Story Telling 101

Storytelling is a powerful tool that great leaders use to motivate the masses. Here are some storytelling tips from MasterClass to help you strengthen your narratives and engage your audience:

1. Choose a clear central message. A great story usually progresses towards a central moral or message. When crafting a story, you should have a definite idea of what you’re building toward. Regardless of what type of story you are telling, it’s important to be very clear on the central theme or plot point that you are building your story around.

2. Embrace conflict. storytellers craft narratives that have all sorts of obstacles and hardships strewn in the path of their protagonists. In order to be satisfied with a happy ending, audiences have to watch the main characters struggle to achieve their goals. Compelling plots are built on conflict.

3. Have a clear structure. A story must have a beginning, middle and end. A successful story will start with an inciting incident, lead into rising action, build to a climax and ultimately settle into a satisfying resolution. Gain insights into structure through books and movies and practice structure.

4. Mine your personal experiences. Think about important experiences in your real life and how you might be able to craft them into narratives.

5. Engage your audience. Great storytelling requires you to connect with your audience. Make eye contact, convey emotion with your tone, use gestures effectively and be expressive.

6. Observe good storytellers. There’s no better way to learn how to craft and deliver a narrative than by watching storytellers you admire relate their own stories. Look for good storytellers and learn through observation. How do they craft a successful story?

7. Narrow the scope of your story. Many end up inundating their audience with facts that dilute the central story arc. Choose a clear beginning and end to your story, then write the key plot events as bullet points between them. Trust that your audience will be able to follow your story, and don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary backstory.

Human brains are wired to hear, and remember stories. As you craft yours, remember the most important element in a good story. Alice LaPlante at Wordsmithie says that ingredient is suspense.

Suspense is foundational. Without it, you don’t have a story. You have to keep your audience wondering what will happen next. If you don’t, you lose them. Period. Today’s business audiences are likely to yawn and check their phones if suspense is missing from a story.

Here’s how to make your listener hang onto every word you say or write.  First, let’s analyze suspense. What is its literary definition? Partial knowledge that something of dramatic significance is about to happen.  Tell your audience some things—but not others—about what’s going to happen. You hint (there are many ways to do this) that you will reveal something important soon. You have them hanging onto your words to find out what that something is.

Suspense is different from surprise. Surprise is when the boogey man jumps out of a closet. Suspense is when you’re in a quiet house and hear floorboards creak downstairs. Partial knowledge.

To put a business spin on it, suspense is the time leading up to a major product release, when you tease your audience by sharing tidbits about problems in development, technical barriers, etc. You’re giving them partial knowledge so they want to know what happens next. Much more interesting that is than simply saying, “It took us longer than we thought, but we finally got Widget 2.0 to market.”

Enchanted Marketing offers some great advice on getting started on storytelling – craft one about your start.  A good business founding story takes readers on your journey, gives them a glimpse of who you are, and gains emotional buy-in. Just reading your story makes people feel better already, so they start imagining how good it would be to work with you.  This is the power of storytelling.

Every business has a good story. You simply have to dig to find the four key moments in your business history, and craft your story around these four key moments.  Here’s an example business story of BrewDog, a brewer of craft beers:

Martin and I (James) were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market. We decided the best way to fix this was to brew our own. In April 2007 BrewDog was born. Both only 24 at the time, we leased a building in Fraserburgh, got some scary bank loans, spent all our money on stainless steel and started making some hardcore craft beers. We brewed tiny batches, filled bottles by hand and sold our beers at local markets and out of the back of our beat-up old van. Our biggest mission when we set up BrewDog was to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are. And that is still our biggest mission today.

Martin and James tell their story around these four key moments:
– They encounter a problem: industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales are boring.
– They have a spark of insight: What if we can fix this problem?
– They start their own brewery, brewing in tiny batches.
– They are now on a mission to make more people passionate about craft beer.

The story is simple, but includes enough details to make it fascinating: how they started at 24, brewed in tiny batches, filled bottles by hand and sold them out of the back of their old van. Sensory words make the story vivid: stuffy ales, scary bank loans, hardcore craft beers, a beat up old van.

You don’t need a special talent to craft your own business story. First, define the four key moments of your business story:
– Which problem do you solve?
– Which insight sparked the start (or pivoting) of your business?
– What are you doing now to fix the problem?
– What’s your mission? When you connect your mission to your founding story, you energize and motivate your audience.

Problem/ Spark of insight/ How you and your company fixed it /Mission linked to beginning

Readers don’t need to know all the details. They don’t want a full resume and they’re not interested in a day-by-day journal either.

It’s your task as storyteller to decide what matters:
– Describe the 4 key moments and craft your story around them
– Decide which details help bring your story to life
– Skip everything that’s irrelevant to understanding the plot

Your story helps readers understand what drives you, who you are, and why you are the person to help them.  That’s how you energize, motivate, and inspire.