4 Stories You Should Prepare to Tell

Story types

Every communications expert will tell you the importance of telling stories. But, have you ever thought about what story types best serve your needs?

For instance, say you are the head of a nonprofit. You’ve been asked to speak about your work. With potential donors in every seat, what story types do you reach for? What narrative best explains the work you do and will encourage your audience to join in that effort?

In this post, we’ll explore what story types a nonprofit, company, government agency, or any other organization might want to adopt to get their message out to their audiences.

So just how do you build a library of different tales to deploy at different moments depending on your goals?

Here’s the story …

Four Story Types You Should Know

There are some enduring story types that have provided a framework, or arc, for some of the best-known tales in literature. In this post, we’ll cover four that can come in handy when you are looking for something to say.

The Uplifting Tale

Whether because of personal failures or external forces, the main character is facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles or challenges that keeps them from living their best life. Often, there is a magical intervention that occurs. This leads to a redemption or rebirth, a rags-to-riches ascendance, or a personal transformation.

The Downfall/Cautionary Tale

It might be a good guy lured to the dark side. It may be a spectacular fall from grace. Perhaps, it is the rule breaker who is aware of the cost. Whatever the plot, this story is about lost opportunities and bad choices.

Eureka (A-ha! Moment)

It may just be a passing glance with a stranger, the well-timed words of a mentor, the sign we didn’t expect to see. Whatever it is, this nudge in an otherwise everyday existence spurs the protagonist to undergo a fundamental shift, a mental breakthrough, or an a-ha! moment that leads to a new path.

“Better Together”

It’s easy to believe that division is a permanent state, except in this story type. Individuals or groups seemingly with nothing in common – or separated by ideology, misunderstandings, or age – come together to solve a problem. In turn, they create a better future for all.

story types 2

What Story Should You Choose?

Enduring story arcs and themes are effective foundations upon which to build powerful stories out of your everyday personal and professional experiences.

If you are struggling with what stories are the best to tell, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are you trying to achieve with your story?
  • What story will best resonate with my audience?
  • Would several plot lines work?

Now, let’s return to that nonprofit executive. Given the archetypal story arcs, here are some ideas on how better to convey the organization’s work through different narratives:

  • Share the “uplifting” tale about a client who faced numerous hardships. With the right programs and care, he found redemption.
  • Talk about the person you were unable to help. This example, inspired by the cautionary tale, shows that you don’t always have to follow the exact arc. You can simply borrow themes. In this instance, it’s about a client who couldn’t get past his wrong choices. If you had had more funds, could your organization have made a difference?
  • Maybe a volunteer said the right words at the right time that led to an “a-ha! moment” for a struggling addict. She was encouraged to get the care she needed. Perhaps her tale could serve as inspiration to attract more volunteers. Or, perhaps one of your donors had an “a-ha! moment.” He decided his $8,000 budget for an outdoor kitchen would be better spent providing more than 1,000 meals to the homeless.
  • You could decide to focus on the wealthy donor and once-homeless client who forged an alliance and were better together. They made it past prejudices they were both open enough to express. And, they established a successful program for homeless addicts.

An old key in an old keyhole

Why Do These Stories Work?

For centuries, we’ve told, retold, repackaged, and repurposed certain stories that reveal universal truths about the human experience. These stories continuously draw us in. This makes them powerful hooks – they grab us, keep our attention, engage us, and unlock our emotions.

Once engaged, we are invested. It is at that moment that a speaker can more easily educate, persuade, motivate, and influence an audience.

When it comes to using stories during your presentation, the most effective ones are emotionally engaging, follow familiar plots, reiterate your key message, and align with an audience’s goals and values.

Our suggestion? Develop an arsenal of stories using several different story types – to be deployed at different times, to different audiences, for different purposes.