Once upon a time…Integrating story tips into your organization

“But one day”… is what’s known in storytelling as the tilt. The moment everything changed and our characters, world, and story transformed.

It’s just one part of what’s known as The story spine, by Ken Adams.

As someone who studied screenwriting in college, I have always been fascinated by how the worlds of storytelling and human behavior collide — essentially, studying how screenwriters craft powerful narratives built on human emotion, connection and transformation, and using some of those same secrets to positively affect human and organizational development.

Today I came across this blog, which shares some story rules pulled directly from Pixar Animation. I’ve posted them below. Which ones resonate and connect most with you – whether it pertains to leadership, transformation, presentation skills, or more?


#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Sell with a story, not a lecture

“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story”— Janet Litherland

It is hard to resist the power of a good story.

Imagine this scenario:  You are a member of a 500-person audience, at the very end of a long day of a conference. It’s time for your final session before dinner and socializing.

One more speaker is presenting, this time about a non-profit and a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.

Your mind is distracted though. You’re probably hungry, and a bit tired. You feel as though your brain has reached capacity.

The presenter needs you to get on board with her cause. Her objective is to get you to donate time, money, and/or energy — but first she needs you to listen.

Designing presentations is always a difficult task, but often can be made easier if we simply alter our perspective on how we view ourselves:

We are all storytellers.

As an audience, we want to be taken on a journey. Stories help give us meaning, allow us to remember facts and comprehend information.  Stories help frame material, and make connections between the content and also personal experience. Telling a story about your cause and choosing a hero for us to follow allows us to relate to what’s being said and follow a narrative with a beginning, middle and end – as opposed to a cavalcade of facts.

Without a visual aide, all the audience has to hold onto are your words. Go ahead, tell us a story. Encourage us to use our imagination. Reincorporate images and important facts within the story to help drive information.

Help make your audience an active part of your presentation.

After all, we all have a story to tell.

I am facing a similar challenge tomorrow when I am scheduled to present a talk on Improvisation and Business at a Business School function near Sacramento California. Without a visual aide (computer, projector, handouts), I will be relying on the power of story.
I can’t wait to see how this story ends.