How do you win a pitching contest? The answer: with the perfect pitch. Pixar’s storytellers know that the best way to get their stories on screen is by knowing what will excite an audience and then doing everything they can to deliver it. It’s how Toy Story was such a hit, and why Finding Dory became one of 2016’s biggest hits as well—in just six months.
“The storytellers secret” is a book that tells the story of how Pixar’s pitch process works. The author, who has been with Pixar for over 20 years, talks about how they are always looking to get their point across in a concise and compelling way.
My work has been to write joyful and sometimes heartbreaking tales about rats who want to cook, fish who become better parents, and toys who learn to get along over the last 25 years. Stories have the power to transfer us to other (and imagined) worlds, altering the way we think and feel by putting us in the paws, fins, or cowboy boots of heroes going through life-changing experiences.
Entrepreneurs who want to close the sale at their next pitch or presentation may apply the same principles of excellent storytelling that I employed at Pixar.
We feel more connected to knowledge when we hear great tales. This is why Pixar movies have such a strong emotional impact on us, and we recall the characters and scenes so clearly. Memory improves considerably when facts and numbers are turned into a narrative. Facts are 22 times more likely to be recalled if they are part of a tale, according to the late cognitive researcher Jerome Bruner.
The 8-second countdown has begun.
One important truth to remember is that you only have eight seconds to persuade investors or clients that you have anything worthwhile to say before they tune out, zone out, or check out.
So, how can you come up with a good hook that keeps people’s attention? Begin with anything out of the ordinary, surprising, action-oriented, or in conflict.
Begin by imagining a “what if?” scenario.
“What if superheroes weren’t allowed to save people?” That was the hook for “The Incredibles,” a film that took the everyday world of superheroes protecting people and flipped it upside down. “Why and how did they become banned?” your audience is suddenly enthralled.
“What if you could store a thousand tunes in your pocket?” said Steve Jobs when he debuted the iPod in 2001. This has never happened before. The only method to listen to music on the fly at the time was with a cassette tape packed into a Walkman. In eight seconds, Steve said something uncommon and surprising that drew the attention of his listeners.
Take note, entrepreneurs. Consider your product or service in the context of a film. Create an eight-second “elevator pitch” that grabs customers by the lapels. Tell a captivating tale about how their lives will be impacted as a result of your actions.
Why does narrative operate in the brain?
The most successful technique to alter people’s ideas, attitudes, and ideologies is via storytelling. When characters undergo realistic transformations, the viewer is also transformed. When the storyteller’s and listener’s brain activity reflect each other, this is known as “neural coupling.”
On a molecular level, neural coupling has an impact on our bodies. Dopamine and endorphins are produced in our bodies when people—or even animated toys, robots, or rats—laugh, smile, or share suspense tales. Oxytocin is released when a sad or melancholy narrative is told. We create an amusement park ride for people’s emotions and thoughts when we juxtapose these sad and joyous moments in a tale.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could present a sales pitch to an investor or client and have your audience glued to their seats?
Invite your audience to an experience rather than a mission statement to strengthen your engagement with them. Personal, sensitive, and honest tales should be shared.
Lessons are taught via stories.
After the great success of “Toy Story” in 1995, staff questioned whether Pixar would try its hand at developing live-action films as well. What about television programs? What about video games? Employees at Pixar were ready to make the transition from a start-up to a global media conglomerate like Disney.
Steve Jobs told a cautionary story with us to keep us focused as a firm and protect us from going bankrupt. “When Apple was just getting started, the staff and I used to love to go dine at one specific sandwich restaurant in Silicon Valley,” he said. Despite the fact that it was a tiny store run by a family, it provided the tastiest sandwiches in town.
“The sandwiches were so good that we would stand in line for 45 minutes just to get one.” However, as the sandwich shop’s popularity expanded, the proprietors added coffee and pastries to compete with Starbucks and Krispy Kreme. Unfortunately, their coffee and pastries were subpar, and their distinctive sandwiches lacked attention to detail. As a result, we ceased to eat there. I realized the sandwich store had closed several months later. They had stretched themselves too thin and had to close their doors.”
Steve’s narrative hammered home the idea loud and clear: don’t take on too much risk.
Even if “Toy Story” was a huge hit, we risked losing everything if we stretched ourselves too thin, too quickly. We needed to concentrate on producing excellent animated family films. Steve realized that the best approach to convey this lesson to us was to tell a tale about people who are through change and learning.
There should be a beginning, middle, and finish to your story.
Last but not least, make sure your tales have a beginning, middle, and finish. Did you notice how Steve’s sandwich narrative contained a setup, build, and payoff?
Setup: A thriving business.
Build: The company is expanding much too rapidly.
Payoff: The company goes bankrupt.
This framework prevents viewers from becoming bored, perplexed, or distracted.
These narrative strategies have been employed by the finest authors (and wise business executives) for thousands of years to motivate their audience to attempt something new. It’s now your turn. How can you, as an entrepreneur, utilize storytelling to build more genuine bonds with your investors and customers?
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