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5 Elements of Effective Storytelling

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Everybody has a story to tell, yet not all stories are memorable, unforgettable or inspirational. What makes storytelling important?

Storytelling connects people. It makes the connection between people, and the ideas within them are shared, with every effective story told. The stories of one person, of a group of people within society, of an entire nation – they all convey the culture, history, and values that represent an individual or community. Similar stories unite people aiming for a common goal When we all relate to a story, we feel a collective bond as if we can come together as one.

When your aim is to be a public speaker, or your goal is to be promoted into a prominent role within your organisation, storytelling skill is necessary. Your story is the weapon to use to influence people, by building up familiarity and trust in listeners, leading them to enter your story, making them more open to your messages and convincing them to act on your call to action.

Here are 5 elements of successful storytelling that will help you shape your ideas and messages into an effective, inspiring story that stays longer in your audience’s memory.

Element #1: Comprehensible presentation message

Before working on your presentation, keep asking yourself: why

  • Why do you want to do this presentation?

  • Why do people need to listen to this message of yours?

  • Why is it important to share with the audience this story?

Without a message, the story has no real impact. Every good story has a message for the listeners to take away from and for them to think it over and over again. The message of your story doesn’t have to be extraordinary, but it should challenge, motivate, and encourage the listeners. It would then be memorable to your audience.

In a very memorable speech made by Steve Jobs on June 12, 2005, for the Stanford Commencement address, the message stayed with everyone afterwards was “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” There are many interpretations for this famous quote, but bottom line, he advises us to always strive to be a better version of ourselves by being hungry for knowledge and improvement; and by being foolish enough to follow your aspirations and make the most out of it.

Now ain’t that such a great message?

Element #2: Make your audience care

Once you have sorted out the message, think about the emotions you want the audience to feel.

The famous American poet Maya Angelou has once said:

Weave the information, numbers and statistics into your presentation in a form of a story. Focus on making your audience relate to your story, and at the same time, you have all the facts to back that story up.

This requires your understanding of who you are about speaking to – your audience, your listeners. Who are they, where are they from, which culture they represent, the demographics, what are they thinking about, passionate about. All these are important in order for your story to relate to them, and make them care for your message. Only when they care, they can act on your calling.

For example, in one of the most 21 famous and emotional speeches, activist Malala Yousafzai has made an unforgettable speech at the first ever UN Youth Takeover in 2013, stunned the audience with her powerful and moving take on the right to quality education.

Her audience consisted of the most influential people at that time, such as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić; and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. She referred the audience as “dear brothers and sisters.” as a way to position herself alongside her listeners and draws her audience into the in-group as she emphasizes that herspeech (and her cause) is not just about herself, but concerns every person in the audience. Through her powerful speech, Malala emphasized the joint responsibility, the urgency of taking action and rested it upon everyone, from ordinary people to people in authority, to make quality education available for all.

Her Malala Fund is now a well-known international, non-profit organization that fights for girls’ education, backed and supported by many famous names and has been running effectively for 7 years.

Element #3: A solid presentation structure

Having a message that can evoke emotions in your audience is just 30% of the job. The next thing you need to work on is a solid structure of your story.

In a classic story, structure helps the storyline “hang together” and make sense. Without proper structure, the audience won’t understand your points, and as a result, they hardly can feel anything from an incoherent story.

There can be 7 ways to structure your presentations using storytelling techniques to keep your audience engaged until the very end. Here are some of the most common structures:

  • Problem-Solution Structure. This is a very straightforward technique to persuade your audience to take action. You outline the problem in the introduction, then give them your solution. Finally, ask them to follow your call to action at the end of your presentation.

  • Residues Method. If you’re talking about a controversial topic, you want to give your fair insight on all sides. Be as neutral as possible and talk about the pros and cons of each side. Give a few reasons why you think some solutions won’t work. When you’ve covered all possible bases/solutions, give your own opinion.

  • Hero’s Journey Structure. To make the story as interesting as possible, you need to have a hero or heroine in your story. Then start spinning your tale about the different challenges and complications the hero faced. You conclude your story by sharing how the hero was able to overcome all the issues encountered.

  • Chronological Structure. This structure is great if you’re sharing a history of something or reviewing a process. You’re basically telling your audience a story from point A to point B in a chronological manner.

  • Demonstration Structure. Use this structure if you’re doing a product launch and you want to demonstrate why your audience should give your product the time of day. Reveal why people need it and what kind of problems it aims to solve (benefits). Then show how the product works and your audience can get a glimpse of how such a product can help them out in real life.

Element #4: Focus on essential points in your story

The idea of focusing on essential points is to ensure you don’t get distracted from your story’s message. The needs, interests, and expertise of the audience should be the central consideration in choosing main points. Find out what your audience members already know about your topic, what they want to learn, and why they should listen to your speech. If you focus on information that is obvious, irrelevant, or incomprehensible to your audience, you risk losing their attention and support. Remember that your main points should give your audience useful information to take away from.

More often than not, you find that there are so many interesting points you want to share with the audience and you don’t want to leave out any of those ideas. However, try to keep main points down to three or four with supporting sub points. Too much information at once won’t be effective as the audience may get confused easily, and your presentation will lose its convincing magic.

The best way to prevent yourself from talking too far off the topic is to have a guideline or a list of talking points that follow your presentation’s structure. Then rehearse and time your presentation to make sure it falls within your allotted time slot, if you are in one of many speakers within a programme, workshop or seminar.

Element #5: Hook your audience from first impression

When you are giving a presentation, look to actively engage your audience right from the start. Make that first impression last, and hook them in to listen to you more attentively.

There are many ways to create a great hook, for example, surprise the audience by presenting something unconventional and work your way into the story. Ask questions which resonate and shed light on the concerns of audience, make them laugh by a video, image related to your study – this can cause the audience to feel more comfortable and engaged with your words.

You can use open your speech with a relevant quote that can help set the tone for the rest of your speech. You can draw your audience into your speech works wonders by starting with the “What If” or “Imagine” scenario, to lead them into an imagination where your message shines.

Use a surprising, powerful, personalized statistic that will resonate with the audience to get your message across right away. It has the potential to trigger the audiences’ emotional appeal, for example, Fear of public speaking has 10% impairment on your wages & 15% impairment on your promotion. I’m pretty sure now the audience needs to know how to decrease the fear and increase their chance for the next promotion.


It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Hopefully, these elements will give you a better idea of how to create a story that captures the audience in full force. They will walk away from your speech with useful information and will continue to talk about your passionate performance for a while.

Reference resources

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