You are on page 1of 19

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
request permission to reproduce materials, e-mail the Case Writing Office at: cwo@gsb.stanford.edu or write: Case Writing
Office, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 518 Memorial Way, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5015. No part of
this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any
means –– electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise –– without the permission of the Stanford Graduate
School of Business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 .How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A) p. 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. 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. M. 19 For Further Inspiration Moving Mountains By H. Green.