Effective Storytelling in 7 Steps

Storytelling predates the written word. Storytelling predates hieroglyphics and it even predates Twitter – seriously. The first orators used storytelling to inform, engage and entertain. But even with all that history, effective storytelling remains elusive for many.

One of the reasons the art of storytelling has fallen to the wayside is the emergence of technology. On your desk right now is probably a computer, smartphone and maybe even a tablet – all pulling your attention away from this article. I am sure during the time it takes you to read these words, you will receive an email, twitter or Facebook notification. We live in the attention deficit age where anything and everything can pull your attention. In this chaos of noise, the art of storytelling has been lost.

But I am going to let you in on a secret. Storytelling is still the most effective way to change someone’s mind or make your case for more funds. And the reason is simple – stories make us feel. We relate to stories. Stories are what people remember.

Sure a one trillion dollar debt sounds bad. And you might even call it a shocking figure. But you can’t feel a trillion dollars. But you can feel your office closing its doors because the funding for your office is gone. You can feel the inability to hire new employees because you lack the funds.

Effective storytelling can have a major impact. But how do you do it? It turns out you just need to remember the seven Cs. Author Jason Ashlock was the keynote presenter at the annual conference of National State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

Ashlock explained to the assembled state IT crowd that they shouldn’t worry about penning the next great literary masterpiece. In order to be an effective storyteller you simply need to follow a logical trajectory. “Every great story has four key plot points. You start off with the once or the scene setting piece. Think of this as the, ‘once upon a time in a land far away’. The scene is then upset or disturbed by the but. The but is the transformative moment. This moment throws our characters into chaos of some kind. The chaos reigns until the characters decide to take action. The until moment can also be thought of as the aha or the deciding moment. The until is when our characters take matters into their own hands. Thus creating the final step in the storytelling process: the at last moment. The at last is the resulting factor, the morale.”

Once —> But —> Until —> At Last

Once you have the flow of the story down, you can start to add your unique elements. This is where Ashlock’s seven C’s of storytelling come into play:

  1. Character – All stories have a hero, but a hero does not need to be a knight. A hero can be a new technology, tool or asset.
  2. Context – Next, put the character into a location or a scene. Is the budget situation abysmal? Do you only have two people doing the job of 100? Give your audience a chance to understand the emotions and locations of the story.
  3. Challenge: Once you have the scene set, what is the problem? What is the character trying to fix? Is the budget shortfall leading to security concerns?
  4. Choices – The choices section can also be referred to as the until This is the moment in the story where our hero has to make a decision. Good or bad, this is the moment of action. Did the hero or budget director divert funds from one account to help cybersecurity officials stop a breach?
  5. Consequences – As a result of that decision, what happened? Did the budget director get fired? Was he lauded a hero?
  6. Conclusions – The conclusion brings the story home. What should the audience take away from the story? What is the moral?
  7. Causality – When all of these story elements are tied together inextricably it creates causality. If one of the elements is missing the entire story falls apart.

But if you are sitting at your desk and wondering, “why should I really care about how I tell a story?”, Ashlcok reminded us: “Productivity falls when you are in a narrative dark places. If you don’t get stories quick you will get a gap in performance.”

And it’s true. A Harvard Business Review found that effective communicators were much better positioned to advocate for their teams, and those teams were much more engaged and excited to be at work.

So tell us, what stories do you have to share?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Beau Tewelow

Great article Emily. I liked you intro and your engagement and mindfulness throughout that the reader was probably fighting the tendency to check their email or reply to the twitter feed or chat box pop-up; however, in all that your article remained interesting enough to keep me engaged long enough to finish reading, oh wait, I’ll be right back. The phone is ringing. I’ll be right back. So, as I was writing… your article about the 7 C’s. Oh, hold on for a sec. My cell phone is telling me I have a message. Okay, so we were talking about the seven seas. Fiasco! This bloody chat window keeps popping up. Good job!