Library Blog

Crafting Product Stories for Developer Audiences: Q&A with Connie Kwan Ashley Dotterweich

Last week, Connie Kwan shared how to understanding and adapting your product storytelling style can help you tell more impactful, resonant stories. During the Q&A session after her talk, our viewers chimed in with questions about how to use her storytelling techniques for a technical audience. Read on to learn what Connie had to say about improving your storytelling ability, crafting product stories for developers, and the challenges of developing stories for emerging technologies.

Some folks that aren’t super comfortable being storytellers. They aren’t necessarily hardwired for that. How do you suggest founders that are more introverted practice or improve their storytelling abilities?

Practice always makes perfect. For everyone, you need to be a little bit more out there. You always think you’re presenting at 100% when you’re in front of folks, but the reality is you’re usually actually presenting at 70%, so you have to over extend right?

Over energize whenever you’re in front. The bigger the crowd, the more energy you need to bring. If I’m in front of a hundred people, I will be bigger physically. If I’m in front of one-on-one, I obviously don’t want to come in like this and scare the person away, right? It’s contextual, but I think there are things you can do in your body language. You can practice in front of a mirror and just get comfortable because there’s this body-brain connection that happens when your body is in a certain position.

The winner’s pose is actually something that has been written about a lot where when you cross the finish line as a runner and you go into this, everybody has that, “Oh my gosh, I just won this race.” Practicing that pose actually helps juice your brain to start thinking that way and feel more confident.

I would say one trick that I do before I step on stage is actually practice the winner pose so that I can show up a little bit larger than I usually do. Then depending on the size of your audience, also practice being a little bit louder, right? Practice your voice being louder, practice your body language being louder and then over time you would be able to shift into that a little bit easier.

Do you think that developers are more susceptible to the Professor-type narrative? Is there a specific way that you can target developers in your storytelling methods?

Yeah, absolutely. Of course humans don’t all fit into a box, so there will be some percentage that don’t. Largely my observation has been that there are a lot of Professor types in the development field because we self-sort into our careers. If you are selling to Professors, you will likely want to lead with the data. If you listen to my Professor example, like I went straight into it. I did not distract the conversation with any sort of superfluous, in their minds, would be superfluous information.

If you yourself are an Evangelist, but your audience is a Professor, I imagine that there’s ways to sort of combine natures of two. How do you put on the Professor storyteller type if you are a natural Evangelist?

If you’re a natural evangelist, you have to do a lot of things that are not natural to you. It takes some practice and some self-awareness because you’re going to come in guns blazing, very bold, strong body language as well as the way you say things. That’s just natural, and it’s going to appeal really strongly to evangelists. You’re going to use a lot of emotional language.

Record yourself pitching or selling, and then audit your own speaking style. Look for emotion words , because for a very logical audience those words and phrases end up becoming a barrier to getting your message across. For example, you might notice that you’re using phrases like “I feel” a lot, rather than something less emotional like “I think.”If you’re on Evangelist side, you have to really watch it because you want to lead with facts. You want to always come back to what’s real and what’s tangible versus talking about how I feel about it.

Are there specific things that you can do while telling a story to an audience that would let you adapt your style in real time? How can you take cues from your audience to improve your storytelling style?

It’s always helpful to know your audience before you walk into the room. Beyond that, it depends on the size of the group. If it’s me in a meeting with just 10 people, or me one-on-one with somebody, it’s much easier. Your audience will feel like they can jump in and add to the conversation, so you can actually read their cues.

Look for body language and their energy levels. Are they leaning back? Leaning forward? Are their arms crossed? I look at those cues and that gives me an idea of their state of mind.

If you’re presenting to a hundred people, there’s going to be very little signal. Often it’s a dark room anyway. You just have to come in knowing your audience.

How do you approach meshing the audience’s preferred communication style with your company’s brand tone and voice?

That’s a tough one. If you’re giving a live presentation in person, they’re going to mostly observe you, you are the energy, you are the brand, you are the style, right? Your slides might have brand elements on it, but it’s not going to come through as strong as you physically showing up and being there. You have a choice, “Hey, do I want to come through as a Professor today? Do I want to come through as a visionary today?” I would not worry too much about the slide deck having to adapt that.

If you’re relying on marketing material where they don’t see a person at all, then you have to worry about whether the brand you have chosen actually adapts to what your audience needs. If I create a brand style and a brand voice that’s very evangelistic and I’m a B2B company selling to developers, that’s very incongruent and it’s probably not going to do very well.

In this current situation, are there specific storytelling types that you think folks should avoid or that they should really focus on, even if it’s not necessarily where they were before?

Recently, I have a client that just launched a platform product, but platform products take a long time to bake and build up because there’s a two-sided element to it. There was a bit of an anti-climax happening, of “Oh, we’ve launched, but where’s all the traffic for us?” Why isn’t it suddenly just going up, up, and up?”

I wrote a blog post to motivate the team and I used a very much Truth-teller style in that one. The situation is hard, and trying to sugarcoat it or try to talk around it as a Visionary, that’s just disingenuous in this scenario.

We’re in a crisis right now and everybody’s suffering, large and small. I think when we’re in a crisis situation of any kind, being able to speak directly to what’s going on and recognizing people’s feelings based on what is going on is the most important thing to do in the beginning.

We’re in a crisis right now and everybody’s suffering, large and small. I think when we’re in a crisis situation of any kind, being able to speak directly to what’s going on and recognizing people’s feelings based on what is going on is the most important thing to do in the beginning. Just being able to take a moment and say, “I recognize that you are trying to work with your kids in the background.” Or, “I recognize that you may know somebody directly who is in the hospital right now.” Being empathetic to that reality is going to be really important in all communication right now.

If you’re building a product story for developers, who will go and share within their team, how can you build that story to make it easier for those internal champions to retell it?

I’ll use the example of specifically putting pitch together for developers to go sell, because every situation is going to be a little different. Now, let’s assume that a developer’s likely a Professor type, very fact-driven.

What they’re going to do is they’re not going to tell a story in the beginning, they’re not going to hook the audience the way you as a marketer would do. The developer’s going to want to go into the deep end almost immediately, and they might lose their audience because they’re not ready to go to the deep end. There’s going to be a huge gap in the emotional side of that story.

You’re going to give them a deck and that person’s going to immediately go to the dense slides, right? And look at those slides and be like, “Oh yeah, this is where the meat is. This is what matters. I’m going to spend all my time here. I’m just going to blow through all the rest and get straight to this part.”

That’s the gap you need to close. As a person developing the content, it’s both making sure the content includes that story in a way that the presenter feels comfortable and then working with the presenter to make sure he or she is conveying it the way it’s intended.

What’s the most common mistake that people make when presenting their brand or product story?

I’ve found that for a lot of technical founders, there is very little story at all in talking about their product. It’s like a data sheet. Instead they should be presenting it as “this is your pain, this is the problem we solve.” Once we solve the problem, the world is going to be this awesome, and your life is going to be this awesome.

The most common mistake that I see people make is jumping right into “This is how we achieve it.” Pitch the customer story first. Then, once I’m sold on that, you go into the details of how you accomplish it.

Because that’s what the customer’s buying, right? If I go sit on Uber, I want a trip from A to B and I want that to be seamless. I don’t want to know that you have a cool app and that I can make payments through it and that you have a specific algorithm behind booking the car. No, all I want to know when Uber tells me that Uber is it’s just I go take a ride and I go from A to B and I’m safe and I show up safe, right?

The most common mistake that I see people make is jumping right into “This is how we achieve it.” Pitch the customer story first. Then, once I’m sold on that, you go into the details of how you accomplish it.

It’s not easy, especially when you’re close to the product. It’s very hard to take all the features and really distill it into this clean message of “We do this for you.” It takes a lot of understanding of your customer’s pain and the language they use to talk about it.

What are the hardest products to create stories for?

The hardest products to message are new technologies. Right now, that’s something like AI or blockchain — the technologies that literally don’t even have words to describe yet, and it’s not part of the common social consciousness.

I actually get a lot of clients who are coming in with this where they’re just in such a new space. They struggle with the vocabulary that exists today. They’re creating new words, they’re creating new definitions. They have to educate, educate, educate, and they’re trying to work with other people who are doing the same education. It’s a 5-10 year process for the whole industry.

How would you go about developing a story for new technologies?

It’s going to be very specific to what the new tech is and who your audience is. It’s very hard to generalize here. I would go back to fundamentals, looking at what is your customer, which target audience are you trying to sell to, how do they see the world? What kind of metaphors or understanding do they have of how it works and then try and match it up.

If you build the technology you know a certain amount about it, but your buyer probably doesn’t have the same knowledge and understanding. You just have to connect with them at the understanding they’re at right now.

If you have children or have worked with children, you’ll understand that they always need to connect new concepts back to something they understand. The same for adults too. If you build the technology you know a certain amount about it, but your buyer probably doesn’t have the same knowledge and understanding. You just have to connect with them at the understanding they’re at right now.”

For emerging tech, sometimes the press or an analyst will put you on a quadrant somewhere that doesn’t fit the story you want to tell. Are there ways that folks who disagree with the way that the market is talking about them can take control of their own story?

“Well, all press is pretty good press. If you get mentioned, I would consider yourself lucky and no matter what. People would come in with their own perception of what it is. It is actually more important that people talk about you in the first place and that they understand how they can use you. If they find value in what you’re offering, it doesn’t matter how they do it.

You might build a whole story, and your audience only really cares about 10% of it, but that’s valuable feedback. Maybe you’re building a transport system and they’re calling it a horse. You’re saying, “No, I can move everything.” And they’re telling you, “No, it’s a horse and the horse is great.” Don’t mess with that. Let them think you’re great. Let them think you’re a horse. There’s no need to change that perception.

Once they get to use your product and become a customer, then you can open up the rest of the world because they’re not ready. They might not be ready to see the whole transport system that you have. They just need a horse and that’s okay. So embrace it. It’s data for how the world perceives your product and that’s actually really important.

Want developer focused content in your inbox?

Join our mailing list to receive the latest Library updates. After subscribing, tell us your preferences to receive only the email you want.

Thanks for subscribing, check your inbox to confirm and choose preferences!

You've been here a while...

Are you learning something? Share it with your friends!