CASE: M-323 (A

)
DATE: 8/23/09

HOW TO TELL A STORY (A)

From an instant to eternity, from the intracranial to the intergalactic, the life
story of each and every character offers encyclopedic possibilities. The mark of
a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.

—Robert McKee 1

Stories are all around us. Stories move us, make us feel alive, inspire us to be more than we
would be otherwise. As famed screenwriting coach and author of the screenwriting bible, Story,
McKee says: “Story is not only our most prolific art form, but rivals all activities—work, play,
eating, exercise—for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep—and
even then we dream.” 2 Our appetite for stories is a reflection of the basic human need to
understand patterns of life — not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a personal, emotional
experience. Alexander Steele, in Writing Fiction argues that we need stories as we need food.
“Our curiosity, and perhaps insecurity, compels us to continually explore the who, what, where,
when, and why of our existence. Some call this lofty goal a search for Truth.” 3

Learning how to tell a story cannot guarantee the reaching of Truth, but it can help you connect
with your audience, move your audience, and make your material more memorable.

Despite our love for stories, most of us leave stories to “storytellers,” artists in the storymaking
fields such as fiction writing, screenwriting, and movie making. In general, we passively take in

1
Ibid, p. 31.
2
Robert McKee, Story, (Regan Books: 1997), p. 11.
3
Alexander Steele, editor, Writing Fiction, (Bloomsbury, New York), 2003, p. 2.

Victoria Chang prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Jennifer Aaker as the basis for class discussion rather than
to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. Contributors include Oren Jacob and Justine
Jacob. Special thanks to Dana Maurello and Jamess Forrest.
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Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind. 2003. human beings naturally want to work through stories. Characters Characters are central to a story.. and a deep understanding of the audience. p. “Character: Casting Shadows. or save someone’s life? The goal or the “meaning” of the story. THE ELEMENTS OF STORYTELLING People are natural storytellers. In that moment of recognition. . and to make other people care about them. in the same way a screenwriter learns how to tell stories. p. 2 their stories and are moved by the end product. After learning the basic elements of storytelling.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. the audience suddenly and instinctively wants the protagonist to achieve whatever it is that he desires. seen movies. just as much (if not more) through emotion. perhaps because we do not see the benefit of stories beyond entertainment? But what if we could move beyond PowerPoint slides and Microsoft Word memos and instead harnessed the energy of a story? Traditionally. engagement can be better built through “uniting an idea with an emotion. 6 Brandi Reissenweber. making readers care.” 7 4 “Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee. “Deep within the protagonist the audience recognizes a certain shared humanity…. attended plays. p. They interact with or influence every part of the story.” 6 The job of a storyteller is to bring characters to life. However. 141.” in Alexander Steele. assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story. cit. What’s more. op. Ask yourself these questions: Who is the audience. Writing Fiction. business people persuade using only the left side of the brain. p. (Bloomsbury. need to be honed for the story to have maximal impact.” 5 However. an individual. and what is your goal in telling your story? Are you persuading someone to invest in your company? Are you trying to sell an idea to your co-workers? Are you trying to inspire people to help a cause. Learning the basic elements of storytelling. editor. or reason. But there’s something about the character that strikes a chord. in its attempt to understand and remember. this does not mean that telling stories is easy.” 4 And the best way to do this is by telling a compelling story.” Harvard Business Review. “Characters carry the reader from the first to the last page. op. and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire. 7 McKee. 26. 6. You’ve read good books. 6. New York). persuasion occurs. can help to make the task seem less daunting. But how many of us do not put much thought into how those stories are made. to reveal them.. cit. “Stories have been implanted in you thousands of times since your mother took you on her knee. By developing the right side of the brain. 5 Harvard Business Review. the task of the businessperson is to apply these principles to a specific and with a concrete goal. a life objective. June 2003. beginning with a personal desire.

however what makes a character most interesting is the character’s unique qualities—the unexpected qualities. p. or in the process of telling a story about a person.. the reason why readers keep reading is because “of the suspense the major 8 Reissenweber. will he live or die... and to communicate it in a way that an audience understands. who cannot make decisions. 3 When trying to find a story to tell. 139-141. it is essential to locate his or her desire or desires.” 8 Strong characters need to want something. novel. 104. 43. you must reveal the character’s distinctive traits. short story. will she kick her drug habit. p. or simply a story shared over dinner.” 10 Choosing characters that are under pressure will help your audience reach a deeper revelation. Whether it is a movie. It is the writer’s choice of events and their design in time: what to include.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.. plot is what moves the story along. .” 9 McKee argues that: “The finest writing not only reveals true character. what’s the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire? If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way. p. How to create a good plot? As with mapping out a character. In the case of fiction. It is easy to present a character’s most stereotypical qualities. they seep into the characterization. The reader should experience the tension. cit. 32.g. 149. 12 McKee. other times abstract (love or personal growth). whose actions effect no change at any level.” 11 Plot Plot is a key element of a story well told. but changes that inner nature. And storytellers need to identify what the characters want. 9 McKee. 26. But a story cannot be told about a protagonist who doesn’t want anything. the story is misconceived at its core. money. what to exclude.. p. for better or worse.” 12 A good plot is what keeps the audience interested and engaged—wondering what will happen next. “Here’s a simple test to apply to any story.. where to put events before or after other events. cit. Ask: What is the risk? What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants? More specifically. cit. 11 Reissenweber. “To plot means to navigate through the dangerous terrain of story and when confronted by a dozen branching possibilities to choose the correct path. cit. op. Beyond identifying a character’s desire(s). not be spotting contrasts like stop signs along the road. “Desire beats in the heart of every dimensional character. This single dramatic question is the “central organizing force” in every story. These qualities are often revealed through illuminating and contrasting traits. “The best contrasts are so seamlessly sewn with the characterization that they’re not easy to spot. documentary. will he find a job.g. will she find her father?). op. It is the sequence of events that ultimately resolves the major dramatic question of a story. Sometimes the characters’ desires are concrete (e. a cure for a sickness). op. p. over the course of the telling. mapping out a plot requires an identification and understanding of the “major dramatic question” or the one thing a story is about (e. 10 Ibid. op.

. Just as desire is essential to every character. p. The beginning of a story should flow relatively quickly because the audience wants to get to the interesting stuff.” 16 Middle of Story. The Fugitive. Citizen Kane. The beginning has to accomplish three things: “it has to drop the reader right into the middle of the action. p. Men in Black. a storyteller needs to fulfill all three parts. We need to find out what the answer will turn out to be. to the middle of the work.. through continuous time. . 49.g. Stories have beginnings. 60. irreversible change. and the major dramatic question of the book is.” 13 The answer to that question doesn’t always have to be a resounding “yes. editor. See Exhibit 1. A Fish Called Wanda. will Holden find a place where he belongs? 14 • The conflict is the obstacle blocking the protagonist from his or her goal.. his or her goal. 45. 63. the core action of the story happens here. First. for example. and Four Weddings and a Funeral). cit. The Godfather Part II. Third and most 13 David Harris Esenbach. to the action—in other words. Beginning of Story. “Plot: A Question of Focus” in Alexander Steele. the characters and situation we were introduced to in the beginning are developed.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. The middle of a story takes up the majority of space with the goal to do three things. middles. The classic structure of a plot is one that McKee calls the “Classical Design. 15 McKee. cit. and ends. op. 55.” it could be a “no” or even an open-ended “maybe. In the classic story of The Catcher in the Rye.” 15 McKee calls the elements of classical design “Archplot. In shaping a classically designed story. 16 Esenbach. New York). Holden Caulfield’s goal is to find a place where he belongs. it has to provide all the necessary background information to get the reader up to speed. Writing Fiction. 57. The Road Warrior. op. (Bloomsbury.” which have dominated movies (e. cit. the person to which the major dramatic question applies. Second.” Three elements work together to create a plot: the protagonist. 4 dramatic question creates. desire is central to every plot. to a closed ending of absolute.. p. • The protagonist is the main character. and the conflict blocking that goal. and it has to establish the major dramatic question. op. The Hustler. • What the protagonist wants is the goal—or the answer to the major dramatic question. 14 Esenbach. Thelma & Louise. p. Storytelling Arcs The arc is the shape of the story—the scaffolding of the story that holds the plot in place.” The classical design refers to a story built around “an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire. within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality. 2003.

In this case. p. 201. 20 Ibid. op. 189. End of Story.. where the story is narrated by a character. Casablanca. cit. the last act and its climax must be the most satisfying experience of all…. but plays a critical role. An inciting incident must ‘hook’ the audience. The protagonist is forced to react to the inciting incident. the last act and its story climax—these culminating moments must be the most gratifying. 5 importantly. cit. op. p.” 19 In a late-arriving inciting incident. 63. a deep and complete response. meaningful experiences of all. climax. The final movement of a ballet. p. the consequences. 19 Ibid. and where the forces arrayed against the protagonist become ever more powerful. and the climax is where the tension breaks.” 20 The end generally follows a “three Cs” pattern—crisis. Mckee instructs: “Bring in the central plot’s inciting incident as soon as possible…but not until the moment is ripe. . 17 The main barrier that a protagonist faces.” the inciting incident captures the audience’s curiosity and keeps the audience motivated to find the answer to the “major dramatic question”—all the way until the ending or the climax of the story. and where we get the answer to our major dramatic question. the inciting incident occurs 32 minutes into the movie when Ilsa reappears in Rick’s life. Then. The first commandment of all temporal art is: Thou shalt save the best for last. 17 Esenbach. 18 Often referred to as the “big hook. The first person point of view can be limiting in its perspective. however. are alluded to at the very end of the piece. 200.. “The crisis is the point where tension hits its maximum. 21 Esenbach. for example. the “inciting incident.” radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. p. unless the story is also injected with a narrator or other first person perspectives.. p. the story is filled with numerous “subplots” that occur side-by-side with the main plot or the love story that take up some of the first 32 minutes of the movie. the middle section is where the protagonist’s path toward his or her goal is blocked again and again by increasingly daunting obstacles. usually the protagonist. however briefly handled. The end of a story is often the shortest part of a story. The inciting incident generally occurs in the first 25 percent of the story. cit. Choosing a first person point of view gives the advantage of intimacy because there is no barrier between the audience and the speaker. the couplet of a sonnet.’ For a film to have a chance in the world.” 21 Point of View Point of view refers to the perspective through which the story is told. op. 18 McKee. 66. One point of view is the first person “I” perspective. the coda of a symphony. 107. McKee states: “A reverend Hollywood axiom warns: ‘Movies are about their last twenty minutes. 108. and consequences. The audience can immediately get a sense of the speaker and his or her personality.

or even smell (e. 24 And the more specific the description is. There are several types of third person point of view. 22 Esenbach. 26 To win the war against clichés. The best stories show the characters and their unshaved skin.. or he wanted to get his feet planted firmly on the ground). The third person point of view allows the narrator to illuminate a story’s events from various angles. the better. 6 The second person point of view uses the pronoun “you” that addresses the audience. unobserved by any of the story’s characters. (Bloomsbury. cit. op. 111. but using a different more subtle point of view might work better. Beyond the visual sense. Clichés have been used so many times that instead of being moving. cit. 2003. honest consequences of human choice and action is a creative defeat no amount of clever language can salvage. . 24 Chris Lombardi. don’t tell. 90-91.. essential information is filtered through the consciousness of either one or multiple characters. whether it is through memory. 107. they have become meaningless.g. cit. or what the weather is like in their environment. The best stories tend to use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.” in Alexander Steele. or secondary research. it was a bone-chilling cold morning.” 22 Show.” Granted. there has to be some exposition or simple relaying of factual information. 25 One of the pitfalls to avoid when telling your story is clichés (e. describing the smell of perfume). p. McKee details: “Master storytellers never explain. describe incidents. what they are wearing. one of the oldest rules in the art is to “show. 114. the story’s information is filtered through the narrator’s all-knowing consciousness: “Through the omniscient narrator you have the ability to do any of the following: enter the mind of any or all of the characters. In the third person single or multiple vision.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.g. In the third person omniscient point of view. A great story authenticates its ideas solely within the dynamics of its events. take the time to learn about the setting of the story you are trying to tell. op. interpret the story’s events. sound (noises such as screeching tires or sirens within the character’s environment to convey a sudden sense of danger). stories can employ other senses such as accent (the way a character speaks).. 23 McKee. It is a more overt way of drawing an audience into the story. and inform the reader of future events.. the invocation of all of the senses.. p. painfully creative thing—they dramatize…. This point of view is challenging and can come off as being gimmicky. They do the hard. New York). p. op.. Writing Fiction. opting for more of a subtle approach to build tension. editor. 26 Esenbach. op. Don’t Tell When telling a story. The most powerful way of capturing an audience and bringing them into your story is through sensory description. cit. p. who their families are. 121. 25 Esenbach. p.” 23 Storytellers communicate visually. do not overload your story with extraneous adjectives and adverbs (verbs that end in “ly” such as swiftly and gracefully). there’s much to be said about the physicality of storytelling. “Description: To Picture In Words. However. failure to express a view of life through the pure. provide historical context for the story. imagination.

the deeper meaning-. 117. cit. therefore the greater his creative choices.” 28 Within the small world you are crafting. four dimensions can be used to make that world more knowable: Period: story’s place in time—contemporary world. town. or planet..” In Dangerous Liaisons. McKee argues that: “…the source of all clichés can be traced to one thing and one thing alone: The writer does not know the world of his story. the controlling idea is that “hatred destroys us when we fear the opposite sex. institutions. history.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. in Groundhog Day. the how and why of change. situating the reader is important. knowable world. In fact. For example. 29 McKee.the message. 29 See Exhibit 2 for distinct themes. op. p. streets. Although plot and character often take precedence over setting.” Rather. the more complete the knowledge of the writer. “The constraint that setting imposes on story design doesn’t inhibit creativity. . rooms. A story without a theme can lead an audience to ask: “So what?” Theme is often referred to as the “controlling idea” which describes how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end. op. Duration story’s length through time—how much time the story spans within the lives of the characters.. Level of conflict: story’s position on the hierarchy of human struggles—personal. 28 Ibid. the theme is the center of a story. Theme Theme answers the deep-rooted question: “What is your story about?” The answer is not the superficial answer of “this happened. knowable world.” then “that happened. p. The larger the world. it inspires it. All fine stories take place within a limited.” The controlling idea is the purest form of a story’s meaning. the heart of it. etc. The smaller the world. therefore the fewer his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. the controlling idea is that “happiness fills our lives when we learn to love unconditionally. cit. 71-72. Location: story’s place in space—geography. p.” 27 How to convey the world of the story? The first step is to create a small. 27 McKee. the more diluted the knowledge of the writer. the vision of life the audience members carry away into their lives.. or future. 7 Setting Setting refers to the place or world in which the story occurs. buildings. environment. 67.

“Theme: So What’s Your Story Really About?. 7. The easiest way to find as story is to begin by asking questions and interviewing people. . the more you can appreciate the humanity of others in all their good-versus-evil struggles.” “truth. it is also possible to focus too much on the theme—to the point that the theme is rammed down the audience’s throat. To avoid this trap. whose father was imprisoned for debt. and Great Expectations…. cit. but of his life…. you want to position the problems in the foreground and then show how you’ve overcome them.” 35 In the end. start by telling a story and avoid starting with the theme. cit.” 31 Good themes are simple. more fully. not only of his writing.’ McKee says: “When people ask me to help them turn their presentations into stories. the storyteller needs to think about why he or she was drawn to tell the story to begin with. op. A STORYTELLING TEMPLATE 30 Bain. op. 198. as debasing as it sounds. editor. But most companies and executives sweep the dirty laundry. the audience will leave with an empty feeling). When you tell the story of your struggles against real antagonists. “Hemingway was fascinated with the question of how to face death. but life will not allow it. p. 36 Ibid. 2003.”34 McKee adds: “The great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side. In The Great Gatsby. your audience sees you as an exciting. p.” 32 Good themes are also personal. 99. p.. After he witnessed the suicide of his father. 30 The theme will make itself known at a later point—and if it does not.” “longing. the theme is “the corruption of the American dream. But as a storyteller. 7. storytelling is about understanding the self: “Self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling….How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. creating a ‘story-bank. It comes from everything that makes us suffer.. Charles Dickens. the theme is “the power of desire” In 1984. cit. p. In many cases. New York). The more you understand your own humanity. 203. Oliver Twist. The energy to live comes from the dark side. the difficulties.” “addiction. (Bloomsbury.” “death. the theme is “a police state like this could happen. op. 202. the antagonists. dynamic person. 8 Although every great story must have a theme (otherwise.” “hope. p.” In Lolita. wrote of the lonely child searching for the lost father over and over in David Copperfield. 33 McKee. and the struggle under the carpet.. 31 Bain. They prefer to present a rosy— and boring—picture of the world. p. I begin by asking questions…and amazing dramas pour out. Writing Fiction. we’re forced to live more deeply.” 36 See Exhibit 3. a story can be crystallized into a word such as “courage. p. it became the central theme. 32 Terry Bain. 8. 35 Ibid. We would all rather be lotus-eaters. 34 Ibid.” in Alexander Steele.” 33 FINDING STORIES One of the challenges of storytelling is to first find a story. As we struggle against these negative powers.

in the middle of your talk to punctuate.” 38 d) What would you like the audience to do? You might need to identify the kind of action you want the audience to take or identify how they can help. p. or the antagonists that are keeping the protagonist from achieving his or her desire.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.Solution/Outcome Other tips to help you build your story (see also Exhibits 4 and 5): a) Get the audience’s attention fast. there could still be a need for a call to action. This is boring and banal. Storytelling as Best Practice. He argues that: “You emphatically do not want to tell a beginning-to-end tale describing how results meet expectations. the audience should be able to answer. make the protagonist seem real so the audience begins to feel a personal stake. It is important to personalize the protagonist. in the Chemcorp example above. McKee provides an imaginary example of how a business person could use stories to convince investors to take action and invest in an imaginary company called Chemcorp.. you want to display the struggle between expectation and reality in all its nastiness. 37 Andy Goodman. g) After your talk is over. According to Andy Goodman: “This is your story’s ‘hook’—the description of a place. Even in a more closed-ended story where the protagonist acts and his or her true character is revealed. Ask yourself what the protagonist desires. 38. Instead. a storytelling template can help you frame your own story. f) Place stories strategically in an introduction to warm up. op. “The people in your story have to want something. “What was the story all about?” in just a few sentences. c) Hone in on the problems. cit. STORYTELLING IN BUSINESS In an interview with the Harvard Business Review. One way to do so is to begin the story where the audience is. or premise that everyone understands and with which they readily identify.”39 Instead of taking the standard route of showing slides that explain how Chemcorp has discovered a chemical compound that prevents heart attacks. circumstance. p. the audience should feel compelled to help or to take whatever action you would like them to take because they now have a personal stake in helping to find a solution. p. 6. leading to the major dramatic question of the story. By the end of your story. rife with market size charts and growth figures. 9 Although stories vary in many ways. . 16. the protagonist or the CEO would like investors to give him money.” 37 b) Focus on the protagonist or the character. e) Keep stories short (3-5 minutes each). 38 Ibid. barriers. and at the end to summarize and to bring the audience to action. 39 Harvard Business Review. One useful formula is: Story = Situation/Desire . For example.Complication/Obstacles .

The protagonist has raised the idea in the bankers’ heads that the story might not have a happy ending. p. low-cost test.” 40 In the middle of the story. 6-7. from running out of money to management issues as a partner leaves. 10 McKee provides an alternative and advocates personalizing the story. pp. But I know that if you can’t play all the instruments in the orchestra of story. beginning with someone close to him—say. he has them on the edges of their seats. we got the patent. 7.” 42 40 Ibid. So nature itself is the first antagonist that the CEO-as- protagonist must overcome. cit. His company discovers a protein that’s present in the blood just before heart attacks and develops an easy-to-administer. He says: “Alternatively. The story might unfold like this: In his grief. 42 McKee. the CEO could turn his pitch into a story. However.’ And the bankers just throw money at him. his father—who died of a heart attack.” 41 For more on story-telling in business. But new tests show better performance and the FDA approves a second application. you’re condemned to hum the same old tune. p. Chemcorp faces a series of other antagonists. you may have begun to see the power of stories to change lives and the world. . we’re poised to go public and save a quarter million lives a year. YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD Armed with the techniques of storytellers. and he says. By now. no matter what music may be in your imagination. op. McKee adds: “This accumulation of antagonists creates great suspense. As McKee says: “I still believe that art transforms life.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. ‘We won the race. 10. the protagonist or the CEO faces a stream of additional barriers or antagonists—the next one being the FDA who turns down the first application. WITH STORIES.. his father’s death could have been prevented. see Exhibit 6. 41 Ibid. he realizes that if there had been some chemical indication of heart disease.

b. Write an outline of your story and plot your story. Identify your protagonist’s desire. For practice at storytelling. create a graphical representation of parts of a story/ story arc to accompany your text. have you compellingly told your story in a way that clear action comes through? . How did the subplots contribute to the overarching story? What does the protagonist. desire? Identify the major dramatic question in Casablanca. c. and physical characteristics. personality traits. Identify your protagonist(s) major dramatic question.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. List the reasons why. a. 11 Case Discussion Questions: 1. Identify the barriers or antagonists that block the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. Describe your protagonist’s qualities. watch Casablanca. Identify a cause (one or more person) that you are passionate about and tell its/his/her/their story. Finally. 3. Rick. and become personally involved. 2. How might you end your story and if you desire action from your audience. Identify the plot and subplots. Think about the last three times that someone told you a story and you started to personally care about the characters in the story.

12 Exhibit 1 Story Arcs .How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.

Moving Mountains. .” Crisis “We have to respond to the danger facing us.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.” Opportunity “We know something now that we didn’t know before. do we have it in us to do the same?” Blowing the Whistle “Although it appears everything is going fine.” Evolution “If we don’t keep up with the latest. but now we have a new choice and we have to decide which path to take. M. which presents us with a new possibility if we act. but it’s better to take a risk than to stay in a rut.” Source: H." Disappointment “We made a decision based on the best information we had available. we can make it our reality. and we want to apply our high standards to the current situation. so we have to try something else. 13 Exhibit 2 Story Types and Underlying Themes Historical Narrative “We have a history that makes us proud.” Challenge “Someone else has achieved something amazing.” Revolution “We’re on a path to disaster if we don’t radically change what we’re doing today. we have a serious problem we need to fix.” The Great Dream “If we can only see our possibility.” Crossroads “We’ve been doing fine on the path that we’re on. Boettinger.” Adventure “We know that trying something new is a risk. but now we know it wasn’t the right decision. we’ll fall behind.” Response to an Order “We’ve been told we have to do this. so we’re here to figure out how to make it happen.

” which makes it difficult to discuss exactly who did what in the course of a narrative. Keelan’s firm. and producing CDs or downloadable audio files that clients circulate internally (for training) and externally (for marketing and promotion).” Keelan does not allow clients only to give him the gist of conversations that occur within their stories. Keelan has heard all sides of the story. he will often hear the familiar refrain. By forcing storytellers to say “I. this leads storytellers to identify other players in their tales.” Push for Quotes and Details Just as he won’t accept “we. “And then the boss .” Keelan makes them carefully consider when they are driving the action as opposed to someone else.” he says with a hint of exasperation. “When people are willing to share something vulnerable.” he says. Keelan lays down the law: “I insist they tell their story first person. which he started in 2003 with one employee (himself) and a steadfast belief in the power of storytelling. Don’t Accept “We” Before conducting one-on-one interviews. “But I don’t know any good stories!” He just nods and presses forward. Keelan asserts.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. To help clients dig deeper inside their own head. carefully editing their stories. When Keelan begins work with a new client. For the last three years. a StoryQuest client will ask Keelan to interview its sales people to capture stories that illustrate effective ways to bring in new customers. Fortune 500 companies have been hiring Keelan to “mine” their stories so the best practices they contain can be shared and used widely.” Too often. Look for Moments of Vulnerability Typically. 14 Exhibit 3 How to Find Good Stories Tim Keelan knows how to find a good story. In most cases. Along the way. After hearing dozens of such stories. Keelan spends his days interviewing business people.” the audience will be more likely to trust them. If an interviewee tells him. Keelan employs several techniques that will jog their memory and shift them into storytelling mode. “People don’t know their own stories. now boasts clients such as Lucent Technologies and projects revenue for 2006 of $1 million. and those names go on a list of follow-up interviews. And it’s precisely this moment of vulnerability. that creates empathy for the storyteller and lends authenticity to the story. storytellers hide behind the word “we. by the time he has talked to the follow-ups (as well as their follow-ups). the salesperson admits to some kind of misstep or outright mistake while pitching to a prospect. he has developed several reliable techniques for digging out and polishing good stories—techniques you can employ to produce some gems of your own. StoryQuest. Instead. Invariably. he explains. Keelan has discovered that the most engaging ones have a common element: they do not chronicle a straight line to success.

To the left is the past. Do Some Time Traveling Keelan will also does interviews by drawing a line on an easel pad. pp. paint a more vivid picture. 28-29 . is today. and drawing arrows on either end.” Keelan will gently press for the exact words until the storyteller adds. To the right. 15 asked why I was late for the meeting. Keelan will ask about small details that seem insignificant to the storyteller—the weather that morning. placing a mark in the center. Noting historic events. we can reach this goal. the name of the restaurant where the meeting was held.” Source: Andy Goodman. so they are worth pursuing. direct quotes usually enliven a story. “If we can do more of that. this can tease out additional stories from the past where the moral is. ‘Where the hell have you been?’” Even without an expletive. he tells the client. Storytelling as Best Practice. will often prompt stories that had not surfaced during previous interviews.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. Keelan says. “Well. the future. The mark. what he actually said was. and give it a more authentic feel. And when clients start thinking about the future. what the prospect was wearing—because these can fix a story in time and place. He then hands over the marker and asks the clients to make additional notations on the timeline to indicate significant events in the organizations history as well as achievements that still lay ahead. Similarly.

6. telling detail can replace a paragraph or more of description. Is the meaning clear?  Finally your story should have a crystal clear moral. a renowned Hollywood script doctor. Where’s the conflict?  There is no drama without conflict. Source: Andy Goodman. In return for their time and attention—an increasingly valuable commodity. or premise that everyone understands and with which they readily identify. Heroic action always comes into sharper focus when juxtaposed against villainous misdeeds. 7. Traditionally structured stories follow protagonists in pursuit of clearly defined goals.” Take another look at that success story of yours and see if you can recall any barriers or surprises that cropped up along the way. also fall flat without it. “ says Robert McKee. 3. “is the grasp between what we think will happen when we take action. What’s the hook?  Another technique for drawing people in is beginning the story where the audience is. 5. not so incidentally—they expect more than a recitation of facts. 16 Exhibit 4 Seven Questions to Sharpen Your Stories 1. and comedies. Who’s the protagonist?  Just as a car needs a driver to get where it’s going. a reason for taking this particular journey.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. for that matter. 4. pp. stories need someone to drive the action. Storytelling as Best Practice. What keeps it interesting?  “The stuff of storytelling. and good stories have just enough telling details to set the scene and people it with colorful characters. and what actually happens. What’s the emotional hook?  The audience wants an emotional experience that makes the time worthwhile. Have you included telling details?  A single. circumstance. 2. This is your story’s “hook”—the description of a place. 16-17 .

Do this within your first paragraph or two. not simply for melodramatic effect. 9. Within the first paragraph or two.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. Your audience should see a picture. A story doesn’t truly begin until the audience knows precisely what the protagonist’s goal is and has a reason to care whether or not it is attained. 3. they must run into obstacles. 17 Exhibit 5 The 10 Immutable Laws of Storytelling 1. you have to make them wonder “what happens next?” or “how is this going to turn out?” As the people in your story pursue their goal. lending authenticity to the dialogue. (b) toils in the dense thicket of policy change. Stories have at least one “moment of truth. Stories have a clear meaning. Audiences bore easily. 38-39 . Source: Andy Goodman. and become more involved with the story. If your audience can’t answer the question. The moment you begin telling your tale. In the end. 2. Let your characters speak for themselves. the average American reads at a sixth grade level. “What was the story all about?” it won’t matter if you followed rules one through nine.” The best stories show us something about how we should treat ourselves. And since this person also serves as the audience’s guide through the story. plain speaking is the order of the day. (c) helps other organizations work more effectively. others. they will more readily follow you into the deeper meaning within. If you help them get their bearings quickly. Stories don’t tell: they show. or the world around us. So your protagonist has to be a person. your audience should know exactly why they took this journey with you. 5. Storytelling as Best Practice. Human beings are not inclined to think about things they do not care about. Direct quotes also let characters speak in idiosyncratic voices. Stories stir emotions not to be manipulative. 10. Stories are about people. Stories stir up emotions. 7. the audience will want to know when and where it is taking place. pp. 4. but the break through the white noise of information that inundates us every day and to deliver the message this is worth your attention. human beings are still driving the action. When characters speak to each other in a story. this may be the most important rule of all. When the final line is spoken. 8. Even if your organization (a) is devoted to saving flora and/or fauna. The people in your story have to want something. Stories speak the audience’s language. feel the conflict. surprises. and publications are meant for mass consumption. So if your ads. Stories need to be fixed in time and space. or something that makes the audience sit up and take notice. 6. it lends immediacy and urgency to the piece. it’s essential to provide some physical description. According to national literacy studies. posters.

The outcome is entire up to you. And what about those not-so-happy tales already circulating in the hallways? Considering how intrinsic storytelling is to human communication—and how we learn—managers interested in greater organizational effectiveness should pay more attention to the inside stories. In her book Corporate Legends and Lore: Storytelling as a Management Tool. In them. but it won’t be as easy as digging out and telling the good stories while squelching the bad. pp. Peg Neuhauser recommends identifying a ‘Story Bank’. and (b) share them often enough that any member of the staff can tell them. strange as it may sound. Storytelling as Best Practice. Organizations with healthy cultures. 18 Exhibit 6 Storytelling within Your Organization Storytelling within your organization can be inspiring and unifying or demoralizing and divisive. they may find the answer to internal problems. including the need for your work • Emblematic victories that demonstrate the organization’s effectiveness over time • What-we-learned-in-defeat story (if only to remind your team that occasional misfires are inevitable and should be embraced with what they can teach you) • An employee performance story (to shows the commitment your people bring to a challenge) • One or more stories about the fundamental nature of the problem you are tackling Once you have collected these stories. purposefully tell both. Source: Andy Goodman. but will generally include: • How the organization was founded. or group of stories that can be your organization’s unifying force. These stories will vary from group to group. 12-13 . look for regular opportunities to share them with your team and identify the best people to tell them. The objective is to find people to (a) bring the stories to life.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.

Neuhauser What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits By Diana Scearce & Katherine Fulton Tell Me a Story: Narrative & Intelligence By Roger Schank The Story Factor By Annette Simmons The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story By John Walsh . Listening is an Act of Love By Dave Isay Telling True Stories By Mark Kramer & Wendy Call Improving Your Storytelling By Doug Lipman The Power of Personal Storytelling By Jack Maguire Corporate Legends & Lore: The Power of Storytelling as a Management Tool By Peg C. 19 For Further Inspiration Moving Mountains By H. et al. M. Green. Boettinger Leader's Guide to Storytelling By Stephen Denning The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations By Stephen Denning Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations By Nancy Duarte The Triumph of Narrative: Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture By Robert Fulford Storytelling as Best Practice By Andy Goodman Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations By Melanie C.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p.