• Karl Schmieder

Want To Tell A Great Story? Then, You Better Make Your Audience Your BFF

“To live well is to see wisely, and to see wisely is to tell stories.” - Padraing O. Tuama (quoted in Jerry Colona’s Reboot)

A question I’ve been asking myself lately is: Who am I talking to? Right now?

In the past three days, I’ve spoken with:

  • Several co-founders of synbio companies

  • The CEO of an investor relations firm

  • The product manager of an emerging hemp company

  • The founders of a biology-focused venture studio

  • Scientists-turning into entrepreneurs

  • Two journalists

  • Several researchers

  • Two designers

  • Two web developers

  • The founder of a venture fund focused on women

  • A potential intern

When I think about these people and the stories I tell them (and the stories THEY TELL ME), my mind reels.

It’d be easy to tell these people the same story. 

I used to do that.

But no one understood how I could help them. And no one cared.

I learned I had to watch people carefully to make sure they were really listening.

Maybe this has never happened to you (it has happened to me countless times), but people’s eyes glaze over or they start looking behind me as soon as what I’m talking about goes over their head.

A recent example of this is a conversation I had with someone at New York City’s Economic Development Corporation. NYC EDC is investing $500 million to promote the life sciences in NYC. After the niceties, they asked what I did and I started this explanation about helping scientists tell their story.


So being the communications pro that I am, I PIVOTED and said, “but the most important thing I do is help scientists tell their story so they can get funding, build companies, hire people and grow their company.”


“Hire people and grow a company,” those are magic words for economic development folks.

If I would’ve started going on and on about how great my business is and how it’s changing the world, I would’ve SQUANDERED a huge opportunity.

The way to make a difference is to get people excited about the work you do by listening to them first.

If they’re a potential investor, partner, client, the way to get them excited is to help them understand HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM. 

Knowing your audience - the person or people you’re talking to - in that moment is one of the most important skills you need to tell  your great biotech, life science, synbio story. Or any other great business story, for that matter.

So, what does it mean to know your audience?

  1. Know who you’re talking to. Your story will by necessity be different depending on who you’re telling. An investor wants to hear a different story than your grandmother.

  2. Know what’s important to your audience. Is it your ability to listen? Is it your solution to their challenge? Is it the return on investment you’ll deliver? Don’t assume that your audience will be like you, share your beliefs, and preferences. I always remind my clients they are not their audience. Tailor your message to what your audience cares about. If your audience is more emotional, then tell an emotional story. If she’s more logical, your story better damn well be as logical and clear as possible. 

  3. Tell your story in the medium that your audience prefers. Not everyone consumes information the same way. Some people prefer to read, others to listen, others to watch. (I’ve been WRITING this series but for future episodes, I’m recording a mini-podcast series and videos.)

If you tell your story in a way your audience wants to be communicated with, they’ll be more likely to pay attention to you and they’ll be more likely to remember you.

Because you have so many audiences (investors, partners, customers, employees, journalists, just to name the most obvious), you need to tell your story in many ways, across many media.

That’s why we recommend you start with a plan, so you can identify and prioritize all those audiences, the versions of your story they need to hear, and how to reach them.