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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.
Copyright © 2009 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. To order copies or
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School of Business.

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

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

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

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

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

All fine stories take place within a limited.. the theme is the center of a story. 27 McKee. 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. or planet. streets. 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 deeper meaning-. therefore the greater his creative choices. knowable world. Although plot and character often take precedence over setting.” 27 How to convey the world of the story? The first step is to create a small. the how and why of change. Location: story’s place in space—geography. . four dimensions can be used to make that world more knowable: Period: story’s place in time—contemporary world. cit. institutions.” Rather.the message. therefore the fewer his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. knowable world. op. rooms. the more diluted the knowledge of the writer. Level of conflict: story’s position on the hierarchy of human struggles—personal. 28 Ibid..” In Dangerous Liaisons. the controlling idea is that “happiness fills our lives when we learn to love unconditionally. the controlling idea is that “hatred destroys us when we fear the opposite sex. the more complete the knowledge of the writer. Theme Theme answers the deep-rooted question: “What is your story about?” The answer is not the superficial answer of “this happened. op. The smaller the world. etc. 29 See Exhibit 2 for distinct themes.. 117. the heart of it. buildings.” The controlling idea is the purest form of a story’s meaning. 67. 29 McKee.” 28 Within the small world you are crafting.” then “that happened. Duration story’s length through time—how much time the story spans within the lives of the characters. 71-72. or future. it inspires it. history. situating the reader is important. p. For example. In fact. in Groundhog Day. “The constraint that setting imposes on story design doesn’t inhibit creativity. town. p. p. 7 Setting Setting refers to the place or world in which the story occurs.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. environment. cit. The larger the world. the vision of life the audience members carry away into their lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organizations with healthy cultures. In her book Corporate Legends and Lore: Storytelling as a Management Tool. The outcome is entire up to you. and (b) share them often enough that any member of the staff can tell them. In them. These stories will vary from group to group. but will generally include: • How the organization was founded. strange as it may sound.How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. pp. Peg Neuhauser recommends identifying a ‘Story Bank’. Source: Andy Goodman. Storytelling as Best Practice. 18 Exhibit 6 Storytelling within Your Organization Storytelling within your organization can be inspiring and unifying or demoralizing and divisive. The objective is to find people to (a) bring the stories to life. 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. 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. purposefully tell both. but it won’t be as easy as digging out and telling the good stories while squelching the bad. or group of stories that can be your organization’s unifying force. look for regular opportunities to share them with your team and identify the best people to tell them. 12-13 .

19 For Further Inspiration Moving Mountains By H. Green. 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.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 . 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. et al. M.