… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

TellThemYourStory2Concept description

Storytelling, or narration, is one of most important of the logos (logical argument) principles of persuasion.

Narrative is defined by the Free Dictionary as a “a story” and as “a presentation of real-world events that connects them in a story like way.” See also Narrative Theory.

As described in Story Arc, Stories tend to follow a universal structure, described by Nineteenth Century German novelist Gustav Freytag as a pyramid (on right) with seven elements:

  1. Exposition: setting the scene. The writer introduces the characters and setting, providing description and background.
  2. Inciting incident: something happens to begin the action. A single event usually signals the beginning of the main conflict. The inciting incident is sometimes called ‘the complication’.
  3. Rising action: the story builds and gets more exciting.
  4. Climax: the moment of greatest tension in a story. This is often the most exciting event. It is the event that the rising action builds up to and that the falling action follows.
  5. Falling action: events happen as a result of the climax and we know that the story will soon end.
  6. Resolution: the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her.
  7. Dénouement: the ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author.

In her 2010 TEDxEast Talk on using the persuasive power of stories to change the world (, accessed 22 January 2016) Nancy Duarte referenced Freytag’s dramatic structure and added her 3-part structure of:

  1. Likable hero
  2. Encounters roadblocks
  3. Emerges transformed
Storytelling and rhetoric

Within the three rhetorical appeals of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos, storytelling is often associated with pathos (emotional connection to the audience). In the 3-20 Framework we follow Garry Orren in placing storytelling in the logos (cogent argument) cluster of persuasion principles.

Orren notes that stories are used extensively in religious texts and lead to higher retention by students and other listeners because they:

  • Represent an intrinsic reality and thus have credibility.
  • Capture attention and engage the mind.
  • Let the listener interpret the message in his/her own terms.

There are many sites on the internet that provide advice on storrytelling and the use narrative in public speaking, such as:

Marshall Ganz, Public Narrative – Self & Us & Now, Worksheet at, accessed 6 January 2016.

Marie Danziger, Persuasive Storytelling, HKS Communications Program, at Marie Danziger, Some Characteristics of Eloquence, HKS Communications Program, at, accessed 23 January 2016., accessed 23 January 2016.

Marie Danziger, Some Rhetorical Uses of Story, HKS Communications Program, at, accessed 23 January 2016.

Marie Danziger, Some Suggestions about Storytelling, HKS Communications Program, at, accessed 23 January 2016.

Phil McKinney, The 3 Tricks of Strategic Storytelling, 18-minute podcast, and summary text at, accessed 2 February 2016., How and When to Use Narrative, at, accessed 20 January 2016., The Importance of Stories, accessed 20 January 2016.

John Baldoni, Using Stories to Persuade, Harvard Business Review, 24 March 2011, at, accessed 18 January 2016.

Peter Guber, “The Four Truths of Storytelling,” Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2007. At, accessed 27 December 2015.


Ohio University, English 250 Fiction Unit: Freytag’s Pyramid, at; Nancy Duarte, 2010 TEDxEast talk at; Gary Orren, PowerPoint presentation in 2005 to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Communication, accessed 22 January 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Practices of Persuasion and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: at, accessed 12 February 2016.