Five Components for a Solid Foundation to a Good Story

Watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks Do Schools Kill Creativity, and you will hear wonderful stories.  Sir Ken tells details of an interview he had with Gillian Lynne, the choreographer behind Cats and Phantom of the Opera. He shares how Lynne went from a child diagnosed with a learning disability to world renowned dancer and choreographer.1 It is a great piece of storytelling. In fact, this is the most watched TED Talks of all time with over 41 million views, so it does contain good stories.

There are five key elements to every good story: time, place, characters, conflict, and resolution.  Sir Ken’s telling of Gillian Lynne’s story uses all elements, so I will use it to demonstrate how each element works to further your engagement with the entire story, and as a result, the speaker.

  • Time and place:  This is your starting point, and in the Gillian Lynne story it was in the 1930s at her school.  That may seem vague, but it does establish a benchmark in our minds.
  • Characters:  In all good stories there needs to be a protagonist and an antagonist, or, as I like to refer to them, a hero and villain. The villain is the school administrator who believed that Gillian had a learning disorder. Our hero in this story is not Gillian, but the doctor her mother consulted to help Gillian do better in school.
  • Conflict: The school administrator believed that Gillian had a learning disorder because she couldn’t concentrate and was always fidgeting. Gillian’s mother wanted to help her daughter calm down so she could do better in school.
  • Resolution: Her mother explained to the doctor all of the issues that Gillian had in school: fidgeting, late homework, annoying people, lack of concentration. The doctor asked the mother to join him outside the room so they could observe Gillian’s behavior when she was left on her own.  As they walked out, the doctor turned on the radio so the child would feel a bit more comfortable.  The moment they left the room, she was up on her feet dancing, and she didn’t stop until they returned. The doctor told her mom that Gillian wasn’t sick and didn’t need his help. “Take her to a dance school,” he said. She is a dancer!

Good storytellers help the audience pay attention and retain information by embedding emotionally charged elements in the conflict and resolution elements of their stories. You know, to get the dopamine flowing and the Post-it® notes sticking to your brain.  In the resolution to Gillian’s story, when the doctor says she is not sick, she is a dancer – that is the emotion.  Most of us can relate to a similar situation that happened to us, our family or our friends.

As you were reading the conflict, were you thinking that Gillian had ADHD?  You probably did, I know I did.  When Sir Ken told this story, he said, “I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD was not invented at this point. It wasn’t an available condition.” He delivered those lines in a very dry tone, which united the audience in laughter. Using humor can create another emotionally-charged moment that connects you and your audience.

Dissecting a story into its five components becomes easier the more you practice.  I suggest watching a few Ted Talk videos to see if you can identify the five components AND those emotionally-charged elements in each story told.  In a majority of Ted Talks, there are three main stories the presenter shares to support their point of view.  If you have trouble identifying the components while watching, find the transcript online and dissect there.

You can become a better storyteller by experiencing the stories all around you every day. Try to stop, listen, and then, dissect what you hear. Learn to identify the components quickly and then apply these techniques to crafting your own stories.

Once you are comfortable in applying this method, you can begin to craft the foundation to any story to help in the delivery of your message.  The more you use this method, the easier it will become in being a better storyteller and, ultimately, a better financial storyteller.


  1. Gallo, Carmine, Talk Like TED, (St. Martins Griffin, New York) 56