Tell Stories, Not Fairy Tales

EIR Reflections: Week 8 of MIT delta v

August 2, 2019
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This is part of an ongoing series of posts by our Entrepreneur in Residence, Kosta Ligris, focused on guidance for the student teams taking part in our MIT delta v accelerator.


“Remember, you’re the one that can fill the world with sunshine.”
Snow White

Once upon a time, at a magical Institute far, far away, there was a young entrepreneur with a vision to change the world!

The entrepreneur knew what the world wanted. The vision was clear! The need, the solution, the unit economics! People would run from the edge of the world to give this entrepreneur all of their greatest possessions for a chance to be an early adopter. They came with precious metals, coins, Kalamata olive oil, Iranian Beluga caviar, a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc. They lined up across the Harvard Bridge into 77 Mass. Ave. and all along the Infinite Corridor to hear this entrepreneur’s pitch.

“My heart has wings and I can fly. I’ll touch every star in the sky. So this is the miracle I’ve been dreaming of.”
-– Cinderella

Some people are just gifted with the ability to stand in front of a room and capture an audience’s attention. They can mesmerize the public and take every person on a magical journey. It is a valuable and powerful gift.

“Find what you love, and don’t let it go no matter what. I would say Winston Churchill really knew what he was talking about when he said, ‘Never give in. Never, never, never … ’ And I would say I am living proof that it’s true; that if you can imagine it, you can achieve it.”

Compelling stuff, right? Who said it? Elizabeth Holmes. Once praised as the self-made billionaire of Theranos who raised round after round to a valuation of $10 billion, Holmes was indicted last year by a federal grand jury. I know what you are thinking: what an extreme example of storytelling.

But … storytelling is an art. Read about “6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar)”.

Or take a few minutes to learn about Chris Anderson’s “TED’s Secret to Public Speaking”. Anderson talks about how “you need to give context, you need to give examples” – and link these back to your ideas. Use the power of language, Anderson says, because “speakers often forget that many of the terms and concepts they live with are completely unfamiliar to their audiences.” Sound familiar to you?

Places like MIT and Kendall Square are overwhelming. The ecosystem is powerful, full of ideas, organizations, and people that are changing our world. We start to use language, acronyms, and concepts that are familiar to the residents of the ecosystem. It is our language, but like all languages, if you don’t speak it, “It’s all Greek to me.”

It is extraordinarily important for you to communicate the research, facts, data, and backup that has led to your hypotheses and conclusions so your audience can understand. Never presume they know what you have done, never presume they are reading between the lines. No matter how intelligent and experienced your audience, presume nothing!

I sat in a board meeting where a team showed a photo of a wall that was filled with dense brainstorming content.  The amount of information on that white board was overwhelming — likely exhaustive -– but what does that mean to a board member or potential investor if they weren’t in the room with you? If you don’t translate it, process it, and present it in a clear and concise manner, it means nothing.

I hate to be blunt, but how do the people listening to you know what you’re saying is real content that supports the story and not a fairy tale?

They don’t.

And that my fellow entrepreneurs is the magic. During the discussion following the team’s presentation a board member said, “I bet that lots of my questions are answered on that wall.”

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
-– Alice in Wonderland

Knowing this now, what could you as an entrepreneur have done differently at your last board meeting? This year’s cohort is full of brilliance, energy, passion, and commitment. Don’t lose sight of that. Become better storytellers, but never forget that ultimately it’s all about the substance. A good story without substance is fluff. Learn from these experiences and sharpen your skills on delivering the whole picture to your audience.

In September the bright lights will shine on the Demo Day stages in Cambridge, New York, and Silicon Valley. Between now and then you have the opportunity to craft a story that is clear, has purpose, and is backed up by your research and lessons, all while appealing to the emotions of your audience. Work on it every day! Stand in front of a mirror, talk to yourself, talk to me, talk to anyone that you can get to stop and listen.

“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
-– C.S. Lewis