5 Compelling Storytelling Themes to Make an Impression

As the summer holiday season arrives, I am reminded that once upon a time the average vacation suitcase would be weighted down with a number of books destined for holiday reading while relaxing on the beach or by the pool. However, such habits have been changing as technology has increasingly become our go to source of entertainment.

While it seems as if getting lost in a gripping page-turner is losing its appeal – a pre-covid study estimated that nearly half of UK adults aren’t reading books anymore – that’s not the end of the story. The form may change, but storytelling will survive because telling stories is an innate part of human existence. Never underestimate the power of stories and their ability to connect with an audience; stories connect people with experiences and gives meaning and context to our lives.

Do you harness the power of storytelling when communicating? If you don’t, you really should as stories are a communicators best friend. Too many times I hear people say ‘but I don’t have any good stories to tell’. Well here are my top 5 storytelling themes to pack into that suitcase for mulling over by the pool this holiday!

Mistakes and Failures

While those who shout loudest roll out their wins and successes, the better way to score empathy points with a crowd is to focus on mistakes and failures. Why? Because success is rarely built without having gone through failure and, ‘successful’ or not, there’s not one person that hasn’t experienced failure or is personally challenged by the fear of it. From Robert the Bruce’s supposed encounter with a spider (popularised by the line “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”) to Thomas Eddison’s much repeated quote “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work”, such examples of overcoming failure are universally inspiring. Even the Wolf of Wall Street suggests that “Failure is your friend.”

Lessons learned

It is astounding that the stories written by a slave in the 5th century BC can still be a touchstone for people in the 21st century AD, but Aesop’s Fables – in all their original and spin off forms – still hit the sweet spot. Their power is in the delivery of universal truths through the form of simple stories. People like authenticity and warm to those who are genuine. Standing up before a room of people and revealing how you learnt a lesson as a consequence of something you went through is, if told with sincerity, always well received.

Unexpected Opportunities

In the same way that the majority of people can relate to mistakes and failures, the tale about unexpected opportunity is also guaranteed to have ears pricking up. As we get older, we are more aware that life is random and, just when you think your are stuck in a rut, an unexpected opportunity will often come along to take us on a new and exciting – if sometimes slightly scary – path.

Risk and Reward

Risk and reward are key elements in the world of business. Churchill famously once said, “Great success always comes at the risk of enormous failure” and history is filled with tales of victories snatched from the jaws of defeat. If that sounds too much like sabre rattling then you can find inspiration from business (a memoir like Shoe Dog) or indeed the movies. When Alfred Hitchcock wanted to film Psycho, movie bosses were so unimpressed they refused to pay his director’s fee of $250,000 and offered him a split of profits instead. He took the risk and his final take away was $15 million – worth a staggering $120 million in today’s money!

Obstacles and Challenges

Basically the plotline to practically every successful movie you have ever seen. We watch (and enjoy) these stories because we all face obstacles and challenges in our personal and professional lives. Embracing challenges and overcoming obstacles is more often than not a very personal experience and that is why the popularity of this storytelling theme endures.


Don’t think too hard about telling the perfect story. So long as your theme is accessible to your audience and your story is delivered with sincerity, you will gain their attention.  My final piece of advice is to use broad strokes – nobody wants to hear the finer details unless they are relevant – and don’t be afraid to lend a little artistic licence if it makes the story flow better!