Simple Story Structure


I was chatting with a client today who’s doing well. He’s in a relationship with a great girl who’s ‘out of his league’.  :)

I asked him where he’s taking his conversational skills next and he says he’s been focusing on groups. Indeed, he’s become a leader.

That’s good. But he said he struggles when it comes to storytelling. He feels lost and not sure where to go with this stories.

This is a very common problem. The biggest reason for feeling this way is just a lack of familiarity with conversational story structures. I gave him some pointers and thought it might be worth re-posting those here.


80% of conversational stories are Before and After stories. It’s probably the easiest structure to understand and in my opinion, the most fun to use.

There are three parts:
1. Initial feeling
2. Action or dialogue
3. Changed feeling

That's it.

Since he worked in a mental health facility I gave him this theoretical story as an example of something he could relate:

1. “I was walking into work today feeling down. Lately I've been wondering if my life was going anywhere. If it had any meaning.”

2. But then this guy, a patient waves me over and gives me a flower he'd stolen from the doctors' garden and he says, ‘Hope this isn't weird but I just wanted to say it's been real helpful talking to you. This is all I got to say thanks. But hopefully it's enough.’”

3. “I was stunned. I never expected this. I gave him my patented 12 Finger Handshake ™ It was just like the perfect timing. I smiled the whole day and felt like I was buzzing.”

The end.

Often the feeling at the end is the exact opposite of the initial feeling.
Like a coin being turned over.

The point of course is not to make up stories that didn’t happen. This is just a theoretical story. But it is to understand the structure and begin to think about the things that happen to us in terms of, ‘How would I tell thing that happened to me as a story?’

The Before and After story structure is perfect for short conversational stories.

Further tip: Pay attention to your feelings towards the things that happen to you every day. It’s those feelings that the main character which is you, and how those feelings changed over time, that creates the basis for empathy and rapport from your audience, and makes your story interesting.

All the best,




Never Met A Verb I Didn't Like

By Wayne Elise

Effective conversation is about capturing the imagination of other people.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine a banana. If other thoughts intrude, go back to the banana. It’s yellow. It grows in a tropical climate. It’s what your mom sliced up and droppled into your Rice Krispies. Just keep thinking about that banana. If other non-banana thoughts intrude, push them out and go back to your fruit.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Okay, you can stop now. I apologize. This is an impossible exercise. With all due respect to Buddhist Monks, if you’re like me, your mind just refuses to hold a constant, unmoving, static, boring image in mind for very long before it starts to wander.

We crave movement and change.

Now let’s try a slightly different exercise. Imagine a banana. But this time, do something with it. Peel your banana. Walk your banana over to a vat of boiling chocolate and dip it. Pull it out and watch the steam rise off the chocolate as it cools and hardens over your banana. Put your nose close and sniff.

Now imagine taking a bite. Chew your banana and swallow the mash. Feel it make it’s way down to your stomach and quench your hunger. Smile in satisfaction.

Okay. Chances are you stayed with our banana story the entire time. Your mind didn’t wander much.

People naturally focus on movement. Like most predators, our eyes are forward facing. That's so we can use ‘binocular summation’ to detect the smallest movement ahead in the bush. We are geared to detect and pay attention to movement. If we want people to listen to our conversation we should strive to stick more action in them.

Comedians often talk about Jokes Per Minute - JPM. They always trying to pump up their JPM. We can create a similar metric and call it Verbs Per Minute - VPM.  This is a metric to help us judge the quality of our conversation and storytelling.

This week let's try to focus on increasing our VPM. Here are some suggestions to help enable that:

* Make a conscious effort. It's easy to forget to work on our conversation skills once we arrive at work and the day gets busy. Try tagging a reminder in your calendar: '4 O clock meeting with IT team. Yo, use more Verbs to inspire.' 

* Rework your ritual conversations. We all recognize and participate in ritual conversations daily: "How are you?" "Fine, how about yourself?" "Good." "Good weekend?" "Yes. You?" "Splendid."

 Few people spend much time thinking on making these conversations more interesting. But it's a good place to start because you can work up something more 'verby' ahead of time. 

"How are you?"

"If you were to measure it on a scale from one to ten, you can write me up as an eight. Thanks for asking."


"Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?"

"I'll have a chocolate latte please, and if you can sprinkle in some extra love that would probably make me smile."

* Put in more Reaction Shots too. AKA, talk in the same way a film director films a movie. There are only a few type of shots in movie making. After the director hits us up with a few shots to establish the setting, she sets about showing us a series of Action and Reactions Shots. 

These two type of shots help each other. An action shot (man drives his car off a cliff) gives rise to a reaction shot. The people standing on the edge of the cliff cry out or they smile or they just stare expressionless. The flavor of their reactions tell us the meaning of the action we just witnesses. When a movie editor gets the raw footage from a director his primary task is to match action and reaction shots. 

Often we forget the importance of saying how we (or other characters in our conversation) feel. Instead we speak in judgements. "Holland Park is great." Right. That may be true, but that's a judgement. A judgement is an opinion disguised as a fact. It doesn't carry the personality of an emotion which is individual. Better to say, "I love Holland Park." This then leads to the natural use of more action in our conversation. We can then show how we love it. "I like walking my dog Betsy at seven o clock in the morning and enjoy seeing all the Russian nannies struggling to juggle their Starbucks and prams."

Okay, hope you enjoy these ideas and putting more verbs in your conversation. If you want to know more just page through the posts here on the site or come to a Conversation Camp and learn from me in person. I'd love to help.

All the best,


Hide and Seek

People like to hide from one another. They may have grown out of hide and seek, but they still unintentionally try and conceal their real selves in their interactions. This is because people are afraid of being intimate with one another; yet it is exactly this intimacy that everyone craves.

Want to make a connection with someone? Then you need to learn how to seek out their true selves in your conversations.

Time: We are not the same person that we were 5 years ago, 5 weeks ago or 5 hours ago. What is interesting in an interaction is what is happening between two people in that moment. To have a highly charged interaction both people need to be invested in that moment and be reacting to one another.

To avoid this people often talk about what their lives were like years ago. They are hiding their feelings of the present by talking about a time that has passed.

Swapping anecdotes of your first day at school can be fun, but bring the interaction back to the present. Talk about how you feel in that moment, and if they don’t follow suit, be direct and ask “How does that affect you now?” This will engage them to start thinking in the present, and telling you something that is relevant to them that day.

Tense: An exciting interaction is one that is focused on what the people think, feel and plan to do in the present. It’s the difference between relating old dates, speculating about ones you might get in the future, or having a great date then and there.

Always think about how what the person is saying relates back to them in the present. If you don’t you’ll only ever grasp the image they choose to present of themselves in the past, or the person they imagine they’re going to be in the future. The present is the real individual and the one who can connect with you.

If they are talking about the restaurant they want to open in the future, ask them about what they are doing now to accomplish that.

If they say they were such a geeky child ask if that is how they still see themselves.

Challenge people to think about how they feel in the moment, this is much more intimate than speculating about the past or the future.

Tell them what you want to do with them right now. The present is the most powerful and sexy tense.

Topic: Most films and books you truly love will be because of the character. People fall in love with characters and subjects, never topics and contexts.

To connect with someone you need to know something real about them as a person: a thought, a feeling or an experience. This is the important stuff.  The topic, whether it be music, travel or what ‘Sex and the City’ character they’d like to be is unimportant. The topic is just the vessel that enables a person to express themselves.

You shouldn’t become too invested in a topic as they can be interchanged rapidly. How often have you exhausted all your conversation on one point of discussion and then felt lost for words?

This will not happen if you engage with the real subject, the character that is in the story. If you learn that they’re the kind of person that falls in love quickly, gets angry at least three times a day, or thinks pink is a sexy colour on a guy, then you have a way to navigate and understand every other topic they talk about in a much more intimate way.

People do like to hide from one another.

But they like it better when they’re discovered. Make a person be in the moment, the present, and their true character with you. It is only then that you will start to make great connections.

To learn more about how to find the real person in your interactions, take our Conversation Camp with Wayne Elise and start making the real connections that lead to hot dates, lifelong friends and great business deals.