The essential elements of every great story

As a professional member of the National Speakers Association, I attended a meeting Saturday of our local chapter and had the truly extraordinary opportunity to hear a presentation by Michael Hauge on the essential elements of every great story. Michael is apparently well known in Hollywood as a story consultant for writers, filmmakers, public speakers and others. His presentation was the most compelling I’ve ever heard and since we all, at one time or another, share stories with others, I thought I would share with you the essence of his presentation. If you give talks or lectures as part of your work and would like more information about Michael, you can visit his web site at

The #1 objective of every story is to elicit an emotional experience for the audience, not to just deliver the information of the story. You can do that, but if the way you present the story doesn’t elicit an emotional reaction, the story will not be memorable. So the elements of a story are all designed to produce that objective.

1. Every story has a hero, the main character the story is about.

2. Every story starts with a setup which is designed to show the hero living their life before the circumstances that occur which are the heart of the story.

3. The hero must be introduced in a way that evokes empathy on the part of those hearing the story. There are three ways to do this, by creating sympathy for the plight of the hero, by putting the hero in jeopardy, or by creating the hero as a kind and generous person.

4. As the story progresses, the hero is presented with an opportunity for something new to happen. The result of this is that

5. A new situation becomes present.

6. In the new situation, what opens up for the hero is a goal that will take them to the end of the story. In this step, you want to make the goal as vivid as possible.

7. You can really grab people’s attention if, as the hero moves forward into the new situation, pursuing the goal, he or she encounters increasingly difficult obstacles to the achievement of the goal. This is what really creates the emotion.

8. Of course, every great story has a climax in which the hero either achieves or does not achieve his or her goal. If you watch most Hollywood movies, you will see that in most cases, there is a happy ending, but surely not always. I’m reminded of the great movie Brokeback Mountain where there certainly wasn’t a happy ending.

9. Steps 1 – 8 are what the audience should actually see as the story unfolds. But in a great story, those steps occur inside of a bigger transformational context. For example, professional speakers, like me, use stories to illustrate principles or ideas and the principle or idea is the context in which the story is told. In other words, at the end of the story, we want the audience to see the hero transformed from where he or she was to something better. Maybe they’ve overcome something bad, like fear, maybe they’ve freed themselves from a place where they were stuck, or maybe they overcame some inner conflict. That transformation should be the point you want to make in telling the story.

10. Finally, the story can’t end with step 8. The story ends with the hero living in the new world that got created out of the transformation.

I hope that was helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to e mail me at

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