Skip to main content

Learn the Basics of Storytelling

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Summarize why storytelling is valuable for people leaders.
  • Describe the three types of stories and their uses.
  • Identify the five parts of a basic story arc.

Swapping Stories is Valuable

In 2009, a man named Todd Bol built a “little free library” outside of his home. It was a tribute to his mother who was a school teacher. The premise was that people could come and freely take a book or give a book.

People using a little free library

Swapping stories with your team can be just like the little free library, where there’s a give and take, and everyone shares. This dynamic is extraordinarily valuable to you as a people leader because it allows you to:

  • Engage with your direct reports and other colleagues.
  • Inspire your team to do their best work.
  • Build credibility and rapport with your direct reports.
  • Present your ideas in a creative, compelling, and appropriate way.

But before you start sharing your own stories, you must do one thing: listen. That’s right! By first listening to the stories of your team members, you uncover key details about who they are, what motivates them, and what they care about. From this information, you learn which of your own stories will best engage and inspire the members of your team, and which career opportunities might be a good match.  

Select a Story Type

If you’ve listened closely to your team members, you should have some idea of which stories will be engaging and meaningful. But if you’re looking for a little bit more inspiration, here are three types of stories you can share with your team:

  • Real life: Stories that detail your personal and professional experiences
  • Inspirational: Stories that motivate, coach, and boost morale
  • Informational: Stories that communicate information about the business

These story types aren’t mutually exclusive. For example, a real-life story can be inspirational and informational and vice versa.

Here’s the breakdown. 

Tell a Real-Life Story

Telling a real-life story is as simple as sharing information about your life. When you share stories—no matter whether they’re personal or professional—you connect and build rapport with your team. More importantly, you show them that it’s OK for them to share, too.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for sharing real-life stories.

Do… Don’t…

Break the ice with some small talk.

Jump right into business.

Share your career highlights, missteps, and aspirations. 

Keep your career journey top secret.

Be vulnerable and honest. 

Put up a front of perfection.

Vent appropriately.

Unload your concerns about the business or other team members’ performance.  

Celebrate the good things happening at work.


Tell an Inspirational Story

Because you’re a people leader, your direct reports will be looking to you to, well… lead. They’ll come to you to get career advice, support on a project, or a pep talk when morale is low. This is when inspirational stories come in handy. 

Sharing these types of stories—about how you or someone else has overcome a career (or even personal) challenge—helps your team see the bigger picture and rally when things get tough. Keep in mind that for an inspirational story to really hit home, it should be the “3 Rs”:

  • Relatable
  • Riveting
  • Repeatable

Tell an Informational Story

Informational stories communicate facts about the business and typically include a call to action. They frame information so that everyone on your team knows what’s required of them, understands the urgency of the task, and sees how the facts fit into the larger context of the business.

These types of stories are often shared in:

  • Project kickoffs
  • Status updates
  • Team news
  • Presentations
  • Feedback
  • Slack conversations

Unlike the other two types of stories, informational stories require you to do a little more work to get the facts and agenda items into a story structure. We’ll cover this in more detail a little later in this module. 

You might be thinking, “OK! I’ve got lots of super stories to share with my team… but, I’m still not quite sure where to start.” We get it! That’s why it helps to…

Start with a Story Arc

A story arc is a structure that helps you propel your listener through the events of a story, from beginning to end.

A story arc has five parts:

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

A story arc, including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution

In this table, we explain and provide an example of each part of the arc.

What It Is What It Does Example


Provides the background information about the characters, the setting (time and place), and other events or circumstances within the story

The meeting room was stuffy and warm. It smelled like a mix between paint fumes, freshly pressed dry-cleaning, and leftover catered lunch. There were no windows or artwork—just a larger-than-life screen for presentations, a stage, and a room full of people.

Rising Action

Introduces a series of events that move the narrative forward while building on the conflict and increasing the tension of the story

I could not get in touch with my manager, who was supposed to present. I knew the presentation, but had never spoken in front of a crowd before. I waited. I waited some more. I called. I was worried… What would happen if she didn’t arrive?

More time passed. I called and called. No answer. The presentation was scheduled to start in 2 minutes. My heart raced. The event’s organizer approached and said:

“What would you like to do?


Provides the dramatic turning point of the narrative when all of the story’s tension comes to a head and the conflict is resolved 

“I’ll give the presentation,” I replied.

I gulped some water and walked on stage. I could feel my heart racing. The stage lights were so bright that I couldn’t see the audience.

Falling Action

Details events that decrease the previously established tension and move the story toward its conclusion 

I did the best I could. I tried to remember the speaking points, but it was agonizing—I read from the speaker notes for entire chunks of the presentation. My voice was shaky. But I stuck it out. 


Reveals how the story’s events have forever changed the protagonist and wraps up any loose ends in the action or thematics

I learned more about presenting in those 30 minutes than I ever did from months of watching my manager present the same speech.

When you use a story arc, you help your audience navigate the narrative and keep them engaged and invested (and maybe even a little entertained). 

You’re all set with some storytelling tools, so now it’s time to dive a little deeper into maybe the most influential of story types—inspirational stories. That’s up in the next unit, so keep reading! 


Keep learning for
Sign up for an account to continue.
What’s in it for you?
  • Get personalized recommendations for your career goals
  • Practice your skills with hands-on challenges and quizzes
  • Track and share your progress with employers
  • Connect to mentorship and career opportunities