• Nicole Johnson

Highlights from my keynote at UC Berkeley's Newton Lecture Series

Updated: Oct 10, 2019


UC Berkeley's Newton Lecture Series on March 5, 2019. (Photo: Kerry Kehoe)

Last week, I had the honor and pleasure of addressing a class of 300+ students at UC Berkeley’s Newton distinguished lecture series hosted by the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. I delivered a keynote entitled: “The Power and Importance of Storytelling for your Next Venture.”


The lecture series was born of the entrepreneurial vision of A. Richard Newton, Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering from 2000 to 2007. The College of Engineering invites innovators in a range of industries to share lessons from their entrepreneurial journeys, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

Nicole sharing her journey at the "other UC".

I kicked things off with a walk down memory lane by sharing my personal career journey through college and beyond, discussing what it means to truly follow your passion, step out of your comfort zone, and be fearless in business and life. For example, I discussed how an unpaid internship with a LA entertainment attorney during my senior year in college led to a role at a major motion picture company after graduation that would shape the next 20 years of my life.

Nicole Johnson, founder at NicJohn Media in conversation with Kiel Murray, fmr. Pixar screenwriter

After my presentation — which included key takeaways and a brief overview of the five types of stories a company can tell — I sat down with Kiel Murray, a veteran Pixar storyteller who has worked on such notable animated films like Cars, Finding Nemo, and, more recently, Cars 3 during a conversational-style fireside chat. We discussed elements of “What is Story,” “Why Story Matters,” and “How to Tell Your Startup Story,” using a combination of real-life examples, anecdotes, and decades of experience telling countless stories for founders, startups, directors, authors, corporations and more.


It was a fascinating exchange of ideas on how story can bridge the gap between a failed product or company and one that exceeds expectations in the market.

Students @ UC Berkeley's Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology

To get a sense of the energy and inspiration from the night, below is a list general thoughts and comments from the impressive students — who ranged from undergrad to post-doc and represented a broad spectrum of majors from engineering to the humanities. Here's what they had to say:


"I loved the speakers today!! I thought the bridge between the first speaker to the second speaker was perfect. The first speaker gave the business angle to storytelling, and the second speaker talked more in-depth about storytelling and the power of it."


"I really liked how they laid out how to envision your product for yourself so that you can help customers envision it too. It's really great to see how we can create a "story" so to speak about our product that helps customers understand what we are selling."


“I realized I was a storyteller."

"Listening to the two speakers share their experience with storytelling as a profession gave lots of insight into the process of developing a story and really gave a sense of how these great stories, such as Cars, are created, I think these speakers are unique and shared lots of advice and thoughts that personally, as an engineering student, am not exposed to enough."


"It was so interesting to see the design and artistic aspect of a tech company! I appreciate that kind of speaker! Please bring more like her!"

"Your passion will find you.Two things I found admirable about today's speakers were that, one you can go to school for literally any degree and not have to work in that field. For example, Nicole Johnson got her law school degree and then opened her own media company. I also loved how Nicole called Marketing, Corporate Storytelling."


"You can never underestimate the value of an internship; this will help me appreciate the value in recruiting."

"I loved Kiel's comments about the confidence gap, especially her last comment about how awesome she thinks it is that Cruz was able to be mentored by Lightning in the movie. If anything, that really resonated with me about how there's nothing wrong as females to ask from a male mentor -- we should be brave and humble enough to accept advice from anyone, regardless of gender."


"It was really cool to have individuals like Nicole and Kiel speak as I had never imagined the importance of their work in entrepreneurial and technology careers. It also made me reflect more on the stories and movies that I connected with and what it was that made them a "good story".

"Favorite to date! Nicole and Kiel provided an array of insights on how to develop a narrative for my startup.”

Nicole and Kiel sharing additional insights with the students up close and personal.

And here are some additional key takeaways.


"What makes a good story is one that makes you care, one that makes you think about something, feel something, and one that leaves an impression. This is important when framing a story about why you chose to build/produce a certain product for your startup."


"The best way to engage with an audience is to engage on a human level -- and that is why a story matters. "

"In telling short stories (aka pitches), what will win is the one with the punch! Not the one that's "nice" or "pretty".


“A good story is one that makes you feel something, is not forgettable, the piece adds up and leads to a big theme”.


"You want to tell a story that's relatable - having a story that's just a bunch of buzzwords isn't as effective as telling a story you're audience can really envision."

"Evoke emotion, keep the final outcome unclear (not predictable) and Stay Authentic"


Thank you to Instructor Victoria Howell and the team at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for an amazing night!


View more photos from the event and follow along for more news and event @njmedia_ on Instagram.


For more information, visit Nicjohnmedia.com.

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