How Stories Help Us Understand Your Idea

Why do we need to tell stories in business?

Why did I need to tell the story about graduating with an AI degree in 1995?

I’ve told this story a number of times, and you’ve probably read it somewhere else in my books, at a presentation or on this podcast episode.

Why didn’t I just write my bio in the beginning like you see in so many dry business books?

That’s what I would have done years ago. But, I’ve had the fortune over producing over 1000 podcasts including over 100 shows for Pitchdeck Asia. I’ve heard 100s of pitches and that means the good, the bad and the ugly.

For every 100 pitches I’ll sit across the table from on a podcast, I’ll remember 20 really well. 30 I’ll remember various details of and 50 I’ll forget. That’s 50% lost. And bear in mind, these are startups that decided to come on the show, so they were the better ones. “In the wild”, the real number will be around 90% lost.


The answer lies in how we as audience consume information.

Try this test…

The Happy Birthday Test

Try tap out the song “Happy Birthday” with a pencil on your desk and ask a friend to identify it.

Should be easy, right? You have the song playing in your head and you’re doing your best to tap it out on the desk.

In one Stanford study by Elizabeth Newton, researchers asked students to perform this task.

- “Tappers” estimated that a listener would be able to identify the song with 50% accuracy.

- In reality, listeners identified the song correctly only 2.5% of the time.

Let’s consider that data for a moment.

- Tappers overestimated their ability to communicate a simple song by a factor of 20x reality.

Sound familiar?

It should do, because this test is playing out every single day.

This is the situation every entrepreneur finds themselves in, whether pitching, presenting or sharing an idea over coffee.

In your head the song is obvious. You’ve been playing this tune day in day out for years since you started this project. And when you tap it out, you’re confident they’ll “get it”. But the reality is that few will ever understand.

And how frustrating this is.

So, how can you change your odds?


Stories are frames.

Giving your audience a Story is giving them a structure to understand the information you’re giving them. It’s like telling someone the name of the song before you tap it out.

You’ve experienced this yourself as the audience.

You meet someone with a unique accent. You can’t put your finger on it. And then, they tell you they are Irish… or Kiwi… or Fijian. The country matters less than they give you a frame for understanding the sound of their accent. Now you “get it”. Now everything falls into place.

Stories take the unknown and make them familiar.

Stories take data and turn them into action.

Stories make us get it and go “aha!”

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