It is common knowledge that you can only make a first impression once. In most cases, your audience will form an opinion about the idea you are presenting within minutes, if not seconds.

When it comes to startup pitches, a founder’s entire future can depend on a successful pitch. Having a winning business idea is part of this, but it is not everything. Especially if the idea revolves around a product that does not yet exist, the pitch deck or presentation needs to capture the audience’s imagination.

Using storytelling elements throughout can make the difference between a memorable presentation and a pitch received with nothing but resistance. Some of the most effective elements presenters and startup founders can use include following the structure of a story and creating memorable characters. Presenters leave a lasting impression by backing up their points with data and illustrating it beautifully.


I _ Structure your presentation like a story

Humans have used stories for thousands of years to share information and persuade others. Stories create connections between humans that simple facts alone cannot.

At its most basic, each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But there is more to turning a story into a good story and making it memorable. Good stories follow an arc that starts by introducing a problem or a pain point.

In a startup pitch, this is where the presenter shares the problem their new product or service will resolve. Few good stories are told without creating tension. How many movies can you think of where the protagonist is first wronged or struggles before they can be redeemed?

A strong presentation uses that tension or suspense to draw in listeners and convince them to care. Next is the solution. This is where startup founders introduce their products or service. In other contexts, presenters introduce their answers to the initial problem at this point. The rest of the presentation can then be devoted to backing up the story with facts.

Guy Kawasaki’s approach of using only ten slides has become one of the most influential formulas for pitches and presentations. This strategy remains valid to this day, but consider deviating from it if your topic or product warrants it. If you are a startup founder, you will find plenty of evidence that the number of slides is not a dealbreaker.


II _ Create relatable protagonists

What turns a movie into a nailbiter or a novel into a page-turner? The answer lies in the protagonists. When it comes to presenting or pitching, there are a few key protagonists to think about:

  • Startup founder or presenter
  • (Prospective) customers
  • (Prospective) investors
  • The team behind the idea
  • Competitors

Most presentations start with an introduction. Do not skip over that slide quickly: it is an excellent opportunity to connect with your audience. Rather than only sharing your name, job title, and company, tell your audience something that they could not have gathered from your LinkedIn profile. The result will be a closer connection.

Any story’s main protagonist is someone readers or viewers can identify with. In a presentation or a pitch, prospective customers are the main character. Rather than thinking about them in numbers and demographics, bring them to life by fleshing out their persona. This makes them relatable and memorable. In short, it helps your audience connect.

Successful startup pitches take prospective investors on a journey. The story told in the pitch allows investors to picture themselves and their role in the advancement of the company. They become a protagonist with a stronger connection to the business that is stronger than the physical money they offered.

Staying with the startup pitch scenario, investors also want to know the people their team will be working with. Take the time to introduce the team supporting the founder. Again, sharing information beyond the resume on LinkedIn helps create stronger connections.

Competitors need not be your story’s villains, but they have a role to play. Showing that you understand the impact they may have on the business rounds out your story.


III _ Illustrating your points with creative design

Presentations and pitches may be one-off events, but the slide deck backing up the presenter has a longer life span. It is the main prop of the story. You may choose to make them available after the presentation. In the case of startups, investors may want to review a company’s slides before they meet the founder in person.

The point is how you present your story matters. Slides filled with text or simply listing statistics do not connect to your audience. Those numbers take on meaning when wrapped in a memorable context and presented in a clear design highlighting your brand. Use imagery, such as graphics, pictures, and even short videos, to breathe life into your presentation’s proposition.

Designing a creative presentation does not mean you need to go overboard. This is especially true for startups. Simple is often beautiful and memorable unless you pitch a design product or service.

Using storytelling elements in presentations can transform the content by making it memorable and connecting to the audience. Research has proven that humans remember stories in much more detail and for much longer than simple lists of facts.

Presenters in any situation, including startup pitches, benefit greatly from using elements of storytelling in their slide deck. From creating relatable, memorable characters to following a proven structure – storytelling elements strengthen presentations and pitches.

Backed up by functional, clear design, these elements are the key to creating strong connections between presenters and audiences. The easier it is for the audience to picture themselves in the story, the more likely they are to engage with and act on the presentation.