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What Makes a Good Story and why you Should Tell One

By Richie Franklin, Director of Corporate Education, HealthEquity

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Richie Franklin, Director of Corporate Education, HealthEquity

Everyone loves a good story, especially one that is well told. Not only do people engage with stories, but they are also more likely to remember them. They definitely remember them more than simple statistics and numbers. Of course, there are edge cases, but generally speaking, we as humans, are drawn to drama. And the easiest way to convey drama to an audience is through a story. For this reason, I frequently ask teams that I work with, "what is your story?" or "What story does this information tell us?"

For example, let's look at a team's performance. Even as the team's performance numbers are benchmarked, and then they begin to improve, it isn't the numbers themselves that get others excited--it's the story that the numbers tell. I've sat in meetings where the listener (usually a senior leader, or executive) asks the question "So what? You're showing me all these numbers, but why should I care?" What they're really asking is, "Tell me a story. Make me care about what you're telling me."

Similar to the team dynamic, an individual who understands the story of their performance can engage their audience (leaders, potential buyers, interviewers, etc.) on a totally different level. It's always the story that 1. catches their attention, 2. connects them to you as the presenter, and 3. creates that elusive, intangible, and invaluable extra 'spark.' Successful business leaders know that one good story can build an entire brand. It's why Hi-Chew puts the history of their product on the back of their bags. People love to know the story, and when you talk about your own career, or when you're trying to communicate education, it is the story that sticks with your audience.

So what makes a good story? I can't say enough positive things about the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. They provide tons of great insight into the anatomy of a great story. Their S.U.C.C.E.S.S. model is insightful and incredibly helpful for anyone who is trying to tell a memorable story. I am not going to cover it in this article, but it's worth the read. Here, we'll only talk about two things that you can implement now to start telling great stories.

"A good story should have drama that draws people in and direction that points people toward a relevant goal"

The first is DRAMA and the second is DIRECTION.

DRAMA

If you are training someone or selling something, you always want a story that creates an emotional connection. Good drama or conflict does just that! The more insurmountable the odds, the more we cheer for the protagonist. In business and education, this is frequently presented as a challenge. The drama comes from what appears to be an insurmountable challenge that you or your team have faced. Like David stepping up to Goliath with nothing but a sling and stones, you are stepping up to a challenge that others would find daunting. Maybe it's increasing production numbers or improving profit margins. Whatever it is, you need to know what your challenges are.

Once you know the challenges, you need to be able to explain the struggle or steps you went through in order to accomplish your goal. We love to see someone who fights for the win. If Rudy had walked onto the Notre Dame football team without any struggle they would never have made a movie about him. That movie has inspired thousands of people because of the struggle and Rudy’s eventual success. Your efforts can also inspire and educate your listeners.

Finally, you need a dramatic ending. Something that illustrates the results of your actions. Hopefully, something that explains how you or your team won--how you beat Goliath. In training, I have also shared stories of spectacular failure--either as cautionary tales or as examples of the struggle for the win. Think of the brief, memorable story encapsulated in the famous quote often attributed to Thomas Edison: "I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a lightbulb."

DIRECTION

The second thing that makes a good story is DIRECTION. Your story should have a purpose and connect to something meaningful for the listener. If you're educating individuals, then the story should tie into what they need to know. For example, if you're teaching a salesperson how to improve their sales channel then, whether it's one of Aesop's Fables or a true story about your experience in the field, the story should tie directly to them—it should be relevant.

Without that direction, the listener will quickly lose interest and wonder why you wasted their time.

In conclusion, a good story should have drama that draws people in and direction that points people toward a relevant goal. You should tell one because good stories resonate in a way that engage and motivate your listeners. 

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