From Hemmingway to our evening newscasters, we are captivated by the stories they tell. In my blog post, Stories Are What Makes Us Human, I told the story of the little Torah scroll and the Columbia astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon. Even though I’m a professional writer, everyone, you, the people we meet at networking events, business people, also have stories worth telling. We all have events in our lives that, if focused and structured, can grab the attention of our listener or reader. And learning how to turn these events into a compelling story will leave a more memorable impression. So what makes for a good story?
The basic points to crafting a great story apply whether you are writing a personal essay, a good job search cover letter, a marketing piece about your company’s product or service, or a business “success story.” It even applies to a 2 minute pitch you’d use in a networking situation. The only differences between all these are length and the method of delivery.
To craft a good and memorable story, it must have:
A purpose – A good story must have an unforgettable message or make a memorable point. Determine if you are trying to convince, promote an achievement, educate, compare, or evoke a response.
A plot (focus) – The story needs to have some conflict or a struggle. Describe a problem and how you elegantly solved it. However, unlike fiction, you never want to talk about failure, or tragedy.
The use of rich detail to capture attention – Show, don’t tell. Paint a setting (the when and where). Use anecdotes and similes. Avoid using clichés. Use vibrant verbs, and descriptive adjectives. Make your sentences come alive. Create a point of view using first person narrative unless you are talking about a team or your company in general.
Develop a logical structure. Keep to the point and don’t go off on tangents. Come up with some attention-grabber when you begin your story. End with the resolution and how the solution generated benefits.
Think of the old journalistic Who What When Where Why with a twist or complication that leads to a resolution. Lace you story with successes and implied or stated benefits to which the listener or reader can relate. Remember, when you tell a story, keep your audience in mind. Make modifications to fit. Remember to use concrete examples to get your point across. If you can’t back your claim with solid evidence, no one will believe what you say. Be specific!
We all have interesting events in our backgrounds that can make for great stories. You don’t need to be a Hemmingway to tell one. Just a desire to share your experience, good descriptive sentences, and a passion for your topic.