WHY TEll STORIES?
Storytelling has become popular in the
business world. Unlike many fads, this
one may hang around for a while.
Why? The obvious answer is that
human beings have always told stories.
Long before they learned how to read
or write, our ancestors used stories to
pass on their history, morals and culture. But storytelling isn’t just a teaching tool. There’s scientific proof that
we’re hard-wired to react positively
London School of Business
researchers studied audiences listening
to various types of presentations. They
tested them for retention of information 48 hours after hearing each version. For those people who heard
presentations centered only around statistics and data, they remembered 5
percent to 10 percent of what they
heard. Some individuals listened to presentations centered around statistics
and data but also viewed a picture or
graph. Their retention was 25 percent.
A third group listened to talks filled
THE SKElETAl STORY
with stories wrapped around that same
data and information. They recalled 65
percent to 70 percent of what they’d
listened to. In addition to this research,
science has proven that physiologically,
we react differently to stories. Informa-
tion overload can trigger the release
of cortisol, the stress hormone, into
In contrast, presentations filled
with sensory-rich stories can trigger
the release of oxytocin, the “trust”
or “happy” hormone. These reactions
are subconscious. People don’t think,
“Wow, that’s a lot of data, and that
PowerPoint® screen is overloaded. My
cortisol levels must be increasing!”
Instead, they shut down, stop paying
attention or otherwise get distracted.
This information isn’t intended to
make you a brain expert. It’s meant
to make you aware of the potential
impact your material is having on
your audience. To sum up the
influence of stories on the brain,
remember these words of brain
scientist John Medina: “Stories
are like a ‘sticky note’ for the
brain. It’s like the amygdala—
the emotional seat of the brain
—has written a note to the
brain that reads, ‘Hey! Remember
this. It’s important.’”
So, how do you write stories that stick?
There are several key elements to memorable stories. There are 14 that I’ve
written about in my books, Sail the 7
C’s to Sensational Storytelling and Sail
7 MORE C’s to Sensational Storytelling. You don’t need all 14 elements
to craft a good story, but the more you
include, the better.
You can start with these five
essential elements to develop your
• Character(s). Have at least one
person in a difficult and relatable
• Conflict. Describe a struggle that
• Cure. This scene is where your
character(s) learns an important
• Change. A new way of thinking,
feeling or acting that your character(s) experiences as a result of the
• Carryout message. One sentence
that summarizes the point of your
One of my most popular and
memorable stories centers around Patti,
my speech-coaching client. Here’s how
I used the five-sentence structure to create the first version of her story:
Character. I met Patti at a Chamber
event; she was stressed about giving
a speech for a Chamber dinner.
Conflict. Patti was frequently criticized
for giving long-winded presentations
at her foundation, and this created
increasing levels of fear about her
Chamber dinner speech.
Cure. After picking up several speech-creation tools, Patti presented a talk
that was well-received and garnered
donations of time and money to her
Change. Patti is looking forward to
giving more presentations since she
rehearsed her first speech and nailed it.
Carryout message. Step outside of
your comfort zone to step into a meaningful speech.
BRINGING A STORY TO lIFE
You can implement nine more elements to
transform your skeletal story from a simple report to an experience. They bring
your story to life and create a deeper
emotional connection with the audience.
These are the other nine elements: