What does “compelling” mean?

When you start a business, and seek capital, customers, or co-founders, you are telling (and selling) a story. That story has to be compelling.  Unfortunately, your passion in telling a story does not always make the story compelling in and of itself. A good rule of thumb for “compelling” is what does the story sound like when someone else tells it? Is the story still compelling when you hear it told by someone to whom you’ve told the story?

Before you write your story, make sure you don’t mix up the story with the system.  The story is what you’re doing, what problem you’re solving, your world-changing idea. The system is how you’re going to do it.  The story leads to the system, not the other way around.

So how does one tell a compelling story?  There are three components.

  1. The stage
  2. The conflict
  3. The solution

First, you have to set the stage. What’s happening? Where is it happening? Why is it happening? Who is it happening to?  In business, the stage is the marketplace on which you are laser focused.  In setting the stage, you are not answering questions, but rather causing your audience to ask questions, and pointing them in the right direction for those questions.

Second, describe the conflict. The conflict is why you are here. It’s the big, gnarly problem that you were born to solve, and everyone in your target market should be nodding their heads and saying, “Thank GOD someone’s going to do something about this!”  When you set out to describe the conflict, ask yourself if you’re selling vitamins or painkillers.  Painkillers sell more.

Third is your solution.  Now that you’ve set the stage and gripped your audience with a huge conflict that they can all feel, you present your solution to this problem.  Again, remind yourself not to get caught up in describing the system, which, again, is how you’re going to do all this.  Focus on the solution to the problem. Return to 1998, when Google sold us all (its users) with an empty home page and the simplest search box you’ve ever seen.  Jump to 2007, when Apple introduced the first iPhone.  What is your solution?

What’s your story?  Make it compelling by setting the stage, describing the conflict, and offering a solution so simple anyone can describe it.

What do you think?