Markus Gull
A woman and a man are standing in front of a huge book whose text is blurred.

Do you know why your story isn't a story at all?

"Story first!" is one of the shrill postulates that can be heard from the Silicon Valley start-up scene all the way over to our part of the world. This is probably one of the reasons why storytelling and what many consider to be storytelling or confuse it with storytelling has been rightly preached as indispensable for several years now, especially in business, but is unfortunately often just the next colorful buzzword. 

Unaware of the true power of story beyond framing and narrative, the vast, vast majority make three crucial mistakes in their storytelling that simply pull the rug out from under their intensive efforts. They may be smart when it comes to storytelling, but one thing is actually missing: the story.

I almost always encounter this phenomenon. 


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

Whether I'm working with companies and brands on their story and getting a brief for it, when I'm poring over their manuscripts with authors, when I'm supporting the development of screenplays or TV series as a script doctor, and frankly, I experience this again and again even with myself: we fall in love with our narrative, are justifiably proud of our ideas, products and services and in the process get bogged down in the implementation, while we don't recognize, don't see or at some point lose sight of the real, the inner story, the thing that triggers and moves us in the first place. 

Recently, I was invited to be one of the feedbackers at a startup pitch training session to blow the wind beneath the wings of those seeking investment. Almost all of them had wonderful project ideas for great ventures, many of them had smart pitches and an amazingly winning presence when presenting, but again: almost all of them lacked the story at the core of their narrative. In truth, it wasn't missing, it was just all too well hidden behind the invisible trees in the dense forest where everyone was playing blind man's buffalo with themselves.

This is tragic in that it turns courageous ambition into poisonous frustration and, what's more, important, necessary initiatives and companies do not get off the ground.

An investor pitch like this is really about something, it could be all or nothing. And in the shortest possible time. Grabbing two million in two minutes in the lion's den is not only challenging on TV, especially when your own future world is usually craving this life-changing or even life-saving nutrient solution. There is already very little time available for each of these presentations, otherwise 30 or 40 pitches would not fit into such an event. The range of interests of the people pitching is shrinking and shrinking. You have to be able to focus on that first.

It is exactly the same here as in our daily real lives, detached from business stories and investor presentations. Because whether we are talking to our customers, partners, employees and colleagues, whether we are developing concepts and presenting them to our superiors or teams, whether we are creating and distributing content, whether we are even offering our unbeatable, bestselling novel or non-fiction book idea to a publisher or just telling something in private - ultimately, the same thing is always needed: story first. This is universally valid, it is absolutely the same on the whole and in detail. 

On both sides, most people make one of three typical interlinked mistakes. Many even make all three at the same time:
1. They tell who they are.
2. They present what they do or what their product does.
3. They don't know the ABCs of storytelling.

In doing so, they violate three laws of every story and of storytelling, immutable laws that apply from the campfire to Hollywood to your team meeting and to pitches of all shapes and sizes:
1. "If a story isn't about the audience, they won't listen. And here I make a rule - a great and interesting story is about everyone, or it won't last." (John Steinbeck)
2. Nobody buys what something is, but what it does, i.e. improves and benefits.
3. If you want people to listen to you, make sure they have a problem. 

So when I hear the opener: "XY is a ...", 99.9% of the time it doesn't become a story.

However, when I hear (in essence): "We all know ..., but ..." then I prick up my ears. You do too, don't you? So:
All of us book hotels on booking platforms. But what we're all missing is: ... That's why it would be fantastic if ... - AirBnB.
We all take cabs, but what everyone is annoyed about ... That's why it would be fantastic if ... - Uber.
We all buy books in bookshops, but if you ... That's why it would be fantastic if ... - Amazon.

These three sketches are based on a very simple mechanism that I have called The Little Story ABC .

Use the Little Story ABC 

From now on, please always and absolutely use the Small Story ABC for every(!) story, regardless of genre or format. It is the starting point for the development and at the same time a functional test for afterwards. It defines the entire further process of your narrative, is its backbone, its structural DNA. If you can divide your story into these three phases, you are most likely on the safe side. If you can't, you definitely have a big problem. I swear!

A B C: Departure - Probation - Comeback 

Departure - from the familiar world. Everything is fine, everything is familiar, BUT there is a problem, an injustice, BUT something is terribly painful, irresistibly pressing or calling out unmistakably, so unbearably that the fear of the waiting unknown is smaller than the discomfort of remaining in the familiar.

Proving yourself - in a new, unknown world. With all the ups and downs, dangers overcome, fun and games, enemies defeated, friends made and, above all, grown, matured and transformed thanks to the knowledge gained. We get involved in something: an idea, a new service, a product.

Comeback - to the old world. The all-important proof of effectiveness will now be provided when we return to the old world, when we can show whether we have learned something and if so, what. Whether we have grown as a result, whether we have even returned as a better version of ourselves and can share the preciousness we have learned with others. After all, as Kurt Tucholsky once said: "There is nothing a person is more proud of than what he has known for two minutes." And this is exactly what people, i.e. we, want to share. Every story comes full circle. Are you now also thinking about the keywords referral marketing and call to action?  

So always define departure, probation and comeback from the perspective of your audience - your customers, your employees, your publics. They are the heroes of your story, the ones who are transformed in the story or for whom something is transformed. Ask yourself:

  • What is the pressing problem?
  • What is the insight gained?

  • What is the positive renewal that is, or can be, finally shared?

This gives you a solid basis for a bulletproof story.

You probably have the feeling that this is very simple. Your feeling is not deceptive. It really is that simple. However, it's not quite as simple when it comes to practical implementation. Most people struggle with this. Even Nobel Prize winners or story professionals with bestsellers in their portfolio and Oscars® on the ledge face the same challenges as you and me and are dependent on support. Editors and proofreaders act like mentors here, as lifeguards who rescue their authors from their wildly swirling alphabet soup. 

If you feel that a new story is needed for yourself, your profession, your company, your team or your brand, if you are on the verge of transformation, you probably also want supportive guidance. 

A professional view from the outside can often help very quickly and effectively, as in the pitch training mentioned at the beginning. Thank you Sanja - firstly for your important and smart project presented there and also for this magical feedback: "... I wanted to thank you again and tell you that you are a real inspiration - unbelievable how you rephrase and present the pitches so well in such a short time. I was very impressed! ..."

If you have the feeling that I could be an inspiring lifeguard for you, I would be honored to accompany you. There are several ways to do this, depending on where you are. For example, there's the PowerHour as a very simple, quick impulse unit, or the New Story Bootcamp as an intensive work package, especially for brands & companies, or the structured New Story Mentoring - my platinum program in One on One. 

In any case, we work together on your powerful inner story that moves, guides and drives you all the way to your Little Story ABC with a great magnetic effect.

We sharpen your perspective, find out what the real core of your task is, what meaning your work has for you and your audience, and what your decisive step is after the famous "why". And finally, we specify what makes the unique impact of your work and formulate the crucial guiding principle for you, your work and everything that comes after. For your New Story, which you share with the world because it is good and good for something.

I myself had and still have many exceptional mentors. I never met most of them, but I soaked up what they left us between the covers of their books like a sponge. I took this to heart and wrote it behind my ears, where my grandmother's mantra, the old Story Dudette, has been written for many years: "New Story. New Glory."

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