We’re told to use storytelling in business, but why do stories work at all? What’s crazy: the concept of storytelling in business is, at this point, at least 20 years old, but we don’t seem to be getting any better at it. Why not? It goes back to why the pieces of a story are there in the first place.
Every great story has a moment of truth (also called the climax or point of no return). It’s the part of the story where the hero has to make a decision: do they go forward in pursuit of what they want or do they not? Unless a story creates a moment of truth, it’s not going to be effective, because otherwise…nothing happens (and that’s not a good story, either in business or in life).
To use this for storytelling in business, we need to understand what creates a moment of truth. It comes from a conflict between a goal and a problem, but that’s not enough. The moment of truth comes from a realization about something you believe to be true that forces you act. If this sounds like the Goal, Problem, Truth, Change, and Action from the Red Thread, you’re right.
So how do we use this to improve our own storytelling? One way is to follow the steps of the Red Thread. The other way is to simply ask questions to help the audience come to this realization themselves. If you can help them realize what their Goal is, what their Problem is, and why that problem is such a problem for them, they will create their own moment of truth. By asking a question that requires an answer, you can improve your own storytelling in business and beyond.
- How to Use Storytelling to Talk About Yourself – EP:084
- The Persuasion Formula – EP:087
- How to create a “moment of truth”
- Phil M. Jones
– Why do stories work? That’s an important question to answer because we’re told often to use more stories. We’re told to make things feel like stories, to use storytelling, to be better storytellers. There’s even Chief Storytelling Officers at companies.
But, to really understand how to make stories work for you, we need to understand why they work at all. And that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread. I’m your host Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. Please, if you’re a fan, like and subscribe.
I’ve been interested in this for a long time because for over 20 years in my work as a brand and message strategist, I’ve been surrounded by stories. Surrounded by people saying we need to use stories, we need to get better at storytelling, we need to be better storytellers.
This despite the fact that the form of stories has not changed in thousands of years. What’s more, the advice has been around for at least 20 and probably much longer, to use it in business. However, we don’t seem to be getting much better at storytelling.
Why is that? Well, because there’s a form of stories, but there’s also the function of stories. And today I’m not talking about the function to light up mirror neurons in your brain. When you tell a story to me, the same parts of your brain that light up as you tell it light up in mine. That’s very important and that’s part of the reason why stories work, but we actually have to understand why the pieces of a story are there in the first place. Because we can match all the pieces of what a story is supposed to be and still miss the point of what the story is supposed to do.
I mean, we’ve been in that situation, right? Maybe you’ve done it or you’ve heard somebody else do it. You fill in the blanks for what a story is supposed to be, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maybe you’ve even followed each step of the hero’s journey and it’s not a great story so why not, like what makes the difference?
Well, if we look at really great stories, that show us life at its best, at its worst, and that stick with us, then there’s something that unites them. It’s about how they use the pieces of the story and it comes in the form of something that every great story has. It’s called a number of things, but most often or very often it’s called the “moment of truth.”
Sometimes you hear it referred to as the climax or the point of no return, but it’s the moment at which the hero of the story has to make a decision. Do they go forward with all the knowledge and information that they have collected in pursuit of what they want? Or do they not? And the result of the story is, whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy, whether or not A, they make that decision in their favor. Or if they do say, yes, I’m going to go forward, whether or not they get it.
So, this moment of truth is critical. Because unless a story creates a really powerful moment of truth, it’s not going to work.
Think of it this way: a lot of people have said that a story is an argument. And I would say, yes, a story is an argument for an idea. It’s an idea for what an answer to a question is. Stories ask questions that require answers.
A classic story, Rocky, asks the question: can anybody from any background succeed if they work hard enough? And the answer to that story, well, in one level he didn’t succeed. Not in the boxing ring, but in the levels of life, he did.
So you see a story, great stories, ask questions that require answers of the hero and of their audience. So, that’s what we need to do, too. We need to build our messages, we need to build our stories so that they ask a question that requires an answer.
So, how do we do that? Well, ultimately it’s about creating, engineering, that moment of truth. So, where does that moment of truth come from? Well, it comes from a conflict, that’s why the conflict is part of there. And the conflict comes because there’s something in the way of a goal.
Ah, so we’ve got now a couple pieces that are necessary here, we’ve got a goal of the hero, of the audience, something that they’re looking for. And then there’s a conflict, there’s a problem, there’s something getting in the way.
But the thing that creates the moment of truth is an additional realization. It’s not just the presence of the scary monster, it’s the presence of the scary monster in the context of what the hero is trying to accomplish. And something about what the hero believes or knows to be true, a truth.
And in the moment that those three things come into play, a Goal, a Problem, a Truth, that moment of truth arises. It’s the moment where the hero now has to say, what am I going to do if I still want the thing that I want? I believe this thing to be true, in the situation I currently am in, what will I do now? That’s the Change. That’s the question of the Change. And if they go forward, what is the thing they’re going to do from there, the Action?
So, whether or not you’re trying to figure out, how do I tell a story or how do I create a message that feels like a story? Or just simply how, in a high stakes conversation, I create a moment of truth, those are the things we need to pull out.
So, you can do it in two ways. One is to follow the form, the Red Thread. It helps you set up, engineer, that moment of truth. What’s the Goal of the audience? The Problem of Perspective that’s getting in the way? The Truth, that universal thing that makes inaction impossible? What’s the Change that you’re asking them to make? And what are the steps that they’re going to need to take in order to make it?
The other thing you can do is simply ask questions. My friend Phil Jones is brilliant at this, about asking questions of an audience or a prospect so that they come to their own realizations themselves. He asks questions about what people want, what the outcomes will be. Questions about what the problems are that are getting in the way so they have their own realization. He asks questions that get them to realize that if they want certain things and they want to avoid certain problems. Then if they are who they are and if all those things are true, in that moment of truth, they’re more likely to make a decision in a particular direction.
So, your message, when it’s great, is always like a story. Because when it’s great, a story is a question that requires an answer. It asks a question that requires an answer. And it’s because of that, that process of establishing the question and looking at what the answer is, that’s why stories work.
So if you want them to work for you, you just need to engineer that moment of truth and you’ll get the yes that you’re looking for. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. Thanks for listening or watching to this week’s episode of Find the Red Thread. If you need help finding your own Red Thread, then reach out to me at tamsenwebster.com/contact. I look forward to hearing from you soon.