What Makes a Story Work

Superheroes Listening to a Story

The very best content is that which leaves us feeling like the hero.

Think about the movies you love. Think about the songs you replay over and over. Think about the books you read. When we participate in stories, the ones that move us the most are those where we see a bit of ourselves in the storyline, right?

It’s not always easy, especially when you’re creating media for a corporation, but there are some guidelines you might consider when you think about building your media, be it a podcast, a video, a blog post, an ebook, a book, or whatever.

How to Make Your Audience Feel Like a Superhero

  • Let them feel smart and included. Stories where we are introduced as “part of the group” or “in the know” help us get over our initial discomfort.
  • Give them a solid map. The only time readers shouldn’t know where they’re going is if they’re reading a mystery (or a Chuck Palahniuk novel). The rest of the time, start people off with a sense of where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and tips on how they’ll know they’re done.
  • Reward them. If you’re producing material that’s longer in form, give your audience some kind of reward. This might be a checklist that lets them run off and do something with their partial knowledge. It might be some kind of acknowledgment that they’ve reached a next step. Whatever the case, if you’re challenging your readers, reward them. (Works in video games; works in other media.)
  • Respect their time. Brevity, friends. I point it out all the time. If you can say something with fewer words, do it. Okay?
  • Write about them, not you. Or, if you have to write about you (memoirs or biographies come to mind), give them something they can do to make meaning of what you’ve shared. One reason I loved WINNING by Jack Welch was that I felt I could use the stories as a better perspective of how corporations work. Make sure your media empowers your audience instead of toots your own horn. It’s how you make superheroes.

Storytelling has much more to it than this, but I’m going to respect your time and let you decide what you think of the above. Do you see how this might improve how your community will react to your stories?

What’s your take?

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  • http://twitter.com/guitarkadia guitarkadia

    Great points! In essence, show your readers some respect!

  • stevedevane

    Hi Chris,

    This is great advice. Too many times, I get caught up in trying to make sure I'm providing “valuable content” that I forgot that the readers will be the ones judging whether or not it's valuable.

    I especially appreciate you comment about providing a solid map of where you're taking the reader. Reminds me of my dad's advice the first time I had to give a speech in grade school. He said simply, “Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.” I've used that suggestion many times in speeches. I expect it will also work in blog post.

    Thanks again for the good words.

    Steve DeVane

  • http://twitter.com/leonderijke Leon de Rijke

    Good points!

  • Elizabeth_H

    Great post Chris. Storytelling is an art. Writing so your audience is not only entertained but enriched can be tricky but it is something that can be learned with practice. An awesome book comes to mind called “Made to Stick.” It teaches and exemplifies how to tell stories that will stick in the minds of the readers. You mentioned several of the same points in that book.

  • bajaju

    Great Point Chris. Audience or reader is the customer of your act or piece of story. Customer always buys the stuff which satisfies their need. In story telling involvement of the listener/reader is very important and it is possible when topic and content is agreeable to them. You can bring the audience by keeping piece name attractive but you cannot make them to read it full unless content of the piece engross them. Technique of keeping your audience involved is well said in your piece.

  • jodienodes

    Thank you so much for writing this, Chris – very timely; starting to write a project today ;)

  • http://twitter.com/steveseager SteveSeager


    You are one of my heroes. So kudos straight off the bat. (I'm English so forgive the idiom.)

    However, my take on this is that it's not about making your reader feel like a super hero, but giving them something that will let them feel like a super hero when they pass it on.

    It may be a little semantic, but i think it's one of your own values. If you can articulate something you can pass on, that's the key.

    Was going to write more, but I think that's the key. Not helping you get it. But helping you to get others get it.

    You get it? :)

    Steve Seager

    • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

      Interesting to consider. I understand your mindset. Will have to decide if maybe this isn’t two uses. One makes you feel good. The other makes you feel good because you’ve shared it. True?

  • http://www.bizlike.co.uk/ Rex

    Hi Chris – followed you since the day I joined twitter.

    Always love story-telling blogs and this is a super-heroic take on the form.

    May I draw your attention to another method I've identified? Its got a five-box checklist which is presented in an un-checklist-like manner, some cool examples (including Elvis on the Moon) and it takes about 3 minutes to read. What's not to like?

    Its on my website so do take a look if you get time. All the best!

  • sylkejoan

    Thank you for emphasing the art of storytelling. I feel that a lot of folks who are in charge of the corporate blogs either do not know how, or disregard the importance of, storytelling.

  • websuccessdiva

    I love this post, particularly the parts about brevity and making it all about them, not you. Great points that could dramatically improve the “results” bloggers see when they produce content :-)

  • anthonymora

    Great article. One thing I’d emphasize is to keep in mind your audience when telling your story. For example, if you’re talking to the media the story is everything and has to meet their needs. In that arena, it’s all about the art of effective story telling. So many people miss the mark by pitching facts and information, where what truly works is a compelling story. As you alluded to, it’s important to pitch a story that your audience can hear and relate to. If you speak to your needs, instead of their interests, you’ll lose them.

  • http://graemeharrison.typepad.com graeme_harrison

    My 2 year old son has only watched a handful of movies in his short life, Wall-E, Toy Story and Happy Feet to name a few.

    But its the 40+ year old Jungle Book that captures his imagination and is the one he loves and wants to watch everyday.


    Because great storytelling works no matter how old the story is, and to my son Mowgli is a superhero who dresses just like him.

    Good post Chris ;)

  • BlytheSprit59

    I like the idea of adding a question to keep the conversation going.

    Open-ended stories, like cliff-hangers also can be appealing.

  • http://www.velvetchainsaw.com/ Dave Lutz

    Storytelling is absolutely a phenomenal tool for business improvement or developing content that will go viral. Several years ago I realized storytelling was a skill I needed to improve to go to the next level of being an exceptional leader. Since then, I've done lots of reading on the topic.

    Earlier this year I wrote an article about storytelling for people in the meeting & convention industry. How the Wynn Las Vegas has embraced storytelling to improve their service and culture helped inspire the article. http://tinyurl.com/nlboqs

  • http://frontofficebox.com frontofficebox

    Treat the readers like intelligent grown ups, challenge them to think for themselves with some brief pointers and ask them to contribute to the picture.

    As a reader (rather than a writer in this instance) I couldn't agree with you more.

    And as a writer I now have a set of very succinct rules to direct measure my own performance against.

    Thanks :-)

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  • RCdW

    I agree, although I had expected an explanation for John le Carré's statement that “the cat sat on the mat” is not a story, while “the cat sat on the dog's mat” is…

  • http://detroit.fwix.com Jamie Favreau

    I agree a great story is helpful especially if it is brief.

    Concise is great for an interview or for a blog post about your product.

  • LaPrairie

    Super article…I passed it on to our Team!

  • http://scottgould.me Scott Gould

    “Make them feel a superhero”

    Great point. I love the story of the lady who has dinner with two presidents. After dinner she comments that the first made her feel like he knew everything in the world – the second, that she knew everything in the world

  • http://NeoTechie.com/ NeoTechie

    It makes us feel like a hero because we know it has high value
    and it will touch lives.

  • http://twitter.com/Uprinting UPrinting

    Thanks for the great points, Chris. Storytelling really isn't as easy as it sounds. And sadly, people don't easily pick up the sense of the story either. The storyteller should cater to both readers – those who can and those who can't pick up a story. (like what guitar said, respect the readers!)

  • http://bargainmugs.com danitaleotta

    This post really inspired me to overhaul my writing techniques. Like stevedevane noted, I often focus too much on pushing my product or view on readers rather than taking an inclusive approach. I'll have to brainstorm on how to reward my readers..

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  • http://twitter.com/johnheaney John Heaney

    can't say this often enough: tell stories, don't recite facts. learn it. live it. tip @chrisbrogan

  • http://www.ubermarketing.wordpress.com/ Akash Sharma

    Hi Chris,

    This is a really informative post and its going to help a lot of people who are blogging out there who develop a mind block easily even if they have some content in mind.

    Thanks for sharing

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  • yeldziasahadatu

    What makes a story works

  • yeldziasahadatu

    An information of what makes a story work

  • yeldziasahadatu

    What makes a story works

  • yeldziasahadatu

    An information of what makes a story work

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