Stories to Tell … How to Tell Them by Following These 14 Steps

 How do you make your ideas more compelling? Even if your message is true and important, it’s hard to reach a general audience with facts alone. Stories to tell make memorable marketing. Stories have the power to captivate and inspire people, from high school students, busy parents, or even members of Congress. In this blog, we’ll discuss 14 steps to be an awesome story creator and teller.

Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories do a good job of giving the meaning that can be remembered.

Check out our thoughts on creative marketing.

Stories to tell
Stories to tell.

Like to hear a great story? How about telling stories? Great storytelling. A great way to spread ideas. Facts are meaningless without a contextual story. Don’t tell facts to influence, tell stories.  The more you improve storytelling, the more your influence … it is as simple as that.

Stories make it easier for people to understand. They are the best way, by far, to spread your ideas.

I have been writing, creating ideas, and telling stories to spread ideas for many years.

Awesome stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.

Stories make presentations better. Stories make ideas sticky. They help us persuade. Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire us, motivate us. (That’s why so many politicians tell stories in their speeches.) They realize that “what you say” is often moot compared to “how you say it.”

 Here are 14 steps we recommend to create and tell an awesome story:


Stories to tell … step 1 Engage your audience

Your audience needs something to do. They need a reason to be there, listening. Stories, when properly practiced, pull people into a dialogue. It’s about engagement and interaction. The audience is just as an active a participant as the storyteller.

Ask the audience to think back to early passions and interests and bundle the story with specific experiences. Show them this is important, this is remarkable, and you are a part of it.


Step 2 Make the audience care

Whenever I am fortunate enough to see and listen to remarkable stories being told ‘live’  in action, I am struck by their power to pull listeners in, much like a gravitational force that’s impossible to resist.

The best way to pull your audience in is to make them care … emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically.  But how do you make the audience care? This is the most fundamental question of all. There is no single answer. One important answer is having empathy for your audience and trying to craft your story and design your content always with the audience in mind.

Stories in all their many forms are never just about transferring information alone. We are emotional beings, like it or not, and to make the audience care enough to listen to you, you have to evoke in them some emotion. See our article on the Guinness storytelling strategy in this regard. 


Step 3 Explain why they should care

Make it clear to your audience why what we were seeing and hearing matters. Even if it is not always explicitly stated, the message should be clear.

It is hard to choose just one element that a successful story must have, but if I had to choose just one, I’d say it is this: Show clearly why your topic — or result, cause, mission, etc. — matters. What are the big picture and our place in that picture? Pixar’s Andrew Stanton said something very similar when he identified the most important element of storytelling as ‘make me care.’ You must make the audience care. And you must let them know clearly why they should care.

make a promise
Make a promise.

Step 4 Make a promise

Very early on you need to get the audience to believe that this story is going to go somewhere, that it will be worth their time. The secret is a well-told promise about the upcoming story.


Step 5 Construct anticipation

In a great story, the audience wants to know what happens next and most of all how it all concludes. In an explanatory narrative, a series of actions can establish a narrative flow and the sense of journey that is created is one form of anticipation of what comes next. A good story has a beginning where a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation, a middle where the character confronts and attempts to resolve the situation, and an end where the outcome is revealed. It does not interpret or explain the action in the story for the audience.

Instead, a good story allows each member of the audience to interpret the story as he or she understands the action. This is why people find good stories so appealing and why they find advertising that simply conveys facts and information boring.

Check out our article on the remarkable branding video design from this South African business. The story was created to market and build the brand. It is a very simple story. It advocates learning to read no matter your age or status in society. To us, it creates pure magic with the story, the visuals, the music and the emotion.


Short stories to tell

 … step 6 spark their curiosity

Your goal is to tell stories in an opening, an aperture of excitement. Ignite the fires of curiosity that will live within us all. It’s a celebration of human curiosity, and it matters to who and what we are. You don’t have to beat people over the head with your message, nor do you need always to make your message painfully obvious. This is not about being vague or unclear, but it is about letting the audience work on their own a little to figure things out … creating some curiosity.  That’s one of your jobs as a storyteller. We’re born problem solvers. We’re compelled to deduce and to deduct because that’s what we do in real life. It’s this well-organized absence of information that draws us in.


Step 7 Touch audiences with emotional connection

The Google Reunion story is about as emotional as it gets. Stories like this provide a chance to experience a variety of emotions without the risk of those emotions themselves. Emotions like wonder, fear, courage, or love can be tested out in the minds of those as they listen to a story. You may remember the feelings of emotions which can trigger memories or create resolve as a result of hearing such stories. The experience of hearing stories can awaken portions of emotional lives that may have lain dormant or have not yet been explored.

Be dynamic with your stories like Google. Nothing is more important to narrative content than imagination, so give vivid descriptions and use emotional hooks and humor to get people fully engaged. This story engages us, doesn’t it? Be creative, not only with words and images but also with the methods you use to convey them. Like the music as well as the messages.


Step 8 Talk about memorable human interest

Storytelling is largely an act of curation. The greats detect stories as they move through life and then pull them together in ways that make us stop and think. (See our article on this cool Guinness story in a TV ad.)


Step 9 Make it personal

Well-told stories can help us to learn about other cultures, ideas and ways of thinking. They can provide opportunities to know how past generations responded to challenges. They can also let us know how new generations are encountering and dealing with similar opportunities or the new challenges they face. Use a creative story that builds on some big forces such as politics, religion, geography, nationalism.

If you listen to your customers, you can leverage their stories to drive your creativity.


Step 10 Trigger a question

trigger a question
Trigger a question.

Good storytelling causes the audience to ask questions as your narrative progresses. As the storyteller, you can ask questions directly, but often a more interesting approach is to present the material in a way that triggers the audience to come up with the questions themselves. And yet we must not be afraid to leave some (many?) questions unanswered. When we think of a story, we may think of clear conclusions and neat, clear endings, but reality can be quite a bit more complicated than that. There are an infinite amount of mysteries to ponder and puzzles to be solved. Many observations cannot (yet) be explained, but that is OK. This is what keeps us going forward.

Step 11 Emphasize the visual

“Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.” – Ernest Hemingway

Here visual does not mean only the use of graphics such as photography, video, animations, visualizations of data, and so on. Visual also means helping the audience to clearly “see” your ideas through your use of descriptive language, through the use of concrete examples, and by the power and simplicity of metaphor.

Stories to tell about yourself … step 12 Make the tough choices about inclusion and exclusion

Whether you have 5-minutes, 18-minutes, or an all-day seminar in which to tell your story, it is never enough time to tell all that you know or to share everything in as much detail as possible. Time can be a real obstacle, but it’s also a great enabler if you are willing and able to put in the time to think long and hard about what’s the most important and what’s less important for reaching your audience in a way that is honest, informative, and engaging. You can’t include all that you know or all that there is to say. The secret is in knowing what to leave out. This is not easy. Balance is key.



Step 13 Story is about change

We’re all learning all the time. And that’s why change is fundamental in story… life is never static. Think of change in two ways. First, the content of every good presentation or story addresses a change or some kind. Second, an effective presentation or a story told well will create a change in the audience. 


Step 14 Show a sense for the future

A good story is a mix of logic, data, emotion, and inspiration. We usually do fine with the logic and data part, but fail on the emotional and inspirational end. Certainly, we need to infuse a bit of the future into our talks to inspire people to make a change. Most importantly, a good story should not end when the speaker sits down, or the class comes to an end.


The bottom line


Are you incorporating stories into your copy? Are you utilizing them on your blog? In your presentations? Any comments or questions to add?



So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is completely up to you. But believe in the effectiveness of stories and storytelling. And put them to good use.


It’s up to you to keep improving your stories and storytelling. Lessons are all around you. In this case, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.


When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.


Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.


Are you devoting enough energy improving your enthusiasm?


Do you have a lesson about making your motivation better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?


Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More inspirational stories from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

A Story about Living as Told by a Six-Year-Old Boy about His Dog

Albert Einstein Facts and the Wisdom He Shared Could Change Your Thinking

Who Else Likes to Read a Story about Learning and the Classroom?


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Stories to Tell … How to Tell Them by Following These 14 Steps