How To Tell An Effective Story

Samuel Gualtieri

November 18, 2019
5 min read

One of the most powerful things we can learn to harness is the ability to tell an effective story.

Stories aren't just cute fables or entertaining narratives that keep us glued to our seats. They are in fact, the most powerful tool we have as humans to influence the thinking, values, and worldview of those around us—and as such, it cannot be done irresponsibly.

The storyteller's task is not just to express life— what is— but to make it meaningful and emotional simultaneously, and to give us a meaningful, emotional sense of what it is to be a human being and to be alive in this existence— and this is no small task.

— Unknown

What is a story?

You may describe it many different ways. A story may be a communication device; or in historical context they are primary tools for learning and teaching. Yet at their core, stories are simply put, ideas wrapped in emotional experiences.

Stories are ideas wrapped in emotional experiences.

Without an idea, a story is meaningless. Without emotion, stories author no response.

In today's world we have so many ideas flooding our airwaves. The average American sees 10,000 advertisements per day. This is a lot of noise and a lot of perspective vying for your attention. Another way of looking at it is that these messages are someone else's narrative fighting for your acceptance.

Everyone is a reporter, but so are you.

As a reporter, you have the ability to control the narrative.

In order to influence the world and lead people to Jesus, our stories must be compelling. The best way to make compelling stories is to study them and learn the framework they follow.

The Story Framework

Stories follow different frameworks, but the one that we have adopted as our basic outline follows this structure:

  • A Hero
  • With a Problem
  • Meets a Guide
  • With a Plan
  • Calls them to action
  • Which results in Success
  • or Failure

1. The Hero

The hero of the story is not you or your organization. The hero is the person you are trying to reach. The person you want your audience to imagine themselves as. It's tempting to position yourself as the hero— the brave, compassionate champion who swoops in to save the day. Yet this storyline has zero engagement factor, can come across as pompous, and alienates your true audience.

If you want to truly connect and draw your audience in, you will need to position yourself as the guide, and allow them to take on the role of hero.

2. The Problem

You might recognize this part of the story framework from popular movies as "the bomb" that needs to be disarmed. The problem is usually the obvious evil that stands in the way of the desires of the hero. Truly effective stories have 3 levels of problems:

  • External problem (the bomb)
  • Internal problem (do I have what it takes?)
  • Philosophical problem (Good vs. Evil)

It's important to define and introduce each level of the problem in your storytelling so that your audience can connect with it on a deeper level.

3. The Guide

This is where you get to enter. The guide is the character in the story that appears when the hero has reached the end of their own ability. They give the hero a sense of safety, build their confidence, and help them to achieve their goal. In order to build character connection with your audience, the guide needs to exemplify the following qualities:

Empathy

Think of someone you trust. They typically give off a sense of understanding that in turn helps you to feel as though you have a shared knowledge of the problem you are dealing with. This empathy builds a bond of trust which in turn gives the guide permission to give advice that is well-received.

Authority

The guide must also exhibit authority. They must deliver a solution in a strong, confident and assuring voice that provides insight and courage in the form of a detailed plan to the hero in their time of need.

4. The Plan

When the guide comes to the aid of the hero, they must have a plan to help them achieve success. The plan needs to be simple to understand, and confidently present a viable path to success.

5. The Call To Action

This is where things take a turn — this is typically known as the transition point in the story. This is where the hero is challenged to take action that will directly effect their outcome. In a testimony, this is the repeatable application step that we want our audience to do. Join a small group. Serve on team. This is the "doing" part of the story that a result can be tied back to.

6. Success

We did it! We won! The result was positive — the good guys made it! This is the part of the story that celebrates the successes and models the emotional high of achieving success. This is a clear anchor point to closing the story loop and pointing the audience to their call to action.

7. Failure

Why do you need to mention failure? Because without failure there can be no conflict. What you want to do with failure in your stories is show the possibility of failure. You want to hint at what could be possible if the hero fails. This causes tension for the viewer. This helps them internally to root for the hero to win.

Summary

With this framework, you can learn to craft powerful narratives that create compelling story arcs. In fact, in ALL of your communications you should be aiming to accomplish one or several of the objectives above to establish an ongoing storyline that builds your brand.

You can begin to practice with your team on your next video, email, social media post, and more. With the story framework in practice, you'll see your communication efforts take a positive climb. Let us know how the story framework is helping you!

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