4 Steps to Effective Storytelling

For startups, “The Pitch” is not only a fundamental tool for gaining customers, funders and traction, but it’s also the small window that provides an inside look at a venture’s story. The story, as we’ve come to learn, is often what makes or breaks a venture’s ability to enroll resources and support.. The literal, million dollar question has become: How do you tell an effective story?

Our time in Seattle put us center stage with one of the greatest storytelling brands in the world, Starbucks. We spent the week working alongside members of the Starbucks Digital Ventures team, as well as practitioners such as Smallify founder, Dave Viotti, and author of The Lean Brand, Jeremiah Gardner, to dive into techniques and best practices for uncovering your authentic voice, learning the intricacies of status and influence, and developing a passionate relationship with your audience (aka a brand). As the spring CivicX program heads to New York City for Demo Night, where two $50,000 investments are on the line, we thought the timing was right to share our 4 elements of effective storytelling.

For starters, let’s quickly outline what all great stories entail. Each of these pieces together roll up to your venture’s value proposition:

A problem

This is generally where most social entrepreneurs start – identifying a problem that needs solved.

Details that paint the picture

Walk through a person facing this problem’s day. What are the pain points for them, why is this problem so prevalent?


What hurdles need to be leaped in order to overcome the problem. Specifically speaking for startups, what do you need in order to achieve the solution to the problem? Hint: It’s not money.

A resolution

Your product/service.

And now, 4 Elements of Effective Storytelling:

1. Influence

There are many ways to tell the same story. Understanding the way your audience prefers to hear and be influenced by that story is important. For example, are they looking for a compelling vision to align with, or would they be more convinced by hearing the facts? Listen for queues in your customer and investor conversations to determine the the best positioning techniques for that particular audience. For more on influence, see here.

2. Active listening

To figure out how our audience prefers to be influenced, we need to be really good listeners. This is hard for entrepreneurs as we’ve been wired and groomed to “always be selling.” The fallacy in that strategy is quite obvious, however. If we don’t know, and more importantly understand, our customer or investor’s problem then how we can we even begin to think that our “story” will resonate with them? For a great case study and start up application around active listening, check out this blog and why your one job as a founder should be that of the “Product Assistant.”

3. A Name, Helping a Name.

Real people resonate with other real people. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that people and organizations with names are at the center of your story. This can be a person with a name helping a person with a name, an organization with a name helping a person or organization with a name, however you see it best fitting for you and your story, it starts with a name. This is also the opportunity to tell what’s often the most important aspect of a venture’s story; your story. This brings us to our next point.

4. A Brand is a Relationship between your venture and your audience.

And all great relationships start with trust among people. Jeremiah Gardner, author of The Lean Brand shares 3 vital components to developing your venture’s minimum viable brand.

-Are you sharing your story in an authentic way with your audience (hint: not your venture’s story, YOUR story)?

-Are you inviting your audience to participate in your journey? For example, what is the call to action? Does your audience know what you want them to do?

-What artifacts are you presenting to your audience during and after their engagement with you? This might be an experience, or something to see, touch, remember, etc. Think: How will this audience tell others about my venture after I leave? For more on creating a minimum viable brand, check out The LEAN Brand book.

That’s it. Now go out and start sharing your story.

What other piece of advice would you give social entrepreneurs as they craft their perfect pitch?