The Four Essential Elements Of Compelling Stories



Ok several of you asked the question, what are the essential elements of a compelling story?  What should I include to make sure my stories are effective?  This is one answer, but you should know I’m notoriously unreliable and the next time I might come up with a completely different one.

The four essential elements of compelling stories:


The story has to be relevant to the audience.  Sometimes you might have to pre frame what the relevance of the story is, other times you will want the relevance of the story to sneak up on your audience.


Whether your audience is in a social situation or in a theatre you need to keep in rapport with them.  Pay attention, what non verbal clues are they giving you? Are they engaged? I like to encourage my audience to feedback and respond to me, that way I can always check in with them and ask them!

As any actor will tell you, the more you perform in front of an audience the more you begin to develop almost a sixth sense about this.  Sometimes you get obvious clues like laughter or gasps and groans, other times it’s the stillness or silence.  You learn that bored silence sounds different from fascinated silence! The same performance can feel very different depending on how the audience, as a group react.  You learn to pace and lead at the speed of the audience.


By Jeopardy I mean, what is there to lose?  What is at stake. Films typically tend to tell stories with high stakes: the end of the world! Murder! Explosions!  Getting the girl/boy and living happily ever after!  The more there is at stake in a story the more the audience will invest in it.


Storytelling gives us a cloak and when we’re wearing that cloak we can express things that are difficult for people to express.  A story has to move you, you have to find your passion for it and express that.  By having the courage to go first you create a space for your audience to follow.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Jack Martin Leith December 14, 2011, 3:19 pm

    Hiya Robin.

    Yes, that’s a great shot of you in action. Here’s my equivalent: .

    I was giving a 5 minute talk with 20 slides that auto-advanced every 15 seconds. The theme: Enriching the world – is it good business practice. Those five minutes were among the highest anxiety experiences of my life, and there have been a few, as you know.

    I’ve been thinking about your four essential elements: Relevance, Rapport, Jeopardy, and Passion. Relevance to most of the 250 audience members was zero, as they were there for a night out rather than a lecture on enriching the world. I reckon I scored about 50% on Rapport as my consciousness wasn’t firing on all cylinders. My main focus was on keeping up with the slides. But I think I compensated to some extent with high levels of Jeopardy and Passion.

    Thanks for an interesting and very useful article. It’s good to see the new website design. A *massive* improvement on previous versions.

    Have a great Christmas and New Year. Would be good to see you when time permits.


  • conrad December 15, 2011, 1:52 am

    Its elegant and simple. That is be priceless advice.

  • Brian @ PowerLanguage December 19, 2011, 4:09 pm

    Great video Robin… Keep em comming!