What Is True Storytelling

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As a storyteller, you are a servant of your story, not the master. You must do what it requires, not what you want to do. You must remove your ego from it. Art is not to show people who you are; it is to show people who they are.” – Brian McDonald, “The Golden Theme”

Once Upon a Time

Imagine yourself at work discussing how to make a boring presentation into a powerful experience to the audience. It could be a video, a campaign, a speech or a text.

You and your team come to the conclusion that it needs to bring more excitement. And here comes the magic word: storytelling. But you know that this is not some retail product you can buy online.

Not knowing what it really means, or the techniques involved, you search Google, open a few articles, and they all start by saying the same thing: “storytelling is the art of storytelling.”


Slightly bothered by the rather obvious explanation, you continue reading and make some notes about what you’ve learned “out there”:

  • Every narrative is a story.
  • Storytelling is a selling and marketing tool.
  • Storytelling recounts a hero’s journey.
  • Storytelling needs to convey a message.
  • Storytelling helps seduce.
  • Storytelling anchors messages.
  • Storytelling is part of content.
  • Define your persona.
  • Have a character and a conflict.

Looking at your notes, you decide to risk writing a story. To start with something easy, you try to write your own life story. After all, who else would have the authority to talk about your own life, right? And you think, “This is going to be easy.”

Until One Day

When you finish, you read your story and think, “Wow, what rubbish.”

It’s boring and doesn’t really represent what your life was like. So, you try a rewrite. And yet again, it doesn’t work. Extremely frustrated, you even wonder if your life story is actually uninteresting.

Then, sometime later, you ignore the fact that you couldn’t write your own story and decide to write a presentation script.

And once more, you can’t seem to write something interesting. The script doesn’t convince. It doesn’t enchant. It does not represent reality. You come to the conclusion: “I wasn’t born to write. I always knew I didn’t write well.”

Because of That

A few months or years later, you’re cruising social media and discover a company that “specializes” in making communications more interesting. You get curious, start digging through their content and find an article titled “The Discovery of True Storytelling.”

But they are trivializing storytelling to sell you something, which at the end of the day, is more of the same. For a long time, companies even known as storytelling experts have trivialized the term and made mistakes that have led people to discredit its power.

So, what’s the difference between fake storytelling and true storytelling?

THE LIE: Storytelling is the hero’s journey.

THE TRUTH: In fact, “hero’s journey” is just a genre of stories widely used for games and fiction. But it’s a stretch to say that life is a journey and that we are heroes. Life is very difficult, and we do the best we can considering our tools available at the time (emotional and physical).

THE LIE: Storytelling is a sales or marketing tool.

THE TRUTH: In fact, the premises of a good story help people and brands create relationships of trust and empathy, where a consequence may be selling. That is, in virtually every communication where you need to motivate and encourage people to act, storytelling can help. Sales, marketing, speeches, meetings – any presentation depends on people understanding each other better.

THE LIE: Storytelling is a way to seduce and thrill.

THE TRUTH: To seduce is to thrill the other person using only the positive side of life. But life is not like that. Life is hard. A good, well-told story is the only way to blend reason (data, facts, numbers) and emotion (feelings, thoughts, purpose, meaning, relevance) at the same time, making everything more believable, realistic, true and deep.

THE LIE: Storytelling is the content or part of the content you are going to present.

THE TRUTH: Content is data, facts, numbers, quotes, etc. Story is the form, the context, the whole. Content is always arranged within the story. Content is not story. Story is the “king.”

Therefore, done correctly, storytelling is indeed the art of telling a story. To expand on that a bit, a good story is a dynamic progression of well-plotted, conflict-driven events that lead to a significant change in the protagonist’s life through highly relevant and universal learning. It motivates and inspires people to act in pursuit of a deep and highly significant desire.

Let’s deconstruct each part of this definition:

  • A good story is a progression of events arranged in a cause and effect relationship, where one scene pulls the other, one event pulls the other, one slide pulls the other. There are no “blocked” communications.
  • It is dynamic with a change of values between positive and negative, or between positive and double positive, or between negative and double negative. The closer the protagonist is to his or her desire, the more positive is the scenario. The further from desire, the more negative.
  • There are well-plotted events because the plot is what engages us with the story and gives us the ability to imagine it happening even without visual support. It’s the detail about what happens to the protagonist and the characters in the story.
  • It is driven by a conflict that takes the life of the protagonist out of balance, arouses a deep desire and triggers the arc of the story.
  • The result is significant change that is universal, deep and relevant in a person’s life. The greater the transformation of the protagonist, the more we learn from it.
  • Stories are always about someone and never about something. People naturally empathize with human emotions (even when expressed by a fish in “Finding Nemo,” a vehicle in ”Cars” or a toy in “Toy Story”).
  • And finally, every good story needs to teach someone something that is highly significant and relevant to inspire the audience to act. When we learn something important, we tend to act and put it into practice.

Another way to define the work involved in writing a story comes from the master of storytelling, Robert McKee:

From an instant to eternity, from the intracranial to the intergalactic, the life story of each and every character offers encyclopedic possibilities. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime. – “Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting”

Until Finally…

You realize that the best stories you‘ve told in life had the same structure, so you already have the potential to improve your storyteller abilities. When you grasp for the first time the power to influence people, you’ll understand.

In your business life, storytelling is a tool to become much more interesting and happier when, for example, you:

  • Excel and impress others at a work meeting
  • Are called to speak at an event and get applause
  • Take a new position and stand out in your group
  • Need to motivate a team and succeed
  • Try to earn a customer’s trust and receive it

The material of literary talent is words; the material of story talent is life itself.” – Robert McKee, “Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting”

The art of telling a good story, whether in the movies, in the corporate world, at school or at home is still an art. Storytellers are major influencers in the life of an audience. They are influencers on social networks, great leaders, fathers and mothers, people who “mattered” to us because they see us deeply, understand us and help us live our lives.

So, fall in love with the process of looking at the other and the whole in every situation and with creating a story that realistically and truly represents life as it is.

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1 Comment
  1. Excellent presentation on storytelling! I am sharing this with my 22-year old daughter who was just selected as the sole student from the University of Florida to participate in TedxUF. Oh, and by the way, she has Cerebral Palsy and will be utilizing augmentative communication! Her mind and talents are amazing!

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