The Right and Wrong Way to Talk About Your Business

I recently attended a technology event where one speaker demonstrated what NOT to do when you get the chance to talk about your business. It was an object lesson into how to immediately destroy interest and create a disconnect with the audience.

Fortunately, the main speaker, Kerry Gallivan, of Chimani, provided a great example of what TO DO when you have the opportunity to talk about your business. But first …

What Not to Do

The first speaker was invited to take three minutes to talk about his start-up before Gallivan spoke.

The gentleman burned through the first 1-2 minutes giving his career history. It sounded like someone narrating their resume. As he was doing this, I found my interest ratcheting down, moment by moment.  

“Tell us about your business and why it’s cool, why it’s relevant,” I implored him telepathically.

He then moved on to a brief description of what his business does, but quickly got mired in describing the various materials his product was made from, using terms that would only have meaning to industry insiders. Near the end of his time—he actually went on for longer than he was allotted—he talked a bit about what value his product would bring to the world.

At that point, I didn’t care.

He had so lost me; he had so not answered “why should I care?” early enough in his talk, I felt resentful of his intrusion on the main event and wasting our time. Whereas I typically root for speakers—especially if they are nervous—this man had worn out his welcome so quickly, I had no interest in him or his business.

While we can cut him some slack because this was an extemporaneous speech, he still should have prepared a more interesting way of talking about his business for those times he’s asked “So…what kind of business are you in?”

Are you THAT guy?

Do you:

  1. Go on and on about your background before you talk about why the audience should care, and in effect “bury the lead” as they say in journalism?
  2. Do you get mired in details, technical information, and industry-specific knowledge that your audience probably doesn’t understand, nor care about?

How To Do It Right

Kerry Gallivan got up and started off by saying: “Here’s the problem Chimani solves…”

Instantly I liked and respected him. He cut to the chase. He was being audience-friendly. He was obviously a pro.

He said that Chimani solves the problem faced by the millions of visitors to national parks because most no longer buy paper guides and maps. They visit parks with the intent to use their smart phone to access needed information. Unfortunately, many don’t realize that cell phone coverage is basically non-existent in most of these wild areas, so they end up being “information paralyzed” as Gallivan puts it.

As you read this, don’t you instantly get the value of his business?

Next he shared his Origin Story of how the idea for a smart phone app that would solve this problem was born.  

He was in Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine in the spring of 2009, hiking a fast-paced hike on a loop without a map. At the top of Gorham Mountain on the loop, he wanted to get trail directions to head up Cadillac Mountain. He pulled out his first generation iPhone.

At that moment, two things became clear. One, getting a signal was close to impossible. He eventually could find one if he positioned himself perfectly on a peak. Two, when he was able to get a feeble signal, there was no readily available information.

At that moment, Gallivan recognized that while he was an early adopter, in a few years, millions of people would be expecting the convenience of park-specific information at their fingertips.

“I literally had my epiphany on the mountain top,” Gallivan laughingly acknowledged. From that epiphany was born the Chimani smart phone app.

Now…isn’t that instantly understandable and interesting? Even if you haven’t had that experience, you instantly see the value of his app. If you’re a potential investor or sponsor, within two minutes, you understand what Chimani is about and its viability.

So What About Your Story?

Reflect on how you tell your story, whether when you’re networking, pitching, or presenting.

Do you start off with a bang rather than a long, tedious warm-up? You do that by by:

  1. Immediately cutting to the chase to state the problem you solve.
  2. Describing a scenario that captures the problem and pain of your market. Then tell how your product or service solves that problem and takes away the pain.
  3. Tell your Origin Story (briefly…this might take some coaching) so the audience not only understands the problem you solve and the pain you take away, but they also begin to know you, which sets the Know-Like-Trust process in action.

Three Bonus Tips

  1. Come up with catchy terms or phrases that make your message more fascinating and memorable. Kerry came up with the term “Information Paralyzed,” a condition everybody can instantly relate to. He also pointed out that he had a mountaintop epiphany. That bit of wry humor and turn of a phrase makes his discovery and his story a bit more fun and interesting. How can you do the same when you talk about your business?
  2. To help you with this, read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath or watch their Youtube videos. Their book is a goldmine of ideas on how to make your idea, your message, “sticky” rather than highly forgettable. It’s a must read for any entrepreneur who wants to spread the word.
  3. For more principles and techniques on telling a better story, go to Tell a Better Story. Become More Interesting. Grow Your Business.

If you want to delve deeper into how to use stories in business, David did a podcast with Rich David on business storytelling


David Lee is the founder of and HumanNature@Work. He has been using storytelling for over 25 years, first as a hypnotherapist, then as a speaker, consultant, and trainer in the corporate world, and more recently as a business storytelling coach. He is the author of Powerful Storytelling Techniques, published by ATD Press as well as numerous articles on the topic of storytelling. Agents of Change readers can access a specially created resource page at This page contacts articles and audio recordings that will help you get started in finding and using stories that will make all of your communication more fascinating and persuasive.