People Love a Good Story

As I mentioned in a previous post entitled Why Story Matters, I recently attended the Story Seminar conducted by the legendary Robert McKee. It was fascinating and grueling – Robert taught for 32 hours over a four-day period!

Since I have returned from the event, I’ve gone through my notes several times. I’ve been attempting to sort through pages and pages of amazing content to identify a few ideas that will help leaders be more effective storytellers.
As you craft your next presentation, be sure your stories include:
A hero people will care about – People want to know the hero. What is she like? Why should I care? Can I relate? Can I see some of myself in this person? Do they possess qualities or attributes I admire? In a well-told story, we want the hero to prevail!
An inciting incident – Something must start the story. It can be a big event or a small one – an individual decision or a tsunami. Both count, as long as the incident serves as the catalytic event to launch the story.
A quest – The hero must want something of value – consciously or subconsciously. The story reflects the journey towards the goal. If there’s no goal or object of desire, there’s no story.
Obstacles & conflict – Stories advance through conflict. If the journey is easy, the audience will not be engaged. Every story moves forward and retreats in the face of conflict.
Hard choices – Stories driven by circumstance or coincidence do not inspire. Our hero must make choices. Over the course of the story, she may make many of them. Each one should be more challenging and costly than the previous ones. The ultimate choice the hero must make is the moment of climax in the story.
Resolution – All stories don’t have happy endings, but all stories have endings. Sometimes, the most powerful lessons can be learned when the hero fails. If the choices made are the wrong ones, or the hero is not strong enough to overcome the conflict, there will still be lessons to be learned.
Here’s my abbreviated version of a story I heard from the CEO of a hotel company that uses the elements I just described.

Manuel was a first generation immigrant. He worked two jobs to support himself and to send money home to his family in Guatemala. He didn’t mind the hard work; he said he was born to serve people. (The Hero)  

One day, he found a guest had checked out of the hotel and left her laptop computer in the hotel room. (The Inciting Incident)

Manuel knew he had to get the laptop back to the customer. (The Quest)

He discovered from the concierge desk that Ms. Jones was en route to Hawaii for a sales meeting. She was supposed to deliver the keynote address the next day. (Obstacles – both time and distance)

Manuel knew what he had to do. He told his co-worker he was headed to the airport – he was flying to Hawaii. He didn’t trust the airline to deliver the laptop safely and on time. (Hard choice)

When he arrived in Maui, Ms. Jones was delighted to see him. She said she’d not only be a customer for life, she would tell the world about Manuel’s heart and commitment to serve his customers. He then boarded the next flight and returned home. (Resolution)

Now, you try it! Determine an important idea you want to communicate to your organization. Use these same elements to create a compelling story that reinforces your message. I’d love to hear how it goes![GLS_Shield]

Leave a comment

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Michael Hyatt

9 years ago

This is great, Mark. Thanks also for a concrete example.
Don Miller is doing a lot of work in this area, as you may know. His new company, StoryBrand helps companies discover their own BrandScript and tell it in a compelling way. I just recently had them come in and spend a day with my team, working on my company’s story. It was invaluable.
Based on the seven-part story structure I learned from Don (who also learned from McKee), I crafted this sales letter for a webinar I am hosting tonight:
Thanks for the work you do. It will be interesting to see how you use what you learned in your business.

Steven Netsch

9 years ago

Wow... Thank you Mark for summarizing one of the most important aspects of connecting with people. Wrap your product in a story to provide stickiness; stories are peoples' most important tools for dissemination.
"No one buys facts... they buy a story. Satisfy wants not needs. The feeling is the product." -Seth Godin
Well done Mark!


9 years ago

Thank you, Steven. I'll continue to work on my storytelling skills and I'll share what I'm learning along the way. I love the Seth quote. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Maria Keckler

8 years ago

What a superb summary and clear reminder that a well crafted and told story is the bridge that helps us connect with the hearts and minds of our audiences.
Recently I was humbled by the realization that "knowing" how story works... and being able to teach others how to craft their stories... isn't the same as laboring over my own stories. It takes dedication to write a story that moves the audience to turn the page or keep reading.
The investment is worth it. After many months, I finally handed the final product to my publisher, and now I feel like a mother awaiting for her baby to come into the world.
By the way: Carmine Gallo has published some ground-braking research about story and neuroscience in Talk Like Ted.


8 years ago

Thanks, Maria! Congratulations on finishing your manuscript! Let me know when your book is available. I will buy a copy. Mark

Maria Keckler

8 years ago

Thank you, Mark, for the encouragement. It'll be my privilege to send you an early copy.
Have a blessed day. Maria


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