Stories and Storytelling

I didn’t appreciate the value of telling stories when I was younger. I always imagined, incorrectly, that the speaker would have to stop the flow of their speech by inserting a story into it – Because I hadn’t seen, or been made aware of, really good story-tellers.

It wasn’t until I saw a really great story-teller, an apparently successful business consultant that I would have loved to have dismissed outright – Only, I found myself listening, and then laughing along with the rest of the audience to a story he told about a troubling client he once had.

We all love a great story. For thousands of years people have been moved by stories. We can use them to entertain, teach, comfort and inspire : They enable us to connect our imagination and to explore situations for solutions.

We can learn the structure of stories that influence, and learn to craft stories with a particular end in mind to support both our own and our listeners’ goals.

There are at least seven basic storytelling approaches that are worth exploring. Good stories are likely to be a combination of more than one. However, someone using even one has a significant impact on our communication.

All these approaches have the potential to be exceptionally effective in the right context. However, they often need practice. Practice so that we come over naturally and pay attention to how our audience is reacting.


1 Simple State Change

Telling a story wherein the starting state of the characters matches that of your audience. Then you describe something (An event or interaction.) that results in your characters moving to a more positive state. If your audience has built rapport with your characters, they too will move into that more positive state.

Provided you keep it plausible, you do not need to explain much reason for state change; it’s much more effective to simply describe the states in sensory, emotive terms.


2 Teaching Tale

Using a story to explain the details of a successful and/or unsuccessful strategy. It’s sometimes much easier to tell a story about someone exhibiting a series of useful/destructive behaviours than demanding actions of people.


3 Metaphor

Sometimes you can be much more nearer-the-bone by explaining the situation as a metaphor. When talking to a group of directors who aren’t being helpful to each other, you tell a story about a band of outlaws who lost everything because they didn’t agree to take the right difficult decisions.


4 State Strategy

Sometimes moving someone from, for example, a depressed state to a contented state, is too much of a jump to make in one go.

You therefore break down the interaction into a number of smaller changes. You could go from depressed to frustrated to determined to excited to action to feeling good to a contented state.

If the listener is in rapport with the speaker and resonate with the characters in the story, they will experience the states in the right sequence and have an unconscious strategy from moving from depression to contentment.


5 Classic Case Study (Soara)

This is a simple sequence for present a case study :

  • Situation and problem (and possibly the implication of the problem)
  • Your Objective
  • What you actually did
  • The Result
  • The positive implication of the result over time

There are a number of versions of this approach. The interesting point is that it’s possible for someone who has limited experience to come over as exceptionally experienced and competent by giving case studies in this format.


6 Nested Loops

Stories within stories. This again is particularly effective for therapeutic change, and is specifically for delivering embedded commands. (Although any character in a story can deliver embedded commands.)

  • Open story one
  • Open story two
  • Open story three
  • Add commands
  • Close story three
  • Close story two
  • Close story one


The idea is that when a story is opened and left open without closure and another story is started, a part of our consciousness is waiting for that story to be closed. If we’re holding three open stories, we have very little consciousness free to evaluate any statements made.

When the stories are closed we’re likely to remember the stories consciously, but the commands will be in our unconscious waiting, like seeds, to grow.


7 The Hero’s Journey

Another classical story structure. There a number of versions – The one we present today is loosely based on Joseph Campbell’s.

The Hero’s Journey is more than a metaphor, it may be the strategy of how we grow and develop. It is and always has been an effective structure for effective stories.

Just because it uses the word ‘Hero’ don’t assume that it has to be chained to a mythical, fantasy setting with a warrior fighting dragons. It could just as easily apply to a day in the life of a driver.

The journey involves three stages :


Stage One : Departure

  1. A call to adventure (e.g. responding to a crisis)
  2. Refusing the call, but then accepting
  3. Once accepting the call the hero finds previously undiscovered internal or external resources to help
  4. Crossing the threshold. The hero enters unknown territory leading to 5
  5. The hero has to let go of previous approaches.


Stage Two : Initiation

  1. The road of trials, a number of tests that the hero may (and probably will) fail.
  2. Meeting with the Goddess, meeting someone who cares about you.
  3. Meeting the Temptress; the hero faces temptation of a physical or sensual nature.
  4. Atonement with the father. The hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. This might be the ultimate challenge.
  5. Recovery. Rest, peace and reflection
  6. Achievement of challenge


Stage Three : Return

  1. Refusal to return. The hero may not want to return.
  2. Escape. The hero may find escaping as much of a challenge as leaving his or home in the first place.
  3. Master of two worlds. When home the hero now has two world-views.
  4. Freedom to live. Having survived the ordeal and return the hero gains significant freedom to live how he or she chooses.


Suggested Exercise(s)

Consider your next three client meetings. What states and information would your clients benefit from? Plan a story that attempts to address each. Use the stories, if appropriate, during your next meeting with them.


In the next session we consider ‘Modelling‘ one of the core skills of NLP.


KEY NLP Techniques Section Index

NLP Techniques 1: Introduction
NLP Techniques 2: Beliefs
NLP Techniques 3: Values
NLP Techniques 4: Perceptual positions
NLP Techniques 5: Senses ans Sub-modalities
NLP Techniques 6: Strategies
NLP Techniques 7: Profiles
NLP techniques 8: Time and timeline
NLP Techniques 9: Hypnosis and meditation
NLP Techniques 10: Storytelling
NLP Techniques 11: Modelling
NLP Techniques 12: Fast phobia cure
NLP Techniques 13. Progressive dissociation
NLP Techniques 14. Six step re-framing
NLP Techniques 15. Swish
NLP Techniques 16. Visual Squash
NLP Techniques 17. Summary


NLP Techniques | Stories and Storytelling

NLP Techniques | Stories and Storytelling