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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Cicero to Costello: Know your audience, breathlessly

May 1st, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

Joe Costello came to town tonight and wowed his acolytes.

Thanks to EDAC, Kathryn Kranen, Steve Pollock, Bob Gardner, Jennifer Cermak, Jill Jacobs, Gloria Nichols, and CadenceJim Hogan hosted Costello on stage at Cadence’s San Jose Headquarters for a 90-minute event that was one part Reunion Tour [lotsa Cadence alums in the audience in addition to the two on stage], one part Pity Party for Mentor Joe & Mentor Jim [oh so many visits to VCs who failed to embrace a startup’s pitch], and one part Brag Fest for VC Joe & VC Jim [oh so many visits from potential startups whose pitch we simply could not embrace].

Add up those parts and you’ve still only got half of the content of tonight’s event; the other half of the Joe Costello Love-in consisted of a detailed Lesson in Rhetoric. Perhaps not surprising, given that the event was titled: Joe Costello Shares His Secrets for Communicating a Compelling Company Story. What is surprising is how closely Costello’s advice to his adoring audience mirrored Cicero’s Five Canons of Rhetoric.

Hogan started his face-to-face with Costello by asking how one goes about telling a good story, all the spark needed to ignite the Roman Candle that is Joe Costello, who instantly went aflame [attempting] to ignite a fire in the belly of his audience.

Interspersed between yarns and fbomb flame-outs – tales ranging from stories of his youth as a geeky shyboy, to adult-era run-ins with Steve Jobs where our hero attempted to convince the Potentate of iPop that selling CAD tools to engineers was a darn sight harder than selling endless streams of consumer goods to Joe Six-pack – Costello laid out his Five Canons of Rhetoric for EDA Entrepreneurs.

If you’re a student of Rhetoric, you’ll see how closely the Roman follows the Roman Candle.


No. 1 … Have a story, not just something that’s been MBA’d up the yin-yang, but something with real substance.

inventio (invention): Developing and refining your arguments.

No. 2 … Write the press release first. Why is somebody going to invest in your idea if you haven’t thought it through. Writing the press release forces you to figure out if your story has pow & wow.

dispositio (arrangement): Arranging and organizing your arguments for maximum impact.

No. 3 … Look for the mind meld, that intersection between your vision of the world and the vision of the world held by your potential investors. Find that intersection and you’ll find your match. VCs like painkillers, not vitamins. Appeal to the intensity of a solution to pain, not a preventative to disease.

elocutio (style): Determining how to present your arguments using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques.

No. 4 … Don’t rely on slides.

memoria (memory): Learning and memorizing your speech so you can deliver it without the use of notes.

No. 5 … Be genuine. Be yourself. Don’t copy others. Give your own voice to your story.

actio (delivery): Practicing your delivery using gestures, pronunciation, and tone of voice.


So yeah, Cicero was definitely channeling Costello when he conceived of inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and actio. But this is Silicon Valley, not the Roman Republic, and this is Costello, not Cicero.

So let’s not forget Costello’s Sixth Rule of Rhetoric, something Cicero would no doubt call rejectio.

No. 6 … Know how to deal with rejection. If you don’t know how, figure it out. Keep at it, or get out of the business.

rejectio (feedback): Getting thrown out on your ear, picking yourself up off of the pavement, dusting yourself off, heading back to your garage and starting all over again with …

No. 1 … Have a story, not just something that’s been MBA’d up the yin-yang, but something with real substance.


Citing references …

A critical part of the Art of Rhetoric is the citing of references.

The particular description of Cicero’s Rules of Rhetoric listed above are paraphrased from the blog, Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric, by Brett and Kate McKay, published January 26, 2011.

How appropriate that their blog is on the website entitled: The Art of Manliness.


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