(Reproduced from Business Matters, 19 April 2017)
So what makes a great story? The typical response is that the content has to be interesting, exciting or amusing. But according to Chris Hirsch of Toastmasters International, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A compelling story has little to do with the content and everything to do with the structure.
All stories, whatever the content, follow the same simple structure:
- You start by setting the scene (Once upon a time there was……)
- You then have a problem (… she couldn’t escape from the tower…)
- Then there is rising tension as the problem can’t be solved (…but try as he may, the prince couldn’t…)
- Then you have the climax or tipping point (…they realised that they would never be together…)
- Then there is the resolution (…the maiden lowered her hair out of the window so that the Prince could climb up)
- And finally you have a new status quo (… and they lived happily ever after)
The key is to use the above structure to present your business story in a compelling fashion that touches your audience and encourages your clients to take action.
Hirsch recommends thinking of the client you are most proud of helping. It is their story you need to tell. And always construct the end of the story FIRST – it’s easier to start a journey if you know the destination. Paint a picture of how the client felt after you had helped them (the ‘…and they all lived happily ever after’ line).
- Now go back to the beginning of the story and set the scene
- Explain how you helped them realise that they had a problem
- Describe how this problem was affecting them
- Outline what the long-term consequences of inaction would have been
- Explain the resolution – how you can help them with the solution
- Explain how wonderful the client felt at the end of the journey and how much better the new Status Quowas.
There are some important points to remember to make your story really effective.
- Make the client (or someone like them) the hero of the story
- If the story is about another client, make sure the person you are telling will think “they are just like me”
- Never make yourself the hero – it is their story, you are just the guide
- You must include a pivot point, a moment of tension, without this you will not have a story
Storytelling is a highly effective means of communicating with others. But it goes further than that because we, ourselves, also think in stories.
If you want to solve a problem, construct a narrative around it – turn it into a story. Most problems involve other people so I challenge you to make them the hero of the story and make yourself the guide. Use the same method of construction as above and think of a happy ending first.
By doing this you are automatically looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view and trying to think how you can solve their problem. This can be a really refreshing and enlightening process.
Once you start thinking in stories the uses can be quite surprising and fun. If you’ve had a bad day, structure it into a story and at least you will realise what made it so and where it all went wrong. If you have a good day, do the same.
Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool – and it is. That’s exactly what makes it so powerful. A story can go where logic, numbers and analysis cannot: our hearts.
Data can persuade people but it cannot call them to action. Nothing can fire the imagination or awaken the soul like a story.