You’ve probably heard about all the benefits of stories and storytelling. You’ve heard that stories make your message both more interesting and more concrete. But what if you don’t think you’re a very good storyteller? Is all hope lost?
It’s a funny thing, but not even five years ago, that was me. I watched and read other people tell amazing stories. I envied their ability to make a story come to life, to paint a picture for an audience, to make the story mean something by drawing some important point out of it.
But I didn’t think I was very good at it. And I wasn’t.
Yet, I wanted all those benefits of a story. Not just to make my own messages more interesting and concrete, but so they were more effective as well.
I hear this a lot from people and clients from more technical or scientific backgrounds: they know the story is important — they’re just fundamentally uncomfortable telling stories as stories.
That’s when it hit me: there’s a difference between the form of a story (what a story is) and the function of a story (what it does). A story is powerful because of what it does for the brain, and more importantly, how.
Stories give the brain a roadmap for making sense of information. Your brain is constantly trying to take the new information you receive and connect it to information it already knows. It does that by trying to turn it into a story, or liken it to one it already knows, most of the time without you even realizing it’s done it.
It’s because of that “story-izing” that ready-made stories are so powerful. They fill in the blanks your brain is already looking for. That’s why “fill in the blank” story structures can be so helpful to build those kinds of stories. You may be familiar with the “Pixar Pitch” (which is really Kenn Adams’s Story Spine), or with Donald Miller’s BrandScript, the “fill in the blank” framework for his StoryBrand approach. Both are great ways to craft a story, and a great way to start getting better at storytelling.
I’ll use Donald Miller’s, since that one is super popular right now. This is how it’s usually presented:
- A Character.
- Has a Problem.
- And Meets a Guide.
- Who Gives Them a Plan.
- And Calls Them to Action.
- That Helps Them Avoid Failure.
- And Ends in a Success.
If you fill in those blanks, you’ll likely get a pretty good story out of it.
But again, what if you’re just fundamentally uncomfortable telling stories? Go back to the function of those story “blanks.” Here are the brain’s questions each blank answers:
- A Character — “Who is this about?” and “What do they want?”
- Has a Problem — “What’s getting in the way?”
- And Meets a Guide — “What don’t they know?”
- Who Gives Them a Plan — “What’s a better way?”
- And Calls Them to Action — “What should they do?”
- That Helps Them Avoid Failure — “Why would they do it?”
- And Ends in a Success — “What happened?”
You see that each of those blanks, either singly or in combination, achieves a certain function because it answers certain questions.
But, by studying all story types, not just the “hero myth” that StoryBrand is built on, we can simplify the main functions, and questions, even further:
- Establish a GOAL — What do/did they want?
- Introduce a PROBLEM they didn’t know they had — What is/was getting in the way?
- Reveal a TRUTH — What makes/made inaction impossible?
- Define the CHANGE — What do/did they need to do differently to achieve the goal?
- Describe the ACTION — What steps or elements create(d) the Change and achieved the Goal?
If that looks suspiciously like the pieces of the Red Thread®, you’re right. Those are the five main pieces that can make any message function like a story and make your message make sense. And you didn’t even have to say “Once upon a time!”
Now it’s your turn: Think about a message you need to write or a presentation you need to give, and those five story elements — the pieces of the Red Thread® — in it. Want a jump start? Try using the Conversational Case™.Stories give the brain a roadmap for making sense of information. Click To Tweet
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