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01.
Better Stories
are transformational.

All stories need a structure or an outline (eg. Poetics, Hero’s Journey, Sparkline, Kishotenketsu, Freitag or Minto's Pyramid, Beats etc). At their core, stories are about a journey where someone (or something) is transformed for better (or worse).

01.1

4 Words & 5 Lines.

In 2022 I spent a week in Boston studying JFK's speeches at the Presidential Library. After reading his notes and seeing his last minute edits of famous speeches, I sat in his chair to learn more about his process "4 Words & 5 Lines" - the approach favoured by his speechwriter Ted Sorensen. [8 mins]

01.2

Duarte's Sparkline.

No one has inspired me more to chase the career I have more than Nancy Duarte. (I always wanted to be Sam Seaborn from The West Wing but since he's a fictional character he probably doesn't count). Watch Nancy's TED talk about Story Structure and you'll see why I love her.  [18 mins]

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01.3

The Writer's Journey.

Christopher Vogler's book on the transformational structure of stories is a masterclass in itself. As a story analyst for Disney, Vogler wrote a seven-page memo that changed Hollywood. This book will help you improve the way you communicate at work. I recorded a short video about it here. [492 pages]

01.4

Save the Cat.

If you go to film school to study storytelling Save the Cat is probably one of the first books you'll read. It teaches you to break stories down into "Beats". This structure works well for longer business presentations. Got a 90-minute workshop to write? Sounds like the length of a movie... [195 pages]

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01.5

Hero's Journey's.

The Hero's Journey, popularised by Joseph Campbell and made famous by George Lucas (it's the OUTLINE for all Star Wars films) is often taken out of content in business. But it's the best story structure we have, so it's important to understand the rules. So that you can break them. [10 mins]

01.6

Rhetoric.

The art of influence and persuasion; an essential skill for any communicator. Rhetoric has a bad rep, mostly because of the way it is (mis)used in politics but it's a powerful tool. Especially the Five Canon's of Rhetoric which provide the outline of the persuasive process. TRIVIUM is a simple guidebook which breaks it all down in a fun way. [410 pages]

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01.7

Intention & Obstacle.

Aaron Sorkin (Jobs, The West Wing, Social Network, Moneyball, A Few Good Men) is one of the best screenwriters of our generation. His OUTLINES always start with intention and obstacle. Here's a short audio clip of him explaining how you can use this in your stories. [9 mins]

* Sidenote: Not all narrative structures need a "conflict" though. I'm looking at you Kishotenketsu!

01.8

Pillars of Story Structure.

Peter von Stackelberg (Professor of Journalism & Transmedia Storytelling) developed Pillars of Story Structure as a way for students in his storytelling classes to quickly compare a number of different story models. This helpful graphic incorproates Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, Dan Harman's Story Circle and Chris Vogler's Inner & Outer Journey. [Click image for PDF]

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01.9

Freytag's Pyramid.

Gustav Freytag was a German novelist and playwright who developed a 5-Stage outline for creating a dramatic story structure, known as Freytag's Pyramid. Understandinf Freytag's Pyramid will give you a clearer sense of what makes a strong, compelling story [Article Link]

01.10

Cicero's Five Canons.

According to Roman philosopher Cicero, the outline of a great speech contains five canons, or tenets, of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery. Although these canons were originally created with a focus on oratory, or public speaking, most are also applicable to the writing process stages of prewriting, drafting, and rewriting. [PDF Download]

01.11

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Kishōtenketsu.

Not every story needs to contain a conflict, a villain or an obstacle that hinders to hero's journey. Some stories call for contrast, not conflict, especially stories that are about an on-going journey of transformation. Favoured by many Eastern storytellers (especially in Japan, China and Korea), Kishōtenketsu can be provide a wonderful alternative to a traditional "Western" narrative. [7 min Read]

01.12

The Story Circle.

The Story Circle is Dan Harmon's attempt to re-invent the wheel by modernising Joseph Campbell's famous Hero's Journey outline.

 

Simplified into "8 essential steps" (instead of Campbell's 12) this framework is wonderfully illustrated in this short video from StudioBinder. [9 Mins]

01.13

Story Brand.

Donald Miller's StoryBrand is a 7-part outline of a branded story, with it's roots in a traditional hero's journey. I love using it because it's fast and effective, making it a useful outline for business leaders to use when they don't have much time and they have to move fast. [PDF Download]

01.14

Poetics.

Aristotle is the Greek god of Storytelling. Despite being written in 335BC, "Poetics" remains the outline that all other story structures are measured by (and the reason why most stories have 3 "acts").

Screenwriters such as Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, Lin-Manuel Miranda and David Mamet all believe storytellers should be "evangelical" about Poetics. This 22-minute video is a great explainer if you want a deeper dive. [Transcript]

01.15

Pyramid Principle.

Created by McKinsey consultant Barbara Minto in the 1960's, her "Pyramid Principle" has stood the test of time. Variations of this upside-down storytelling format (because it starts with the ending) is still used by the world's top consulting firms. It works because it's a simple framework which gets straight to the point, making it the ideal outline for any business communicator who needs to get their point across quickly. [10 mins]

01.16

Beat Mapper.

Got a 90-minute workshop or seminar to give and you're not sure which outline will work best for you? I've already mentioned Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" outline, favoured by filmmakers and screenwriters, but this FREE resource is brilliant. The "Beat Sheet Mapper" is an interactive site which helps you to structure the pages of your story (or the slides in your PowerPoint deck), and will help to capture your audience's attention for an extended period of time. [Interactive Microsite]

01.17

9 Questions.

Based on the "9 Principles of Better Stories" these are 9 of the most common questions that I ask when I'm trying to help business leaders to strengthen their stories. This cheat sheet (with book recommendations) is a good reminder to keep by your desk. [PDF Download]

01.18

Adding Spice.

How do you tell a story about a "boring" topic that gets millions of views? In this short Masterclass (full interview here) MrBeast's video director Dan Mace talks about his process; helping to generate billions of views from MrBeasts 259M YouTube subscribers, who generate $700M+ per year! [8 mins]

01.19

Quantum Storytelling.

When you look behind the scenes at really great presenters (especially when they're telling a highly technical story to a non-technical audience) you can learn a lot from them. I love to share examples like I did on this Linkedin post about IBM Research Director, Dario Gil. Click the graphic for a 10-minute tutorial that goes a little deeper behind the scenes of one of Dario's presentations. [10 mins]

01.20

The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride is the perfect template for how you pitch a story. When William Goldman was first attempting to turn his book into a screenplay 50 years ago, it took over 10 years of pitching the movie before it was eventually picked up.

 

His successful 10-minute pitch contained 1,200 words, 19 "beats"and 15 plot points. As a result, he created "The 10 Commandments of Pitching" which contain great advice for any business presenter. [10 Mins]

01.21

Outline Your Day.

You might not realise it, but with 7 hours 20 minutes sleep per day, the average person has 1,000 minutes each day to get things done. Thats's just 100 "blocks" of 10 minutes. I wrote a short post about the concept here. When I think of all the famous storytellers and business leaders who I have spent time with, and asked them how they manage to get so much done in a day, it often comes down to them having a system for their daily routines. [PDF Download]

01.22

45 Quotes.

I curated this short book of my favourite storytelling quotes for anyone to steal when they are waxing lyrical about the art and science of storytelling. Sometimes great presentations are just missing a great quote to open or close the talk. So this could be just what you're looking for. [PDF Download]

01.23

Top 51 Ted Talks on AI.

I analysed top top 51 TED Talks on AI and collated all the transcripts into this 268-page (93,029 words) PDF. This PDF is useful for two reasons. Not only does it reveal some interesting outlines and story structures, but it can also be used to train large language models. I have used this PDF to train Meta's Llama-3 LLM when I am looking for outline ideas for keynotes I'm writing about AI. [PDF]

01.24

AI Storytelling.

My focus in 2024 has been to build AI assistants which help business leaders to tell better stories. This is just one example of how I'm helping leaders save many hours each week, by training AI models to create the structure of a story and then tailor it to the personality type of the presenter and their audience. [3 Mins]

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