The 5 Primary Ingredients of a Story That Sticks

Jordan Gross

Make them cry like they just reunited with their lost puppy

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A couple was on a trip to Ljubljanan, Slovenia. While walking through the narrow streets of this foreign land, the woman spotted a dazzling pair of shoes in the window of a small boutique. A few glasses of wine deep, she broke away from her husband’s grasp and barged into the shop. She needed those shoes. Upon getting a closer look, the woman realized that the shoes were actually quite ugly. She continued to look around while her husband hid in the corner. He was not a shopper. The salesclerk came over to the man who did not want to be found, and he began to open up a box of his finest cologne. Little did the salesclerk know, this man did not even wear cologne. But the man decided to humor the salesclerk while his wife looked around. The salesclerk told the story of a man who once wore this cologne. First letter J. Last letters FK. He told a story of sorrow, joy, and thought. It was one filled with laughter and one filled with great surprise. Without even sniffing or seeing what was inside the box, the man who did not wear cologne was ready to make a purchase.

The scenario outlined here is from Kindra Hall’s Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business. Kindra was the shoe shopper and her husband was the man who wanted to buy the cologne. The book itself is divided into three main parts. The power of storytelling. The four different types of stories there are to tell. How to craft, find, and tell your story. The book is wonderful, and I would highly recommend reading. But as I read, as I do with all books, I decided to come up with my main takeaways. The most important one for me was about the elements of a great story. Below are the five I found to be most important.

1. Make Them Laugh Until Their Belly’s Rumble

My friend Kim once told me that her favorite part of every single day is when she gets the chance to have an uninterrupted, deep belly laugh. This expression has never left me. That feeling when you laugh so hard that your stomach hurts. That’s a deep belly laugh.

You’ll often find that the best speakers in the world could double up as stand-up comedians. In Shawn Achor’s TEDx Talk about the happy secret to better work, not that exciting of a subject, I laughed out loud 22 times.

The reason for this is that they want to make you comfortable. They want you to associate what they had to say with joy and smiles. They want you to feel entertained, while at the same time drive home a core message.

As a storyteller, make it your mission to get a few laughs. Share something embarrassing from your own life. Work on your delivery. Take an improv class. Make a valiant effort to get your audience’s bellies to bounce up and down.

2. Make Them Cry Like They Just Reunited With Their Lost Puppy

The great North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Vulvano once said that every day, you should aim to have your emotions be moved to tears. When telling a story, you want to move somebody to tears. Whether these tears be happy or sad, you want to evoke such emotion, that it’s like your audience is watching the Christian the Lion video.

When your story can tug on a listener or reader’s heart, you have them right where you want them. Whatever you want them to do after the story, they will be making a decision with more emotion and feeling, as opposed to reason and logic.

As a storyteller, consume content that makes you cry. Do not be afraid to intentionally get emotional. What is it about certain movies that send tears rolling down your face? Why do certain conversations well up our eyes? Envision these scenes as you come up with your own stories to share.

3. Shock Them Until Their Jaw Drops to the Floor

Every remarkable story has an element of surprise. There is always a wow factor. When the man in the Slovenian store brought up JFK, Kindra Hall’s husband was in awe. She could see he was hooked by the way his mouth opened wide at the mention of the former President of the United States. And why wouldn’t it have been? They could have gone into any store in Slovenia, but this one happened to be the one where JFK bought cologne.

When your story can deliver a shock, then it has the power to move somebody to action. People who are in shock are flustered; they’re stunned. They will most likely be making decisions based on impulse right then and there.

As a storyteller, you want to make sure you are playing the art of misdirection. Use magic as an example to follow in this wonderful art. Lead the audience down one path and then magically have them appear on another. This will create a story that sticks in their minds.

4. Make Them Think and Solve Problems Like They’re About to Ace a Difficult Exam

Most murder mystery stories do this extremely well. They play the game of misdirection in the point above brilliantly, and they continue to get the audience to think. They provide just the right amount of clues to keep you guessing and keep you thinking. And then finally, they drop the big one that makes you feel like you were the detective and you could have solved the case.

You want to make your audience feel empowered. You want them to feel smart. You want them to feel like they are a part of the story. This will allow them to make decisions after feeling proud and accomplished, which is always beneficial.

As a storyteller, try to get your audience to think. Give them something to solve. Not something that is difficult to achieve, but something just hard enough that when they figure it out, they will immediately be on your side.

5. Energize Them Enough to Run Through a Brick Wall

Every story must end with a big finish. They must drive home the emotional message being shared. At the end of a movie with a story I really enjoy, I am ready to burst out of my seat with more energy than I ever could have imagined. And this doesn’t just have to be stories that are meant to motivate. Even a story like Marley & Me had me moving after it was over.

The goal of a story is to inspire action. No matter what the action is, you want your audience to do something when it is over.

As a storyteller, it’s crucial that you provide enough for the audience to take the next step. You are losing out on a valuable opportunity to not inspire action after your story is over.

Bringing It All Home

The purpose of an effective story that sticks is to make somebody feel all the feels. You want them to laugh, cry, think, be shocked, and take action in however short or long a time you have to share with them. The point of a story is to appeal to emotion as opposed to logic. You are showing somebody why they should do something, not telling them.

So, the next time somebody asks you a question, instead of telling them the answer, try showing them it by sharing a story. It will empower them more than you’d ever believed.

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Reimagining Personal Development

New York, NY
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