A Storytelling Guide for Those Who Stink at Storytelling
From social media to sales, storytelling is all the rage in business, with experts of all stripes insisting that entrepreneurs need to be able to captivate their audience with a well told tale in order to stand out and get noticed.
Which is great if you were born with a natural dramatic flair. But if you were, you probably would have studied theater or writing rather than business. Telling a good story is tough enough for the professionals, how is a simple small business owner supposed to manage the fine art of spinning a captivating story?
There’s plenty of guidance available but much of it is more likely to make your head spin than simplify your life. Who can keep straight all 17 steps of the hero’s journey or parse the finer distinctions between three, five (or even nine) act dramatic structure and the constituent parts of each act? Even professional screenwriters can’t seem to agree. On the other hand, simply knowing you need a beginning, middle and end is hardly likely to help you much.
There has to be a middle way -- a guide to storytelling that provides enough structure to give shape to a baggy narrative but not so much complexity that we get lost in the weeds. 99u thinks it’s found just the thing. The site recently presented storytelling guru David Crabb’s simple five-beat plan to turn any meandering series of events into a tight and compelling story. What are these five essential parts of a spellbinding tale:
Beat 1: The introduction. Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important.
Beat 2: The inciting incident. The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge. This is a great place to show vulnerability; people are often wary of doing this in professional scenarios, but it makes a big impact when it’s done well.
Beat 3: Raising the stakes. A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident. This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable. People glaze over when you focus too much on broad strokes; details give your story a local habitation and a name.
Beat 4: The main event. This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax)... the protagonist solves his or her dilemma -; a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur.
Beat 5: The resolution. In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique. If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned. This is also where you could try to sell something -; if you’re using storytelling as part of a pitch -; or recap your competency if applying for a job.
Still confused about what this looks like in practice? Check out the complete post where Crabb spins a short, simple story about a career transition from Goldman Sachs employee to professional illustrator to illuminate exactly how easy it is to apply this structure to sell products or captivate an audience (be it on Facebook or in an interview room) with your personal or business story.
Does storytelling come naturally to you or is it something you struggle with?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.