The Art of Storytelling for Leaders – 4 Steps to Structure Compelling Stories

The Art of Storytelling for Leaders – 4 Steps to Structure Compelling Stories


Storytelling has long been an essential part of leadership because of the role it plays in sharing customs and reaffirming values. But even more important, stories have a way of helping key information stick much better than statistics. In fact, neuroscientists have found that stories evoke physical as well as emotional responses.

According to a Forbes article summarizing the neuroscience research  compiled by Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University; When you tell stories, people are far more likely to remember what you say. Most people forget more than 40% of the information you tell them by the very next day. After a week, they will likely have forgotten a full 90%.

“Most people forget 40% of information by the next day and 90% by the next week.”

Stories give you an advantage because information is up to 20 times more memorable when delivered through storytelling. [1]

Many leaders feel intimidated by storytelling and therefore shy away from it. But anyone can learn to tell stories.

When my daughters were in elementary school, I volunteered to help children write and publish their own stories as books. They were thrilled to realize they could make their stories come to life. We taught them that the basic elements of any story include a beginning, a middle and an end. But there’s more to it. There is a natural arc in a good story.

The beginning sets the stage and gives some background. The middle introduces an incident that causes conflict and reaches a climax. If you ended there it would be a cliffhanger. But the last part of the arc, the end, is the resolution.


4 Steps to Structure Compelling Stories


  1. Start with a message – Author Carolyn O’hara writes in an article for Harvard Business Review that every story should start with these two questions, “Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them?” [2] Ask yourself what message do you want to transmit to your audience?
  2. Get personal – Find a personal example from your own experience that will help bring the message across, but don’t make yourself the hero. The story should focus more on the struggle and resolution.
  3. Express feelings – Stories give you the opportunity to set the stage and apply emotion to the situation and the people involved in the story. When you show emotion, you carry people along with you. You must connect the audience to their emotions and  .
  4. Keep it simple. Don’t get too long-winded or you risk losing your audience. Give enough detail to set the stage and conflict, but don’t get lost in insignificant details.


The following is an example of a simple story arc. To improve your storytelling, follow this story arc, practice, and get feedback. In the end, storytelling makes your lessons stick and isn’t difficult to master. However, if you find that you’re still not sure how to proceed, reach out to Baird Group and we can help.


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[1] Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University,