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Storytelling Advice, From a Pixar Pro

Learn the ingredients of standout stories

"Outthink the Competition"

Why are storytelling skills crucial for executives? Presentations are one big reason. Then there’s the fine art of using speech to motivate others; not to mention improving your creativity and brainstorming by thinking through scenarios.

And so, it caught our attention not long ago when director Emma Coats listed 22 storytelling tips she learned during her five-year tenure at Pixar. Some of the rules are screenplay-specific. But others are invaluable in business settings. For example:

Rule No. 4 — Follow this template: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. 

This may strike you as formulaic. In reality, these stages form the spine of memorable stories, notes Kaihan Krippendorff Author, of Outthink the Competition, on the Fast Company blog. Based on a workshop he took with The TAI Group, Krippendorff advocates a five-step structure that’s parallel to Pixar’s: reality is introduced, conflict arrives, there is a struggle, the conflict is resolved, a new reality exists. Whether you follow his template, or Coats’, the point is the same: Standout stories require the elements of reality, conflict, resolution, and consequence.

Rule No. 22 — What’s the essence of your story? The most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

SAP is a software giant. Read those three capital letters, and certain topics jump to mind.

But you’ll think of SAP a little differently if you learn the company helps to deliver 70% of the world’s beer.

And that’s why SAP’s Todd Wilms uses that stat in presentations: It humanizes a software brand, and it does so in fewer than five seconds — and under 140 characters.

In other words, Wilms figured out how to distill the essence of his story in an economic fashion. In a recent 30-minute presentation on social media, Wilms devoted only 30 seconds to SAP. But those 30 seconds included the beer stat. The result? “Every person who came up to me after…mentioned how they see SAP differently,” he writes in Forbes. “The point here: make your point, then shut up!”

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Business is not the movies, and there are differences to keep in mind when telling stories for business.

One of them: “In storytelling for business, you want your reader to take an action,” writes Chris Brogan, President of Human Business Works.

“Thus, the story should end with a sense of what the ‘reader’ (who becomes a character of another kind) can do with what they learned in the story.”


  1. Executives who communicate with stories can captivate a business audience as readily as a Steven Spielberg can with a movie-going audience. If you describe a hero, some challenge he/she has to overcome, obstacles that might prevent that, a superpower or skill that gets you to the finish line, you’ve got some of the basic ingredients. If we think about it, every difficult customer negotiation, every initiative we try and champion, and every new product introduction has those ingredients. The more we speak in stories rather than data, the more impact executive communication can have. Loraine Antrim, http://twitter.com/#!/loraineantrim

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Storytelling Advice, From a Pixar Pro

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