Attending local meetups in Zurich is a pleasurable marketing activity of mine. A few favourites are Lean Startup organized by Timo Hahn, Growth Hackers by Luke Szkudlarek, Startup Grind by David Butler and my own;-) Zurich Storytellers meetup. Which means I hear a lot of people’s introductions. 

But since we’re all investing scarce F2F time, it’s bewildering to meet entrepreneurs and startup founders on a mission who miss the opportunity to communicate WHY they do what they do. Therefore, I politely disengage and or ask leading questions in hopes of learning their true story.
Usually a person tells me what she or their business does. As stories go, this is only one component. How do you do it? For whom? What value does it deliver? And most importantly WHY? go unanswered. 

The guilty parties in these sins of omission are legion: education systems, cultural bias, misguided belief in facts or data and more. Whatever the cause that has you reciting the same old, “I co-founded a fintech,” or “I’m doing research at Uni,” next time try telling the same facts in narrative form and compare results.

So we are all on the same page, I think of narrative as only the core part of a story. While a story is a complete circular journey – à la Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or my S.T.OR.Y. Framework, a narrative is:
“The series of events that occur in the search for the solution to a problem. A series of events doesn’t become a story until a problem is established, which sets up the narrative part of the journey, which is the heart of a story.” – Randy Olson, “Narrative Is Everything

The beauty of narrative structure is its concise problem-solution-resolution format, perfectly suited for 10-second introductions, one-floor elevator pitches or anytime you want to inject emotion into a concise message. Afterall, what is a problem if not emotional?


Recently we tested narrative structure at the January Zurich Storytellers meetup.
The theme of the night was “PLAN B” – described as:
We all pursue some kind of plan for our life. Sometimes it’s intentional – sometimes it’s serendipitous. There’s the thing you plan to do, and then there’s the thing you end up doing. Most of us start off our lives with some Plan A which we abandon for whatever reason … switching to a Plan B, which becomes our life. Or is dropped for Plan C or even D, E or F.

Members were asked to create a short narrative that spoke to these questions:

1. What was your Plan A for life?
2. What happened that caused you to switch to Plan B?
3. And how did that work out?

To help organize their thoughts, a 3-part structure was suggested to organize Plan B experiences into a simple narrative:
Who (that’s you and your Plan A)
When (in time – 1980’s? 2000’s?)
Where (setting/places you choose to include)

What (what stopped you from pursuing Plan A?)

Solution (was Plan B better or worse?)

The results were striking. Even now, weeks later, I can recall most all the individuals and their Plan B stories. Because conflict triggers our primal brain to pay attention – and remember it!

  • Rafael’s near defection from communist Cuba on a stopover flight in Canada.
  • Sabrina’s impossible dream of becoming an airline stewardess in the DDR … until the fall of the Berlin wall.
  • Jurgita’s architectural epiphany when she met a funny Swiss-born Italian hustler who (still) keeps her laughing.
  • Kyle’s heart-to-heart talk with his Dad on the eve of calling off his wedding.

There were more Plan B stories shared that night and without exception, they left an indelible impression. Try introducing yourself and or your mission as a narrative at the next meetup – the results should prove memorable.

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