A good story will:

  • Make people care
  • Show what’s at stake
  • Tell a listener what to do next

Everyone wants to be understood when he or she communicates a message with a specific purpose. In business, we cannot afford to fail as effective communicators. Business today is communication. But we live in an age of  opt-in opt-out communications. The only messages we hear are those  we choose to hear.

The opt-in key is to frame your message within a story. Our filtering mechanisms have no defense, they go straight into our mind. People base decisions on their own and others’ stories. Rational facts that don’t easily fit our story are quickly forgotten. Messages embedded in a story are already formatted for our mental filing systems. A well-crafted story pulls us in and permits us to choose to identify with its purpose. Later, we retell the same story because it has become our story.

Our ears are tuned for stories

It’s your choice. If you want people to care about you, your ideas, your call to action – gift-wrap your communications in a  story. Sounds like a lot of work? Less than you might think. Transforming ordinary pitches and content into an emotional experience can be done by anyone who intimately understands their listener and can follow a roadmap.

As a start, here are 8 essentials to use when designing your next story:

8 Elements of a Good Story

A good business story engages the listener just like a blockbuster movie or Lee Childs page-turner. The storyteller does this by following classic principles successful screenwriters and best-selling writers use to sell a gazillion eyeballs.

A good (business) story

  1. respects listeners’ expectations – what they decide is important to their life or business.
  2. has a single purpose that drives the story’s arc from disruptive beginning to emotionally satisfying ending.
  3. features characters that are believable: a protagonist (hero) and forces of antagonism (villain) who evoke our empathy and/or sympathy.
  4. has a clearly defined goal (treasure) – the hero’s “object of desire.”
  5. driven by conflict! (obstacles) – drama is the energy source of good stories; give blow-by-blow accounts.
  6. teaches or reinforces a universal life lesson.
  7. explicitly or implicitly tells the listener what you want them to do next
  8. delivers a deeply satisfying emotional experience from inciting incident to climatic resolution.

Example story with line-by-line critique of story elements