Whether you’re creating a corporate narrative to communicate your company’s vision and strategy, a brand narrative to distinguish you from your competitors in the marketplace, or a personal narrative for an upcoming keynote address, you’re faced with the task of crafting a story that engages your audience, inspires them to do something different, and stays with them long after you’ve spoken.

We know great stories when we hear them. They are the ones that awaken, change, or guide us. They are the ones we long to forward to a friend or re-tell because they make us feel smart and connected. They are the ones that make us want to be better storytellers ourselves.

In our work, we’ve found that the most compelling stories embody three core principles.

Great stories start with a big idea.

Every great story is anchored by an enduring idea that creates a new possibility. A point of view that challenges the status quo. An aspiration to change the world. An ambitious promise that requires a new way of thinking or working together. Ideas that cause us to see our world with fresh eyes, lift us out of our individual worries, needs, and desires, and inspire us to believe in something much bigger than ourselves.

What is the core takeaway of your story? What single idea, word, or phrase do you want people to internalize and remember? If you're not yet able to reduce your core message to a few key words, you're not yet ready to build your story. Keep digging until you are left with a single idea that will transfix and transform your audience. 

Great stories remind us of what it means to be human.

Great stories interrupt our daily routines and invite us to pause and reflect on our beliefs and what we value. They cause us to question anew the choices we’re making in our individual lives. Are we living the life we desire? Are we becoming the people we want to be? Are we doing work that’s worthy? Are we living our higher calling? What is our contribution to humanity? These are universal ideas about the human experience and they touch everyone, transcending age, ethnicity, income, and religion. These are the questions that dissolve our differences and unite all of humankind.

What is the universal desire or feeling you want to reinforce or ignite? This feeling is the fuel that will help your audience carry your big idea into their lives and the world, extending your influence beyond your initial delivery.

Great stories end with a call to action.

Once you've done the heavy lifting of sharpening your big idea and connecting it to a universal hope or desire, you need to give your audience the option to carry it forward. Sometimes the experience is quiet and deeply personal, and sometimes the experience is interactive, physical, and social. Whatever the desired action you wish to inspire, it needs an explicit invitation. A place to channel the fruits of positive energy and imagination that your message has surfaced. 

What do you want your audience to do in their new state of being and understanding? How will it reinforce what they've experienced and learned through you?    

Great stories do more than entertain us—they engage us. They take your audience on a journey that satisfies their inherent desire to learn and grow. When you mindfully create an emotional and intellectual journey for your audience that ends with an invitation to change, create, join, or contribute, you've created fertile ground for your ideas to take root and grow.