Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Four Elements of an Engaging & Impactful Story



Storytelling is a necessary ingredient in a speaker’s recipe for success. Stories work because they are able to connect a speaker’s unique experience to an audience’s universal truth. What starts as a personal recollection transforms itself on the way to the audience and is received as a shared perspective. This creates empathy for the speaker and gives validity to his/her concepts.






When developing a story, keep in mind the 4 features that combine to  create interesting and relate-able anecdotes:

The Set Up: Who is the main character and what is the situation they are in?

The Challenge: What is the problem/conflict the main character in finds him/herself in?

The Resolution: How does the story turn out? How is the problem solved?

The Relevance: How do you answer the audience’s main question, which is “So What?”?

Let me illustrate with a story….
              A few years ago I was on a small plane that was bouncing along through extreme turbulence like it was a rock skipping over a pond. I was so frightened that every time the plane hit a bump, I’d grip the sides of my seat and scream, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.” And when the plane smoothed out, I’d exhale and relax.

          Sitting across the aisle from me was a boy who could not have been more than 6 years old. And EVERY time the plane hit a bump and I shrieked, “Ahhhhhhhh”, the kid would lift his arms in the air and yell, “Wheeeeee”, just like he was on a roller coaster.

        I was both humbled and enlightened as I realized that life had just slapped me in the face and said, “Pay attention.” I understood that the boy and myself were both being given exactly the same information. The data we used to judge our situation was exactly the same, yet our responses were completely different from each other. How could that be? Because our beliefs about the situation were different! And it is our beliefs about a situation, as expressed by our self-talk, that drive our behavior, not the nature of the situation itself.

               My lasting takeaway? If I am going to change the way I act in a situation, I have to change my self-talk rather than try and change the external situation.

Here is how I used the four ingredients to create my story:
  • .            The Set Up: Who is the main character and what is the situation? (I was on a turbulent plane ride)
  •           The Challenge: What is the problem/conflict the character finds him/herself in? (How come the boy is having fun and I’m so afraid?)
  •          The Resolution: How does the story turn out? How is the problem solved? (I understand about self-talk)
  •        So What?: (I now have a way to manage stress and deal with fear; I learned something about myself)

Now that you have the ingredients, go cook up your own great stories! 


Izzy Gesell (Izzy's website) is an organizational alchemist who helps individuals and organizations transform their thinking from commonplace to extraordinary. Through his keynotes, trainings, coaching and facilitated sessions, Izzy offers imaginative, intuitive and immediately useful insights and programs. He is skilled at delivering meaningful material in a way that makes participants enjoy their time with him.

Izzy was one of the first to use Improv Theater concepts as tools for personal and organizational learning. He is the author of Playing Along: Group Learning Activities Borrowed From Improvisation Theater, a co-author of Cancer & the Healing Power of Play, a co-author of Humor Me: America’s Funniest Humorists on the Power of Laughter, and a contributor of a chapter on Improvisation as a facilitation tool in the IAF Group Facilitators Handbook. His video course for Lynda.com was their first  course shot before a live audience. A second Lynda.com course, "Humor in the Workplace" was just released.

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