On any given day in Columbus, on the streets of our emerging and ever growing retail community, or in the halls on campus at Ohio State, or in the conference rooms of our co-working spaces, people are telling stories.
They’re telling stories of experience. How things used to work, how things will work in the future, how their product is better, how they themselves are different. I’m continuously running into the need to nurture storytelling in nearly every aspect of my line of work, which is building things. I meet new graduates from the university who are hungry for work and I say “what’s your story?” I meet a new startup every day that’s looking for a dollar and i say “what’s your story?” Clients come to me to build their concept and I ask them “what’s the story?”
Narratives define us. They’re the fabric that helps create common ground, a footing for tomorrow, and storytelling is the new super skill we all must pursue: be it through our social media channels, our journaling, marketing initiatives, resumes, and even our awkward “I really don’t know a soul at this bar or conference, but this is my story” moments.
When designing a new concept, standing at the threshold of iterating on a known or new business and taking it into “next”, I go to the sketch book. I love the big canvas to dream the many possible permutations of that concept envisioned in a story of next. What could it be? Where will traction occur? What’s the storyline of a possible future that gets me invested, that wins over my customers, clients, and future employees?
Storytelling itself is a skill. I often think learning to do standup comedy is a shortcut or living accelerator to successful storytelling. Telling jokes takes us out of the perfectly refined comfort zone of no criticism and exposes us to pacing, content, narrative, tone, reception, cognition, acceptance and return interest by the outside party hearing our story. For a designer: show your stories by designing things. For a programmer: show your stories by programming things. For a business owner: show your stories through your products and services. What story do you want your product to be in your customer’s life?
I often meet folks looking for money- often really isn’t the word, always the correct word. To find money you need to first prep your story, then you need to get ready to tell that story and then continually refine that would be investable story. I think about this through a lens of experience that I have working with startups (and then my own ad hoc notions). I know a winning story when I hear it. I’m a sucker for the authentic story. I feel the momentum in the pitch and I feel the infectious aspect in the delivery. Best of all, I experience the founder’s story via the product or offering.
There are people who can teach you to tell stories better. If you’re after cash then you better get good at telling your story fast. There’s a lot of other people way ahead of you with a potentially better story, or better connection to the audience… or they are simply killer story tellers.
Lastly: Your story doesn’t have to be that good. In fact, good or bad is indifferent to me. I might not be your target audience. What’s crucial is that you have a story and you can tell it. Your audience’s reception of it is the measure of success.
Columbus has a story and it gets both more and somehow less authentic as it expands. When we spin the tale of “the little midwest city that could,” we actually pull back from the more authentic story of Columbus’ progress so far and the interesting challenge of where we should go in the future.
Take a moment. Refine your story. Practice it.