Persuading, Storytelling and Leading

Last week I witnessed the power of stories.  Students in my entrepreneurship class were pitching business ideas to a panel of mock investors.  A couple of these mock investors were channelling Kevin O’Leary.  But I digress. One of the groups was pitching a concierge service for international students.

All three students in the group were international students. And they opened their ten minute pitch with a personal story. One of the students was very worried about her English and rarely ever spoke in class. But she told her story of fear, anxiety and isolation in her first few weeks in Canada. It was quietly passionate. By sharing her personal experience she highlighted the “pain” that their proposed business was going to resolve. And the mock investors related to that story.

Here is the funny thing. This group’s business idea wasn’t the strongest of those presented. But that story created an emotional connection between the investors and the student pitch team.  It didn’t matter that their English wasn’t so great. It didn’t matter that the idea needed some polish.  And the team did not use a single power point slide. The story is what mattered.  In the end, this business idea received the most funding from the investor panel.

To be really effective, stories need to be concise, related to the topic, unexpected and emotional.  And to be a persuasive leader, you need to be a good storyteller.  Here are the four books I recommend on storytelling and presenting: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, Perfect Pitch by John Steele, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, and the Leaders Guide to Storytelling by Steve Denning. 

Communication and persuasion are important leadership skills. And storytelling is an important tool in your persuasion toolkit.  So do your homework and start rehearsing your stories.


7 replies »

  1. The act of making an emotional connection with another is the major component of any successful endeavor, particularly when it relates to business, where you are attempting to get someone to take action (make a purchase or invest capital).

    Humans respond emotionally to any number of stimuli, which is why we cry while watching a sad movie (when the heart-strings are pulled), or leap from our seats in supportive victory when the hero or heroine overcomes an insurmountable obstacle. How about our feelings of contempt for the lowly character who is steeped in dastardly deeds, where we are compelled to take action to rectify the injustice?

    I can see how the story-telling aspect of the presenters in your class won out over the straight-up ‘business presentation’, which usually amounts to a bland regurgitation of facts and figures that are devoid of any feeling or connectiveness whatsoever.

    IMO, the relevant emotional story will win out every time!

    Thanks for your insight.


  2. I believe, as an investor, I would treat this as much as being a warning as well as being effective. It can be the preamble before the scam.
    There is seldom a silver lining without a cloud looming somewhere inside it. In the case above that cloud could have been the business model.
    Just a thought.

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