11 Story Structures for Business Storytelling

Part of the Business Storytelling For Dummies Cheat Sheet

If you want to develop and deliver a memorable story to your business audience — whether your listeners be employees, stockholders, or customers — you need to consider how to shape your storytelling. Here are some ways in which you might build your business story for maximum impact.

Name Structure Comments
“I’m Better Off” Main character gets in trouble, then gets out of trouble, and ends up better off for the experience. Story of struggle and redemption — of losing everything and gaining something better in return. A bankruptcy, being let go from a job, losing a home, or making major mistakes and recovering from them.
“Highlight Both Loss and Gain” Main character falls in love with a business or opportunity or is doing work that fulfills their dreams — loses it when something puts those dreams on hold — and then regains it. This is a very common business story. What makes it different than “I’m Better Off” is that there’s a dream that starts the story, which is followed by loss.
“The Cinderella Down-and-Out Story” The main character is in a bad spot. A special helper provides gifts, but then the character loses their good standing. Eventually that good standing is restored, and the character gains incredible bliss. The most popular story in Western civilization. In business, this could be a story of dissatisfying work and living in desperation. Then a mentor comes along and transforms the person’s life, but circumstances still hold the character back. These are eventually resolved which leads to the character’s dreams being realized.
SHARES Start with a setting (“I was sitting at my desk . . .”), followed by the hindrance or obstacle that’s creating a problem. The action that was taken is given next, followed by the result. The teller then provides a statement evaluating the experience (“this made me think about . . .”), ending with suggested actions. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short.
PARLAS Start by presenting the problem. Then work your way through the action taken to solve the problem, what the result was, what was learned in the process (“what I learned from this was . . .”), how that learning applies to today, and ending with suggested actions for your audience. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short.
CHARQES Start with laying out the context — what was happening and why. Then the challenge is presented, what action was taken comes next, followed by the result in quantifiable numbers. After this, the teller gives an evaluation of the experience and finally provides suggested actions to take. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short.
CCARLS Start with the context of the issue (similar to CHARQES). Then the challenge is presented, the action that was taken is brought in, and the result is provided — along with the lesson. Suggested actions are given at the end. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short.
“Open with an Opportunity” Present a possibility — a dream, a promise — based on what’s known to be true today. Follow this with the obstacle that’s preventing this possibility from happening, how others have already helped to (partially) remove the obstacle (if indeed that’s the case), and the action steps your audience can take to overcome it. This is a powerful structure for nonprofits and companies involved in social change.
“Speak to the Why” 1. State a problem that the product or service addresses.
2. The first “why” is: Why is that important? Because . . .
3. The second “why”: Why is that important? Because . . .
4. The third “why”: Why is that important? Because . . .
5. The fourth “why”: Why is that important? Because . . .
6. The fifth “why”: Why is that important? Because . . .
7. The ultimate “why” is: Because . . .
Use in marketing to get at a product or service story. Example:
1. Our product makes stinky sneakers smell better.
2. Because stinky sneakers turn people off.
3. Because when they’re turned off to you, they won’t want to hang around you.
4. Because if they don’t want to hang around you, you can’t get to know them.
5. Because if you can’t get to know them, you can’t date them.
6. Because if you can’t date them, you won’t get one to marry you.
7. The ultimate “why”: If you have smelly sneakers, you’ll never find your mate (and never get married).
“Leverage the Underdog” 1. Describe the significant struggle that the person has experienced.
2. Insert a hint of hope.
3. Share the moment of deliverance from the struggle.
4. Provide the key message.
5. Reference back to the implied action steps or attitudes if this can be done appropriately.
6. Show how your organization is celebrating the success.
People love underdogs. Think Superman, Spiderman, and other favorite heroes who experience deliverance. Hint: We’re all heroes who’ve experienced deliverance. And many of your customers are underdogs who have overcome and persevered. Hope is the ultimate message.
“Present-Future” 1. Start out by painting the picture of the current reality.
2. Introduce the first turning point — the urgent call to do things differently.
3. State what could be.
4. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).
5. State another example of what could be.
6. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).
7. State another example of what could be.
8. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1).
9. Introduce the second turning point — the call to action — and articulate the finish line and problem resolution. These are action steps that will resolve shortcomings in the current reality and bring about the future.
10. End on a higher plane. Have proof of a happy ending to share so folks know their hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance will pay off. They’ll have a greater commitment to taking action knowing it won’t be easy, but worth it.
This structure is very useful when presenting a project that you want people to support or become a part of. And it’s a great structure to use when launching change.
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