I recently came across a great TED Talk on storytelling by Andrew Stanton, a director and screenwriter at Pixar whose filmography includes the Toy Story series and Finding Nemo. In his talk—which opens with a ribald joke that didn’t offend me but did surprise me given that it was delivered at TED—Stanton speaks with noticeable emotion about how important storytelling is for human beings.
Weaving personal anecdotes with short clips from movies on which has worked, he makes a compelling case for the power of a good story. Although Stanton reads too much during the talk for my liking, his personality, his knowledge of and passion for the subject, and the goldmine of storytelling wisdom that he shares trump that shortcoming.
Below is Stanton’s TED Talk. I have gone through the video and pulled out from it what I consider to be the key takeaway points about storytelling. They follow the video.
The next time you are working a story into a speech or presentation, review these points. They will help you keep your stories on the right track.
- Storytelling is knowing your punchline, your ending.
- Storytelling is knowing that everything you’re saying, from your first sentence to your last, is leading to a single goal and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.
- We all love stories; we’re born for them.
- We all want affirmation that our lives have meaning, and there is no stronger affirmation than when we connect through stories.
- “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you’ve heard their story.” (Quote that Mr. Rogers kept in his wallet.)
- The greatest story commandment is to make the audience care—emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically.
- A good story makes a promise that it will lead you somewhere worthwhile.
- That promise, if told well, will propel you through the story to the end.
- The audience wants to “work for its meal”. In other words, people are prepared to follow a compelling story without necessarily knowing where it will lead in order to get to the conclusion. They are willing to make the effort.
- “The Unifying Theory of 2 + 2”: Don’t give the audience “4”; give them “2 + 2″and let them work out the answer themselves.
- The elements you provide and the order in which you place them are crucial to whether you succeed in engaging the audience or not.
- A good story is inevitable but not predictable.
- All well-portayed characters have a goal that they want to achieve.
- Change is fundamental in story; if things go static, stories die because life is not static.
- “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” — William Archer, British Playwright.
- You need to craft your story so that it builds anticipation.
- Construct honest conflicts that create doubt about what the truth might be.
- Storytelling has guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
- A strong theme always runs through a well-told story.
- The big question: Can you invoke wonder in your audience? Wonder is honest, innocent and can’t be artificially invoked.
- The ability to instill wonder in others, to hold them still for a brief moment and make them surrender to wonder, is one of the greatest gifts one person can give to another.
- The best stories infuse the audience with wonder.
- When developing your stories, use what you know. It doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience and expressing values you personally feel deep down to your core.