Reading time: 90 seconds

Stories are to the human heart what food is to the body. Advertisers polish them, marketers spread them, lawyers bend them, and religions exalt them. We watch them unfold on the screen, read them in books, and when we can’t find one handy, we make them up. And no wonder. We are natural-born storytellers; the skill is in our genes. We learn the basics of storytelling as soon as we learn to talk. By the age of five, we tell stories to wangle, cajole, and get what we want. But for most people, storytelling ends there. We still tell stories, but without the structure to make much of an impact on other people.

Telling a good story is like picking your way across a fast-flowing stream on stepping-stones. The stream is the problem, and the stones are the path to a solution. Three stones are usually sufficient. You open the presentation on one bank, step onto the different stones on the way across the stream, and close as you step onto the opposite bank.

At the start, standing at the river’s edge, you set up the story and state the point. It’s here that you introduce the character(s) (the who), the setting or location (the where), and the time (the when). Stepping onto the first stone you explain the problem, dilemma, or predicament. Moving out onto the second stone in the middle of the fast-flowing stream, you describe one or two failed attempts to resolve the problem before leaping onto the third stone and revealing the successful solution. As you step onto the far bank, you deliver your emotional close and restate your point. As you point to the future, you can invite your listeners to imagine themselves in the same situation, and use what they learned from your story to resolve the problem. Prompt your listeners to visualize how to apply what they’ve heard: “Just imagine . . . ,” “Picture yourself in the future when . . . ,” “The next time you are faced with . . .”

The next time you want to pitch an ideas, change a behavior, lead, motivate or break down a barrier – tell them a 90 second story.