.

When you invoke a personal connection with storytelling, your pitch to investors will be like making them an offer they can’t refuse.

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