I’m occasionally asked what advice I recommend most frequently when coaching individuals and teams to tell better origin and pitch stories. This is far from an exclusive list (nor is it necessarily in order), although here is the top five…
1) Break the time frame
Stories come in three parts:
But they don’t have to appear in this order.
I often hear origin stories that begin: ‘We launched the business in 2009,’ or similar. It makes temporal sense but not story sense, as it doesn’t grab attention.
Try opening with the struggle. ‘In 2014 our business hit a crisis that meant we had a crucial decision to make…’ Whatever comes next, I guarantee your audience will listen. You can move to the trigger event if you want and pick the story up from there.
2) Develop an ‘active question’.
If you don’t have an active question then you don’t have a story. An active question is the hook that draws attention at the beginning of the narrative. Movies engage by provoking curiosity and then maintaining it until the end of the film (How will Bond triumph? Will the couple get together? Who killed the president?).
It’s important that pitch stories and origin stories follow the same principle. If there’s no active question then there’s likely to be less audience engagement.
Breaking the time frame will develop an active question (which choice solved the crisis in example1?) but it isn’t the only way to do so. Other methods include:
- Open with an insight.
- Name you story’s theme up front.
- Open with a parallel story.
- State your intention.
3) Use an Extended Metaphor
Metaphor is the substitution of one thing for another that illustrates the common characteristics of both. Images (including mental images) are processed 60,000 times more quickly than spoken facts, numbers or abstract information alone.
People recall less than 10% of orally delivered information after 72 hours. This rises to 65% when a mental picture accompanies it. So if speed and memorability are important to you when communicating your story, metaphors should be too. These four steps will help generate the right image for your client or audience.
- Decide the point you want to make.
- Choose the most appropriate image for your audience.
- Bridge between the pint and the image – how are they connected?
- Test it and get an honest reaction.
4) Make it personal.
Virtually everyone starts a business story using the collective first person:
We launched the business because….
Our reasons for getting into this marketplace were….
However using second person can be a great way of generating an active question by introducing jeopardy.
- You’re facing a disastrous PR issue that came out of nowhere…
- You need to turn a job round in 12 hours or lose your biggest client…
The role of most story-based pitches is to present yourself as an ally. If you begin by creating an antagonist then you can position yourself with the story mix.
Of course you need to be bang on when identifying the key problem your hero faces…
5) Max The Struggle
At the most elemental level stories are about struggle, and yet so often RFP stories discount this element and go straight from Trigger (the reason they’ve been invited to pitch) to Resolution (their proposal). I suspect it’s because the pitch team is wary of planting doubt in a potential client’s mind as to their heroic qualities.
If so, they are missing an opportunity…
Clients are looking for someone they can identify with and trust. Showing how you engaged with the brief, and the ideas you rejected, can underline both your commitment to the cause, and in doing so highlight your qualities as an ally.
One of the major tenets of storytelling is show don’t tell. Highlighting the evolution of your solution does exactly that and perpetuates your active question.