Keynote speakers, executives, trainers, and PR pros are encouraged to tell stories to engage the audience, but many seem unclear about what makes a good story.

That’s why people sometimes ramble on aimlessly about this or that, leaving the audience wondering, where is she going with this? Anyone who presents in front of a group or pitches story ideas to the media needs to know the elements of a story. Communications people who talk to journalists can avoid wasting time proposing a topic that is not suitable for coverage. To be a good story, of course something needs to be interesting and (usually) out of the ordinary, but more specifically, a good story usually has one of these qualities:

  • informs readers of new developments
  • explains issues
  • identifies a trend
  • simplifies a complex topic
  • has an emotional impact on a reader
  • answers consumers’ questions
  • stirs conversation

Not everything is a story. The term story is loosely applied to almost any article, but some articles are purely informational. They are compilations of facts, figures, and analysis. They might be clear, concise, grammatically flawless, and even interesting, but they are not stories. A story contains some or all of these narrative elements:

  • A central character (or several)
  • A complication (a challenge or problem) that someone needs to overcome or solve
  • A series of actions in a sequence that rises to a climax, a point where a pivotal action occurs or a crucial decision needs to be made
  • Setting (a sense of place)
  • A point at which the complication is resolved
  • A lesson about life

For PR folks and corporate communicators, here are a few questions to ask as you consider whether your idea might appeal to a journalist:

  • Is this the first time anyone has done this or produced this?
  • How is this different? What’s unusual?
  • Why would anyone want to read about this product, person, or service?
  • How are customers, investors, or employees affected?
  • Is this part of a trend?

Not everything needs to be a story to be interesting or entertaining, but the more your topic meets the listed criteria, the better your chance of piquing interest.