What is a Purposeful Story?

Yesterday we examined the story the adventurer Richard Bangs told the rowdy group to get their attention about the dangers in the river rapids ahead.

Why did his story get their attention?

Asked another way: What makes for a purposeful story?

The transformation actually began when Richard said the word “story,” writes Peter Guber in Tell to Win. “The word was like a bell that compelled us to listen up.”

When we hear the word “story,” we relax and pay attention.  Listening to a story is a very different experience than being lectured at.

“Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context,” says Robert Rosen, former dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.  “The information in a story does not just sit there as it would in a logical proposition.  Instead, it’s built to create suspense,” 

Peter is the producer of dozens of films, including Batman and Rain Man.  His movies have grossed over $3 billion worldwide and received 50 Academy Award nominations.

The building blocks of all compelling stories, according to Peter, are challenge, struggle, and resolution.

Challenge.  Struggle.  Resolution.  These elements give a story its shape.  

Challenge: Our first objective is to get our listeners’ attention with an unexpected challenge or question.  Business stories are not typically about death or survival but they work best if they trigger the conflict between desire and dread.  The more we desire something the greater our fear of not achieving it.

The best business stories spotlight a goal, interest or problem both the teller and the audience share.  If the audience doesn’t identify with our problem, they won’t care about resolution of our story.  It’s especially powerful if the storyteller addresses a feeling or situation that the listeners have experienced personally.  

Peter tells us: Instead of pretending to be someone who can do no wrong, to build empathy and trust with our audience, we can acknowledge our mistakes or concerns. Doing so also guarantees their interest in our call to action.

When high-end fashion designer Norma Kamali was challenged by critics about launching a line of products at Walmart, she explained: “I never felt that I was pretty or attractive.”  Through fashion she learned she could accentuate her naturally quirky style and feel equal to more conventionally pretty girls.  “I use fashion to help women gain self-esteem.”

Peter tells us: “Her story engaged them in her true purpose and like proud champions they overcame their reluctance to change.”

Struggle:  We give our listeners an emotional experience, Peter writes, by sharing the struggle to overcome the challenge. The bigger the obstacles, the better the story.  

Emotions don’t occur spontaneously.  They must be aroused.  And, nothing grabs our attention faster than the need to know: What happens next? 

Peter also shares that in business settings we often don’t have all day to tell our story.  So, brevity is often important.  

We will cover the third and final building block of a successful story – resolution – tomorrow.

_________

Reflection:  What part of my personal history would make a purposeful story?

Action:  Track my ratio of stories vs. lectures.

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