The STORY model for storytelling

Sometimes the simplest way to bring your content to life is to tell a story. Storytelling is a means of educating people that has been around for millennia.

Just because you have a story to tell, however, doesn’t mean you know how to tell a story in an engaging, effective way. The S.T.O.R.Y. model can help give structure to the way in which you plan for, and ultimately tell, your story.


Setting up the story

“…and the next thing that happened was… oh wait, before I get there, I need to go back and give you a little context.”

All good stories have a definite beginning point. If you fail to be intentional for how you set the stage, it’s very easy for your story to meander and become difficult to follow or understand. In the STORY model, you make sure your audience understands where your story began before you launch into some of the more fun (or funny) details,.

Beginning with a few details such as: “Before I tell you this story, I want you to keep in mind that back in 1975, there was no such thing as an airbag, and there weren’t even any seat belt laws…” can offer needed context for your audience.

Describing the tension

Without tension – think Team Edward vs Team Jacob, will Sam and Diane end up together, will the Captain choose the Baroness or Maria – your audience doesn’t have anyone (or anything) to root for (or against).

When you think of the tension for your story, what were some of the (dire) consequences that you, or perhaps your organization, was facing in the situation? Could the organization have struggled if the correct path wasn’t chosen? Would someone have been injured or lost their job or lost the confidence of their supervisor or their customers?

Identifying all of the options (then picking one)

would you rather

This element of the STORY model builds upon the previous one, getting beyond tension means choosing wisely. Don’t simply tell the audience about the choice that was made, also tell them about other paths that could have been chosen.

The story of Apple isn’t just that it came out with the iPod and iPhone and iPad… there were many other choices along the way (like the Newton or the early decision to fire Steve Jobs) that make its current success such a compelling story.

When it comes to your story, were there two (or more) good options? Were you facing a situation in which you had to identify the least bad option?

Coming to resolution

This is the “how did it all turn out?” step, and if you’ve dangled tension and options in front of your audience effectively, they’ll be on the edge of their seats to know how your story ends. Here’s the important part to remember: it doesn’t always need to be a happy ending.

Some stories can be made more compelling and memorable by sharing tales of things that didn’t work out perfectly (or at all). If the resolution wasn’t optimal, what lessons could be drawn from the story? How could the audience imagine things having gone differently?

Of course, if it all did work out, then what was the combination of factors that led to such a satisfactory ending?

Yes (or no)?

It’s a simple question.

The yes (or no) in the STORY model refers to whether the story you’re telling is directly connected to the content and learning outcomes you want to achieve. I was at a conference recently when a speaker shared a fun, touching story that drew a lot of emotion from the audience, but when the speaker got to the resolution of the story, we were all left wanting more, we were confused and unsure of why that particular story was being shared. It didn’t have anything to do with the content or theme of the conference.

Simply because you have a good story doesn’t mean that you need to tell it.

Want to learn more about using storytelling in your training programs? Be sure to check out our conversations with Rance Greene, author of Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories that Train. You can find those conversations here:

Want to learn more about using storytelling in your training programs? Be sure to check out our conversations with Rance Greene, author of Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories that Train. You can find those conversations here: Storytelling as a Learning Device and More Effective Compliance Training Through Storytelling.

Endurance Learning is the creator of an online tool to help facilitators pull together an entire presentation in under 5 minutes.

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7 thoughts on “The STORY model for storytelling

  1. As a technical writer I have many times been placed in a position of helping our instructors/SMEs with presentations. One of the biggest issues I have when helping instructors to be timely and to limit their presentation time is helping them find and provide valuable stories/examples to give during their presentation. Many time it just becomes a long ramble, particularly when used in the beginning as an ice-breaker. This may be because traditional speech/presentation giving tips say to start with an ice-breaker or story to “catch the audience attention” (but they hardly ever say to keep it relevant/short) so people just give any type of story trying to make people laugh or to make themselves likeable.

    I think this is the most effective model for story-telling I’ve come across and I’m eager to share your post with my colleagues and instructors as they move through course and presentation development. I can always tell people “If you’d like to extend this story into a longer connection please write a manuscript” LOL. Thank you so much.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Jasmine! “Advice” like “begin with a joke” or “start with a story”, when it falls into the wrong hands, can make for an uncomfortable beginning to a presentation. I’m glad you find value in the STORY model! It would be interesting to hear how your SMEs take to it when you pass it around!!

  2. Brian – is this model yours? I would like to link to it as a resource for a storytelling module in a learning plan and want to make sure that will be okay.

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