Inside the minds of master storytellers: Powerful examples to learn from

From Steve Jobs to Sir Ken Robinson, we take a look at some of the best storytelling examples from master storytellers - and how you can use some of their classic techniques for your own event.
Tahseen Kazi
,
June 2, 2022

In the first part of this series on storytelling for events, we looked at proven techniques from master storytellers Nancy Duarte, Ashley Henson, Chris Lee and Julian Shapiro. 

In this article, we’ll look at how famous stories have used these classic storytelling techniques to create memorable narratives. And how you can use them to make your next event a success.

3 Powerful storytelling examples to learn from

Bryan Elliott (Behind the Brand)

When I started researching for this article, I came across this gem from Bryan Elliott of Behind the Brand. His story will give you chills—and make you smile like a kid.

As a storyteller, that’s what you should be aiming for when you speak at events. 

Bryan’s narrative is a perfect combination of all the elements from Mastering Storytelling.

In the video, Bryan makes viewers feel like they are the hero of their own story (starting right from the title). He shares his personal story and allows the audience to experience the ups and downs of his life. And finally, he shows them there is a way to completely change things for the better

Throughout his narrative, he establishes “what is” and “what could be”. For example, at 0:50 he says, 

“My entire life, I had a great childhood” (what is)
“But I always had this desire to find my birth parents” (what could be)

Throughout the rest of the conversation, he shifts between “what is” and “what could be”. 

Bryan is authentic. He has a clear takeaway: a piece of advice that can change your life. He connects with the audience through emotion and humor. But most of all, he relives the story as he tells it. You can see it on his face. The audience feeds off his contagious positive energy and gets totally immersed in his story.

Want to learn storytelling from brilliant writer and actor Mindy Kaling? Watch this video where she shares how we can all drive change.

Steve Jobs (Apple) 

The second story I want to deconstruct for you is Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. Let’s understand what makes a speech go viral(40 million views and counting) and invite active conversations in the comments section even today.

Jobs starts by saying: 

“I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world.”

With this simple phrase, he shifts attention away from himself and focuses instead on the graduating students.

His speech is a perfect illustration of “what is” and “what could be.” Through his personal anecdotes, he shows the students where he has come from and what obstacles he had to overcome to become one of the most successful people in the world. 

Here’s an example. 

“I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn [about hand calligraphy and fonts]. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, and what makes great typography great. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.” (what is)
“But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” (what could be)

Another thing that stands out in this speech is its authenticity. Steve Jobs shares his perspective on everything from death to success, universal topics that make him very relatable to the audience. He is not trying to sell anything at all; he just wants us all to live better lives by following the principles he believes in himself.

Finally, he personalized his story for the audience. By sharing relevant examples from his own life, he shows that he understands what they are going through and connects with them on an emotional level.

Sir Ken Robinson (TED Talk)

The last in this series of compelling stories to learn from is a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, a researcher, educator and celebrated author. The talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” is the most-watched TED talk ever, with more than 73 million views. 

So what is it about this TED talk that has made it compelling for so many viewers across the globe?

The answer lies in the way he tells his story. 

After setting the initial context, he frames the problem of killing creativity in children in a way that makes the audience feel responsible to take positive action. He says:

“We've all agreed, nonetheless, on the really extraordinary capacities that children have – their capacities for innovation. And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.”

Right after he presents the current situation, he talks about what the ideal should be. 

“So I want to talk about education, and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

He tackles a serious topic of how our education system is failing children and gives it a funny spin while still keeping the core message intact. His humor itself reinforces the importance of creativity in education.

For example, at 3:20 he says he talks about an interaction between a girl and a teacher in a drawing class. Here’s how this conversation went.

Teacher: "What are you drawing?" Girl: "I'm drawing a picture of God." Teacher: "But nobody knows what God looks like." Girl: "They will in a minute."

Sir Ken, like other great storytellers, goes back and forth between “what is” and “what could be” throughout his narrative. 

His approach is a bit different from Steve Jobs’s. Jobs creates empathy by painting a picture that makes the audience feel like they’re a part of his experiences. Sir Ken, on the other hand, gives the audience actual facts (what is) and plausible facts (what could be) and supports it with real-life examples from his experience and years of research.  He uses his humor for some levity, but also to show you the dangers of inaction. At one point during the talk (at 11:30), he says, 

“If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized.” (what is)
“And I think we can't afford to go on that way.” (What could be)

He always tells it like it is, without sugar-coating anything. The talk has a clear takeaway. He speaks to the point. And he connects with the audience through relatable experiences that evoke contrasting but very powerful emotions: happiness and fear.

Essential takeaways

 It all boils down to a few key points to keep in mind if you want your event storytelling to stand out at.

  1. Make your audience the hero of your story and lead them towards a clear goal right from the start. 
  2. Keep switching between the current state and plausible future state. Your story should have peaks and valleys. The larger the contrast between these peaks and valleys, the more engaged your audience will be. 
  3. Authenticity is not optional. 
  4. Personalize the story for your audience with relatable examples and emotions. 

But most importantly, believe in your story. Because no matter how good a storyteller you are, no one will believe in your story if you don't. You need to speak with passion–the kind of passion that can ignite action.

If you master these key pillars, you will have no trouble drawing people in at events, keeping them interested, and leaving them wanting more. In addition to this, impactful stories have the power to drive action. And just with your storytelling skills alone, you will be able to drive business results by keeping the audience hooked on every word you say.

From nurturing micro-niche communities to personalization, there are a few strategies that can boost your event's storytelling efforts. Find out what they are from the experts.
Author
Tahseen Kazi

Tahseen is a marketer by profession, a storyteller at heart, and a tech geek by education. She has previously worked as a software developer and client partner. However, creating meaningful content is what she likes best. When she's not writing, she's reading. She's also a self-designated casting director - in her head, she casts people for characters in imaginary movies and tv series.

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