Nir Zavaro and the importance of storytelling in business

Nir Zavaro

Nir Zavaro and the importance of storytelling in business

The Israeli entrepreneur shares tips on how to keep your audience engaged in his new book F*ck the slides

Nir Zavaro

© Nir Zavaro

Nir Zavaro is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. His company, Streetwise, is a Creative Sales Agency, which specializes in improving marketing and sales processes for businesses. He is a partner and investor in several companies, a mentor in various accelerators and a lecturer on branding, sales and marketing. His newest book - F*ck the slides, provides a methodology for compelling storytelling. He is part of the Entrepreneurs' Organization, which happens to have a local branch in Bulgaria.

After the army, you started traveling with only $1,000 in your pocket. You're now a successful entrepreneur, but you've had successes and failures, and have worked in various sectors. Does an entrepreneur need a specific mission in order to create their own business?

Everybody turned entrepreneurship into this word. I met a guy at one of the workshops in 2018 in Dublin and asked him, how did you start your business? And he said, well, I was doing an internship during the summer, and in those days computers were a new thing. You had to type all the names of the doctors at the company into the computer, and it took days and my boss had left for vacation. So he hired his baby sister to type it. And he noticed that the margin is like 40%. And he said, I can make a lot of money. Today he has 50 employees. That's what they do, they outsource the work. Is he an entrepreneur? He had an idea. It was executed. Does an entrepreneur need to have five ideas? Is it a mindset? Is it a mentality? We're overusing the word. People have a passion, they turn it into a profit. And we call it being an "entrepreneur" because it's sexy, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's true for me.

The idea of being your own boss is attractive to many and that's why they all want to call themselves entrepreneurs. But you need certain qualities to be successful. What are five of them, if you had to name them?

You need tenacity because your day will change about 50 times. You start your morning thinking we're going to conquer the world. Then something bad happens. Then something amazing. Then you realize you don't have enough money to pay salaries. This is what a typical day looks like.

You need a bit of patience. And then you need to be able to also stop and sometimes look at what's really happening. During the day, everything is about panic. Things really changed for me when I was able to stop everything, take my earphones and my phone and walk in the street for an hour in the middle of the day, listen to music and think about what's really happening. Those were the times that my business grew the most.

You also need to be constantly learning. I read about 2 or 3 hours a day, and I do marketing and branding. If I stop reading, I will lose the battle. Tomorrow there will be someone better, faster, younger or whatever. But I love reading and I love learning. During Covid I said, wait, I read so much, so why won't I share that with people? So I turned that into a newsletter. We did 120 versions. So now the idea is I'm also sharing what I learn with people.

And I think lastly, it's more than just learning, but who you learn from.

Almost every last entrepreneur faces failure. Yet there still is a stigma to it and people talk. How do you deal with failure and what do you learn from it? How do you move on?

If you're very successful, people will always have something to say. If you're not successful, people will still have something to say. If you go bankrupt, people will say something. The people that are entrepreneurs or have businesses will usually ask you, what have you learned? Are you going to do it again? So what's your next idea? In Israel, when someone loses their business or something goes bankrupt, the question is, so what's next? We don't say we knew they were going to fail. It's a support system because the rest of the world is not cheering for you. That's not how it works.

When it comes to failure, I was aiming to achieve something, but it didn't work out. Over the years I've lost a certain amount of money. I lost so much money. I should have been very rich. But I made mistakes and I wanted to try. Then there's also the personal cost. You build a business, you put everything into it, your money, your time. You're so blind to everything else. I believe today that I paid a very high personal cost, because I didn't notice that at the time. You think you're doing the right thing.

Entrepreneurs usually describe their work as extremely stressful. It sounds awful. Why does everyone still want to be an entrepreneur?

Everybody has a baby. And then they say, it's so hard, I can't sleep. I'm so tired. And then you say, maybe I shouldn't have a kid. They say, no, you should. That's entrepreneurship for you. If you have an idea and it burns, you will do it. If you have a passion, you'll do it. Some of the people who make the most money in many Western countries are the CEOs of banks. They're not entrepreneurs.

We glorify this. You have to be an entrepreneur. No, you don't! Because if everybody is an entrepreneur, everybody will be unemployed. The ones that are willing to go through the stress and come out on the other side, either losing everything or winning. And by the way, 80% of the entrepreneurs we call entrepreneurs are really freelancers, people who make a certain amount of money to take care of their life. They're not really building or scaling a business. So I would argue that they're not entrepreneurs.

If you're willing to see the outcome on the other side of the mountain, do the climb. Try climbing. And if it didn't succeed, it doesn't mean anything. Maybe you're climbing the wrong mountain. Maybe you shouldn't climb the mountain at all.

You're part of the EO and other entrepreneurial organizations. How does membership there help you and your business?

I think when you do that journey, you're very lonely. If you're able to find people that get it, you're able to discuss things. We call the EO a nice cult, where we meet once a month and talk about our troubles under confidentiality. Secondly, when we meet, I don't give you advice. Instead, we share experiences. When this happened to me, this is how I reacted, this is what I did. The reason is because I don't know everything about you. I know very little about you. This is a great way for us to interact and learn.

I need people to give me what we call tough love. I heard you saying that you're going to do this, but you've been talking about it for three months. Either you shut up or you fix it. I need you to be brutally honest and keep me accountable. That's what we do at EO.

You talk a lot about sharing knowledge. And you've been a mentor in a couple of different settings. What is the purpose of mentorship in business?

Even if you read a piece of advice in a self-help book, you still need someone to say it and you go like that makes sense. Learning comes from discussion. I think over the years I never had a fixed mentor, but we always had so many people to talk to around us in the business industry. Years ago, I was torn between scaling my own business and joining a startup. I asked a family friend, the CEO of one of the biggest retail shops in Israel, to help me out. We met for coffee and he said to me, "You came to talk to me but you've already made a decision. You were just hoping that someone like me would approve it". Sometimes you just need that extra push to take a leap.

When faced with making all the big decisions in their business, people often have to battle themselves and self-criticism. It really applies to all areas of life. How do you overcome it?

You know, if I could write all my books again But I can't. They're out. People have this desire to make everything perfect. Does it need to be perfect, or can you do 80%? In many things, especially social media, do a lot of content and do it 80% until you find the one that clicks, then turn that into 100. And I think that for me that became a speedy way of doing. I'll write the draft, I'll get back to it and I'll fix it.

With my books, I do this - I come up with a title. It's a waste not to use the title. So then I have to finish the book. And that has happened three times so far, so I know it works.

Your new book F*ck the Slides, which is also your first non-fiction project, is out now. Tell me more about it. What is the secret to a good presentation or pitch?

It all began while I was working with startups on their demo day. Initially I would work with them on marketing and then start shifting into the demo day. I do marketing. I couldn't understand what they were saying. I said, you're pitching the demo day for three minutes and it's so boring. It's not inspiring. They put all the emphasis on the design of the slides, too much content. And if you take away the slides, they're done. They can't say anything. So I said, guys, let's work on the story and not the slides. They came back again. Ten slides, no story. And I said, you know what, f*ck the slides, no slides. Then I thought, okay, book title. That's how the book came to life.

The idea is that if you want to pitch and I take away your slides, you're improvising, which is kind of weird, asking for $1 million but improvising your story. When we tell a story we're conveying some sort of an emotion. That's a way of selling something.

We've become so reliant on slides, any visual aid, that we forgot that we are the presentation. I'm putting on a show. In reality, 93% of all the interaction that we're having right now is subconscious. My tone of voice, my hand gestures and everything, it's nonverbal. In order to create the spine that controls how I'm going to make you feel, we need the 7%, the verbal. Once you have that spine of text, I can then control how to measure things. Do I say the right things? Do I smile at the right points? What feelings do I want to convey to you? When do I use the specific information? I didn't give you a single piece of information.

The book is a methodology to help people understand that they are storytellers, but we forgot to practice storytelling, so it is actually the skill you do the most, but practice the least. And I believe, and I say that in the book, it is not a soft skill. That's a mistake. It's a must-have skill.

Often people are naturally good at speaking in front of others. Is storytelling really something you can learn as a skill?

You know, I run five times a week no matter what I do, and I will never win a competition. I will never run the number one 10 km in my neighborhood or in my city. I will never win a marathon. My improvement has been exponential from not being able to run to running very fast. Again, I'm not the best. But for myself I came from A to B.

We work with founders who are technicians, engineers, people who can barely explain what they do in two sentences. Working with them and seeing the change is inspiring because they get it now. Explaining storytelling is a technical function for them.

What does storytelling really mean, though?

When we say storytelling, going back to entrepreneurship, it's also a buzzword that means nothing. We communicate through stories. We watch TV stories, we watch movies. Now, if I tell you to incorporate storytelling into your startup, you don't know what that means. The idea of the book is that everyone is a storyteller.

If we understand that you can become better no matter what level you are as a storyteller, you can become better. Most people are talking to their audience the wrong way. They don't care about your information. They don't care about your product. They resonate because we exchange emotion, feelings. Often when a startup goes to pitch or in a sales pitch, any meeting, we feel that if we didn't say everything, we've lost. But in reality, I'm overflowing with information and as your audience I'm exhausted.

Often people are not interested in you from the moment they see you approach. How do you earn, and keep, an audience's attention?

What's the idea of pitching? Pitching means I'm going to convince you. First, take the pressure out of the equation. Secondly, when you go in, convince me with a good hook. I will go into like, wait, wait, what? How do you do that? I teach people that three minutes is your whole demo day. That's your pitch. And the first 30 seconds are a hook. The next 2.5 minutes are just to prove my point. That's how you sell your product.

Nir Zavaro is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. His company, Streetwise, is a Creative Sales Agency, which specializes in improving marketing and sales processes for businesses. He is a partner and investor in several companies, a mentor in various accelerators and a lecturer on branding, sales and marketing. His newest book - F*ck the slides, provides a methodology for compelling storytelling. He is part of the Entrepreneurs' Organization, which happens to have a local branch in Bulgaria.
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