Essential elements of storytelling

The heart of storytelling is the hero-quest: Luke Skywalker and the forces of good battling Darth Vader and the forces of evil (and rescuing the princess). A less theatrical example would be campaigners fighting to overturn a miscarriage of justice and get an innocent person out of jail. Or a consumer fighting against a multi-national company to get a faulty appliance replaced. Or a brilliant scientist struggling to change the way we think about the world, in the face of a crippling disease (sound familiar?).

Any compelling story has four essential elements:

  1. Character (with a strong motivation to achieve change)
  2. Quest (something others will recognize as worthwhile)
  3. Obstacles (the problems that threaten to derail the quest)
  4. Supporters (the people who help turn the tide in favour of the hero)

When you are thinking of the elements that might make a story for you, here are a few things to bear in mind:

Don’t settle for the first character you think of. If you are building your storytelling around a character, that character has to be strong enough to carry the narrative. Your decision may come down to who has the greatest motivation… who has the most drive to achieve change.

Find the highest-value expression of the quest. Raise the stakes. What does your character really want?

You need obstacles. Obstacles provide the conflict that is essential in any story. If you are telling the story of the development of a product, don’t be afraid to talk about the headaches along the way. The story of how you overcame the obstacles to make an even better product is a sign of strength – not weakness.

Without conflict you’ll find it hard to engage your audience. In your storytelling you really do need to rescue a princess.

Hooked on Story

“Stories are how we remember.
We tend to forget bullet points and lists.”

Find out how to use stories to make your presentations memorable. Download our free "Hooked On story" booklet.