Tell a story

Why your story matters

The human mind is far better at processing narratives than it is processing numbers and lists. Prof. Yuval Noah Harari wrote about it, many many others as well, but my favorite researcher on this matter is the great Daniel Kahneman (specifically mentions this concept in this lecture).

Now, how do you compile a very good story?

That’s hard. Setting aside all talent-related advantages, one still needs to get its story straight. I think this is a good baseline because a story needs to be straight. The line shouldn’t loop, shouldn’t break. Twists and turns are great, but the listener basically wants to get from here to there and the road shouldn’t be too hard.

Errors

I hear 5 to 10 startup stories each week. Some are good, some are bad. Many common mistakes keep coming back. The most common one is founders who do not understand their own storyline.

Guidelines

Writing this post, I was telling to myself “just don’t make it a ‘how to’ post, just don’t make it a ‘how to’ post. Guides written on how to tell a good story can fill your 1TB hard drive. Easy. People made fortunes teaching this. I’m not going to even try.”

  1. Play to your strengths. Figure out what you have that others don’t (pro tip, it’s not the idea), and build the story around it. Do you have employment experience relevant to your field? Do you have a unique life story? Do you have proprietary information?
  2. Identify your soft spots and confront them. What others have that you don’t? What do you have that can slow you down? Don’t run away. Think about ways to mitigate these disadvantages and mix them into the story. If people meet your soft spot when it’s coupled with your idea for mitigation they feel less concerned about it.
  3. Find your strong suit and wear it at all times. Do you write well? Do you speak nicely? Are you better at one-on-ones or at public speaking? Try to accomplish as much of your communications in the medium that fits you best. I had a colleague that would call people up without warning. It would drive me crazy because I hate people calling unannounced. But, this colleague is great at phone calls and poor at emails and texts, and this questionable method got him very far in life.
  4. The grandma test. The mom test became famous recently, and I would like to suggest another test, the grandma test. Can someone that is a complete stranger to your cultural and professional space understand and relate to your story? Can they listen through the end? Can they get excited? Tell your story to your grandma and see how stupid jargon phrases, and clichés and logical gaps float to the surface.
  5. Seperate assumptions from opinions and those two from facts. Facts are what you can support with data. It’s a very narrow category and most of what you have in your head right now is not in it. Assumptions are things that you conclude are likely to happen, and they cannot be supported nor disproved. Opinions are comentry on the past, present or future. All three are nice to have, but a good narrative demands you separate them from one another and position them appropriately in your story.

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Amit Mittelman

Amit Mittelman

MBA candidate at HEC Paris. Formerly, a co-founder at Approve.com and an EIR at Entree Capital. Love the startup hustle.