Jonathan Talbott: I’m lucky. I get to help people with ideas talk about them, whether that’s in pitches, presentations, workshops or conversations.

I get to help a lot of startups.

I also coach TEDx speakers who want to spread their ideas, non-profit leaders who are going to positively impact the world, and executives who want to give presentations that inspire change.

But, some of my best hours are spent helping startup founders find ways to talk about what they’re doing.

Startup founders are amazing. You can’t beat startup founders for passion, for dedication, for working 28 hours a day, 9 days a week. Startup founders want to know about everything, they are learning machines, they’ll try anything.

But when it comes to communications – talking about your business to the outside world – so many of you guys are WIMPS. You either have very low expectations or very high expectations with no plan.

Too much startup communication is vague. Too much startup communication doesn’t get the job done. Too much startup communication is one-sided.

We need to change this.

Startup communication should be more results focused.

Step 1: Ask this question

The first step is actually quite easy. You just have to ask one question.

Before you put together that pitch deck, before you write that email, before you do that customer interview, ask, “What do I realistically want to have happen because of this communication?”

Easy question, difficult answers.

Fortunately, people have been studying this for a while.
In this context, there are basically four categories of potential communication:

  1. Are you trying to inform?

Are you letting your specific audience know about a new product, new research, new ideas?
Do you have instructions for them or something they should know?
Are you going to help them do something better or stop them from doing something harmful?

  1. Do you want to engage?

Are you trying to increase your interaction with your audience? Build a community?
Do you want them to start to ask questions that you can answer later?
Do you want to make them active partners in a dialogue?

  1. Would you like to persuade your audience?

Do you have a point of view that you want them to think about?
Are you trying to get them to doubt something that they think they know?
What kind of arguments, data and stories will convince them?

  1. Are you aiming to motivate your audience to do something?

Do you need action?
Do you want them to buy something, invest money or time, support your initiative?
Why would they do that? How does it benefit them?

“Informing won’t make much happen. Engaging, persuading and motivating will.”

Three of these categories take you in the direction of getting results, but one of them, used too much, will drive you to complete frustration.

Time and time again, on the eve of a pitch event or a demo day, founders tell me that their goal is “to let people know about our company,” in other words, the most basic level of “to inform.”

What a waste of an opportunity.

That’s not the way to achieve results!

There are heaps of people out there who are interested in helping you out, but they need to know that you need help. They are on the edge of being motivated to action. You just need to tell them what you need.

Informing won’t make much happen. Engaging, persuading and motivating will. But in order to do that, you need to make a list.

Step 2: Make a wish list

This list takes a bit of soul searching.

It’s time to pretend that it’s Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. It’s time to make a wish list: a list of the stuff you need for your startup to succeed.

Before you start asking everybody for a million Euro investment, though, break that list down a little bit. I suggest asking ‘why’ a couple of times.

For example:

  1. Why do you need money? Is it for personnel, for workspace, for equipment, for distribution, for marketing assistance?
  2. Why do you need personnel? Is it for administration, for programming, for sales?
  3. Are there other ways of getting that help?

Now, start asking for the help you really need.

Step 3: Be the founder people want to help

This is another thing that is easier said than done, but you can present your startup as one that people want to help.

I see many startup pitches and presentations. Often founders feel that they have to show only the good stuff, that they need to tell success stories.

This is unfortunate because we don’t tend to help people who are already doing great. We tend to help people who could do well but are facing obstacles.

For example, we don’t usually cheer for the sports team that always wins. We cheer for the team that might win – especially if we cheer for them.

There’s a reason that main characters in books and movies are orphans, rascals or imperfect. We love them because of their needs.

“We help people who are struggling.”

Perhaps startup communication should sound more like this:

“We’re not perfect. We’re doing some good work, but we’re dealing with big problems. We might not succeed, but with your help, we could. Do you think you could help us?”

That’s a pitch aimed at results.


Let’s change startup communication. Let’s create pitches, presentations, and conversations that are goal oriented. Let’s figure out what we need, and ask for it in a way that people will help.

Of course, there’s more to it, like identifying potential audiences, developing communication strategies, and integrating specific media (like pitches) into the whole mix.

But this is a start, some big steps forward.

Communication is all about creating connections with your audience. When you create those connections, then you will achieve results, together.

Jonathan Talbott ( is on a mission to halt the spread of boring presentations and to replace them with pitches, speeches, and conversations where actual communication happens. In order to do this, he helps speakers find the meaning behind what they want to talk about. Then he helps them to assemble that into convincing stories, which they then use to persuade their audiences. His clients include startups, as well as banks, museums, NGO’s, designers, and tech companies. TED and TEDx talks which he has coached have achieved millions of online views.


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