4 elements of a great story
Storytelling is an art that a great leader and speaker know about. There’s a reason why you remember the illustrations that others share in their presentation and how you’ll often remember the stories and analogies from a minister’s sermon before you recall the points of the message itself. People love stories!
I certainly leverage the power of storytelling in my own leadership. Being a good storyteller helps you get your message across, become more memorable to others and raise your influence level across the team. We’ve previously talked about the types of stories (EP 124) that you should have at the ready. Today, we’ll look at 4 elements that make a great story.
Stories don’t have to be long and elaborate
I’ve certainly been known to dial in a little bit of exaggeration or emphasis in a story to drive a point home or to land a punchline. Stories don’t have to be incredibly long, in fact, shorter stories are typically more memorable. Here’s an example of a story that Mike talks about in our book recommendation shows:
Two friends started a computer company. One person was a brilliant engineer, and the other had a passion for marketing and design. Together, the two Steves created Apple in Steve Jobs’s garage where he lived with his parents. Together, they revolutionized the industry and made computers easy to use for the average person. Later, Jobs was kicked out of his own company after a failed boardroom coup. A decade later he came back to pull the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy and made it into the organization that many millions love today. In 2022, the brand founded by two guys in a dad’s garage became the first U.S. company to be valued at $3 trillion.
117 words are all it took to share the story of Apple and it includes all four elements of a great story.
It needs Structure
There are some great stories out there that have been buried by a meandering storyteller. Maybe you know a person like this; they just seem to go on-an-on with an illustration or example and the story never really ends. There is a great episode of The Office where their branch manager Micheal (ep 289) finally has a great story to share and he just kills it by dragging it on and on until people lose interest.
All great stories have one thing in common: they have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets the stage – It’s the backdrop of the situation and introduction to the characters. The middle shines a spotlight on the conflict or obstacles and the end resolves the conflict or shares what the outcome was.
Think about the stories that you want to share with others and visualize how the story plays out. Does it contain a definitive beginning middle and end? If so then you are already well on your way to a potentially memorable story.
It should have Characters
Speaking of The Office, one of the main reasons that people love that show (or really any show) is because of the characters. They are memorable and unique, and oftentimes we can see a little bit of ourselves in those characters that we love the most.
There are times when the concept of your story may be more abstract. Perhaps you are trying to capture your Mission, Vision, and Values. These abstract ideas can be embedded in your stories but the people or characters are the ones carrying the message. When I worked on a project where a company was relaunching its Values, we created videos where the executives came in and shared stories of what that particular Value meant to them or how they’ve seen it played out in the organization. We almost exclusively used the power of characters and stories to convey the message of the Values to those associates.
There needs to be Conflict
People love good conflict in stories. It’s what keeps people engaged as they wait to hear what is next. Remember conflict doesn’t always have to be physical or violent. Other areas to think about in conflict include:
- Time – a natural enemy to all people!
- A breakdown in resources or communications
- An unexpected twist to a well-thought-out plan
- Nature or other physical barriers
- Society or government
There are conflicts going on around you on a daily basis and it’s very likely that the basis for your story may have more than one conflict. Choose and highlight the one that best accentuates the point that you are trying to make to keep people focused and engaged.
It needs Resolution
Every story needs to end. Give your story some closure. What was the point or lesson learned that you want to share? People enjoy hearing how someone overcame the odds or obstacles and to understand how the person or situation was transformed as a result.
In many business-related stories, the story simply wraps up with a solution to the problem or conflict at hand.
Craft great stories that include all the elements above. Practice and refine them with friends and family and then add them to your proverbial roll-a-dex to pull out at the right time in the future. There is quite a bit of power in storytelling as a communication tool and relationship builder. Tell a compelling story that pulls people in and inspires them.
Make a better tomorrow.