Thursday, September 30, 2010

STORYTELLING… The Basics (Episode 2)

So you’ve decided you’re going to tell a story. But before moving any further, let’s ask the following question.

What is a story?

At its simplest, a story is a description of change. It's how something went from being one way to being something else. But there's a little more to it than that.

Because to truly be a story, this description of change needs to have the secret ingredient.


You know, struggle, adversity, hardship, danger or desire. In other words, all those things that force us to take action or suffer the consequences.

In communication, this means that we should think about ways to raise the stakes on whatever we're talking about. This holds especially true in business presentations, sales pitches, press releases, but holds equally true outside of business when we wish to communicate important ideas.

However, for the speaker of English as a Second Language, it's a unique opportunity to engage a listener beyond the common practice of small talk.

So where do we find conflict? It's really everywhere in Life.

First we need to locate what in drama is called the inciting incident.

This is the event that sets the action of a story in motion. An inciting incident is what disrupts balance and forces people to take action, to restore that lost balance or perhaps to achieve a new one.

For people working in business, there can be many inciting incidents. Like maybe a major client who calls to tell you that they're taking business somewhere else... to your competitor. Naturally, something like this will set you in motion. And whatever the result, for better or for worse, will result in lessons learned and a great story to be told.

But in life in general, there are inciting incidents all the time. Like maybe you get an outrageously high bill from the phone company about those "calls" you made to Tokyo. But there's a just a little problem... you never made those calls. Most people in the modern world, have stories like these to tell.

In any case, after we identify this incident, we need to focus our attention on the 3 basic building blocks of a story:

1) The set up: This is where we set up the basic elements of the story. Here we quickly identify the protagonists, the place, the time, the context and of course, the inciting incident that leads to ... the conflict and the rest of our story.

2) The confrontation: This is the "meat" of your story, where you spend most of your time because it's where the protagonists take action as a result of the inciting incident that led to conflict. His or her goal is to restore balance and solve the conflict. To be engaging, this action should be full of challenges and set-backs. Nothing good ever comes easy, right?

3) The solution to the conflict. How does the story end? Do the protagonists solve it or not, and if so, how? What are the lessons learned here if any?

In fact, these are the key elements that make up the mechanics of any story, whether it's a simple event like a customer service experience or the story of a space crew that might not come home. Let's elaborate on these two examples.


1) WATCH the two videos that follow and try to identify the following: the inciting incident, the protagonists, the conflict, the context, the confrontation and the solution to the conflict.

2) THINK of a personal experience that might constitute a story. How do you know if it's a story? Test it to see if it has the right ingredients.

Bad customer service

Houston, we have a problem

In the next post, we'll talk about fundamental story elements. In other words, what details are necessary to make a situation that has story elements become a compelling story.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

STORYTELLING... The SUPER Skill (Episode 1)

When you learn English as a second language, they tell you there are 4 skills, right?
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking
And that’s pretty good to get you going. But as you advance, there is a 5th skill that comes in pretty handy.


Why? For one thing, storytelling is the ability to tell stories. But it’s a little more than that. After all, language is communication. And in terms of communication, storytelling is the ability to tell something… anything in way that is organized, clear and maybe even a little interesting.
So what's anything? How about a situation, incident, anecdote, experience, idea, possibility, proposal, problem, solution. The point is... if you want to get passed talking about the weather for social situations or answering "yes", "no" or "check with Tom" when discussing work matters, you're going to need this extra skill.

But you don’t have to be William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Steven Spielberg to know how to tell a story. It’s simply a question of managing three basic elements:
  • Basic Story Structure

  • Fundamental Story Elements

  • Key Storytelling Language

That's why, storytelling is great for professionals using English to do any of the following:

  • Business Presentations

  • Sales

  • International Marketing

  • Social Media Communication

  • Applying for a Job

And the best part is that storytelling is a skill that helps any English User speak in short, effective and meaningful phrases. So it's actually easier than whatever you've done up to now when you wanted to tell or explain something important.

How's that for a happy ending?

So, coming up next... here on PLS English Users: How any user of English as a Second Language can apply Story Structure to organize information in a much more compelling way.

Stay tuned...