Wise Words Podcast Now available on all major podcast channels.

Storyworthy Book Summary

Storyworthy Book Summary – Matthew Dicks

What you will learn from reading E-commerce Evolved:

Crafting compelling stories: Techniques for engaging and captivating an audience.

Finding story-worthy moments: Identifying impactful experiences from everyday life.

Building narrative structure: Mastering the art of beginning, developing, and concluding a story.

Storyworthy Book Summary:

Why Tell Stories:

Sharing your life stories is a deeply beneficial act, more generous than often perceived. It’s a way of marking your existence, akin to leaving your signature in life’s metaphorical wet cement, before moving on to future adventures. This practice is especially meaningful as it reassures others that they are not alone in their experiences.

Storytelling is our way of conveying the most profound and genuine aspects of our experiences. It’s this authenticity that draws crowds to listen to tales in theaters and bars globally, seeking connection and understanding.

A compelling story necessitates evolution. It’s not merely a collection of extraordinary events; it’s about transformation. Your narrative should show a journey from who you were to who you have become, illustrating personal growth and change over time.


Tell your own story:

It’s essential to narrate your personal experiences rather than others’. Audiences generally find more connection and authenticity in stories about your own life, even if a tale about someone else, like your friend Pete, might seem more intriguing. When you share your story, there’s an immediate, tangible quality to it. It resonates more because it comes from a place of vulnerability and truthfulness, from someone they can see and relate to directly.

Telling someone else’s story doesn’t hold the same weight. It lacks the personal courage and honesty required to share your true self. So, focus on sharing your experiences. While it’s okay to include your perspective on events involving others, ensure that these narratives are centered around your role and experiences. This approach ensures authenticity and maintains the integrity of personal storytelling.


The Dinner Test:

Your story should meet the Dinner Test criteria. The essence of the Dinner Test is to evaluate whether the story you’re preparing for a public setting, like a stage, boardroom, sales conference, or sermon, is akin to one you’d casually share with a friend over dinner. This alignment should be your aim.

Effective storytelling differs from theatrical performances or poetry. It should resemble a refined version of the anecdotes you would share with friends in a relaxed setting, perhaps over a drink. The authenticity and relatability of such stories are what make them impactful.


Why unique stories are the hardest to tell:

Sharing a story about a dramatic, life-threatening experience, like almost dying and being revived in an ambulance, might be too intense for an audience to relate to easily. Such stories can create a disconnect rather than fostering a connection between you and your listeners.

Avoid narratives that solely dredge up intense past experiences or dramatically alter how people perceive themselves or the world. Instead, consider sharing something like your childhood secret crush. This type of story is more likely to resonate with your audience. Everyone harbors personal secrets, some they wish to keep hidden forever, others they hope will be discovered. Sharing such a universally relatable experience creates a deeper, more meaningful connection with your listeners.


How To Generate more Stories:

Set a goal to actively discover, observe, remember, and recognise stories in your daily life. By doing so, you’ll start viewing your life through a more engaging and interesting lens.

To aid in this quest, here are three techniques to uncover stories:

  1. Homework for Life – A method to regularly reflect on and note down your daily experiences.
  2. Crash & Burn – A practice of recalling and documenting instances of failure or challenge.
  3. First Last Best Worst – A technique where you identify and record your first, last, best, and worst experiences.

Consistently applying these methods with dedication will soon result in an abundance of stories to share and reflect upon.


Homework for Life:

It’s crucial to uncover the subtle, often overlooked moments in your life. Your aim should be to recognise the small, yet significant stories that are already part of your daily experiences.

Consider this prompt:

Imagine you have to share a story from today, a five-minute narrative about an event from the day, no matter how mundane or trivial it might seem. What would be the most noteworthy moment from your day?

Dedicate time each evening to reflect: What was unique about today? What made it different from other days? Record your findings.

This practice helps you discover the significance and impact of each day, highlighting your role in the broader tapestry of the world. You begin to understand how everyday moments contribute meaningfully to others and the world at large.

By consistently noting these moments, you’ll find that time seems to slow down, and your life’s pace becomes more manageable.

The Homework for Life process shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes daily. Gradually, you’ll start identifying story-worthy moments as they happen. Life is filled with meaningful experiences; unless you learn to notice, cherish, and hold onto them, they can easily slip away like dandelion seeds in the wind, lost forever. Your goal is to capture these moments and keep them close to your heart.


The Stream of Consciousness:

Stream of consciousness involves expressing every thought that comes to mind, no matter how odd, disjointed, or even mortifying it might be.

The key is to let every thought find its way onto the page, irrespective of its seeming absurdity, irrationality, or even its potential for embarrassment. In this process, concerns about grammar, punctuation, and capitalisation become irrelevant. Even the neatness of handwriting is of no consequence.


First Last Best Worst.

To play this game, all you need is a pen and paper.

Create a worksheet with the top row (x-axis) of the page is labeled with “First,” “Last,” “Best,” and “Worst,” accompanied by a “Prompts” column. On the left side (y-axis), various prompts are listed.

These prompts serve as catalysts for recalling memories. For example:

  • What was your first kiss?
  • What was your last kiss?
  • What was your best kiss?
  • What was your worst kiss?

After filling out the chart, you analyze it by asking three questions:

  1. Do any entries repeat (indicating a potential story)?
  2. Can any of these entries be crafted into engaging anecdotes?
  3. Are there entries that could be developed into complete stories?

First Last Best Worst can be played in various ways. If you’re searching for stories, you can play solo, using prompts like objects in the room, a random dictionary page, or ideas from TV shows or podcasts.

It’s also great for long car rides, first dates, or moments where you might face awkward silence. It’s an effective way to break the ice and get to know someone better.


Every story has a five-second moment:

Every great story, irrespective of its length, depth, or tone, fundamentally revolves around a pivotal five-second moment in someone’s life. To reiterate, the essence of any powerful narrative is about crystallising a brief, transformative instance in a human’s experience.

Everything in the story that adds clarity and emphasis to this crucial moment is enhanced and brought to the forefront.

Often, storytellers overlook the significance of these fleeting yet pivotal moments, focusing more on the broader scope rather than the minute, transformative details. They might approach with grand narratives like a summer in Tanzania, missing the smaller, more profound moments within that experience.

When you believe you have a story to tell, consider these questions:

  • Does it revolve around a specific, transformative five-second moment?
  • Is this moment a true turning point?

Finding your five-second moment might require deep introspection and exploration.

This moment is the most crucial part of your narrative – the purpose and climax of your story. It’s the reason you’re sharing it in the first place. Thus, it should be positioned as close to the story’s conclusion as possible, sometimes even being the final statement.

In telling true stories from our lives, we begin with the end in mind. We’re not fabricating a story; we’re not aiming to conjure the perfect blend of action, description, and dialogue. Instead, we’re uncovering and articulating a defining moment of real experience.


Finding the start of your story:

The challenging aspect of storytelling is often identifying the right starting point, as life presents numerous possible moments to choose from.

To determine where to begin your story, first consider where it ends. Define the essence of your five-second moment – the climax or transformative point of your narrative. Once you’ve pinpointed this, think about what the complete opposite of that moment is. The start of your story should contrast starkly with its conclusion. This contrast sets up the arc of your story, illustrating the change that occurs over time.

For an easy application of this concept, consider the first fifteen minutes of a movie. Often, the opposite of these initial scenes will hint at how the film will end.

Stories inherently depict some form of change, which doesn’t always have to be positive or grand. Narratives about failure, embarrassment, or even small, incremental changes can be compelling. The key is to show a clear transformation from the beginning to the end.

When you start your story in a place that’s the antithesis of your five-second moment, and as close to the end as possible, you create a strong narrative arc. This approach not only gives your story direction but also makes it more engaging for the audience, as they can anticipate the journey from one point to the other.

However, finding the beginning can be complex, as the opposite of your climactic moment might not occur around the same time. Therefore, it’s advisable to start your stories as close to the end as possible. This approach keeps the story focused, avoids unnecessary details, and makes it easier for you as the storyteller. A simplified narrative helps in remembering the story, mastering transitions, and ensuring that key lines and moments are effectively conveyed.


Uncovering a secret:

The opposite of someone uncovering a secret, is the creation of that secret. The initial decision to keep something secret. So you need to explore the reasons for how the secret came about.


Guidelines for Selecting a Story’s Opening:

  1. Initiate with Action: Begin your narrative by depicting movement or action. Position yourself as an active character navigating a physical space. Starting with action injects immediate dynamism into your story, giving your audience a sense of embarking on a journey and drawing them into the world you’re guiding them through.
  2. Avoid Setting Preliminary Expectations: Pay attention to how people around you initiate their stories. You’ll often hear introductions like, “This is hilarious,” or “You won’t believe this.” Here’s why that approach is less effective:
    • Managing Expectations: Terms like “hilarious” set a high bar, creating expectations that may not be met. Phrases like “You won’t believe this” often overpromise. It’s better to let your story unfold naturally without prefacing it with such qualifiers.
    • Preserving the Element of Surprise: If you preface your story with a label, you prime your audience for a specific reaction, like humor or disbelief, which can diminish the impact of your narrative.
    • Engaging Start: Starting with a declaration about the story’s nature isn’t the most captivating approach. Instead of summarising or predicting the audience’s response, it’s more engaging to immediately immerse them in the setting and action of your story.


Guidelines for Crafting a Compelling and Inspiring Graduation Speech

  1. Avoid Self-Praise: This day celebrates the entire graduating class, not just you, even if you are the valedictorian. Your achievements have been recognized; now focus on the collective.
  2. Genuine Self-Deprecation: Only indulge in self-deprecation if it’s sincere. False modesty is easily spotted and can backfire.
  3. Skip Rhetorical Questions: These can disrupt the flow and transfer the focus from you as the speaker to the audience.
  4. Share Specific Advice: Offer a piece of advice that is both practical and memorable, rather than broad clichés.
  5. Focus on the Graduates, Not Parents: The speech is for the graduates. Tailor your message to them, not their families.
  6. Inject Humor: A good laugh resonates with any audience.
  7. Ignore the Weather: Everyone is aware of it; it doesn’t need mentioning.
  8. Speak Naturally: Use conversational language as if speaking to friends. Formality can create distance.
  9. Embrace Emotion: Show enthusiasm, hope, and passion. This isn’t a lecture; it’s a chance to inspire.
  10. Avoid Predicting Their Future World: Making assumptions about the diverse futures awaiting the graduates is unrealistic.
  11. No Dictionary Definitions: Avoid starting any point with “Webster’s Dictionary says”. It’s overused and unoriginal.
  12. Be Original in Your Quotations: Avoid recycling quotes from other speeches. Aim to say something memorable yourself.
  13. Conclude Concisely: Finish your speech before the allotted time. Brevity is appreciated and can be more impactful.


Stakes: Keep Your Story Compelling

Stakes in a story are what capture and maintain the audience’s attention.

They address key questions such as:

  • What are the storyteller’s desires or necessities?
  • What risks are involved?
  • What is the storyteller advocating for or against?
  • What developments are on the horizon?
  • How will the narrative resolve?

Stakes create a compelling contrast, like the difference between a mundane story about someone’s mother and an intense tale about a time when they considered disowning their mother.

A story becomes dull if it lacks significant stakes or if the stakes aren’t substantial enough to engage the listener. If a story fails to captivate, lets the audience’s mind drift, or simply doesn’t hold interest, it’s often because it lacks sufficient stakes.


Techniques for Building Stakes in Storytelling:

  1. The Elephant: Every story needs an Elephant, a clear and evident element that everyone recognises. This could be a direct statement of a problem, need, or mystery. It tells your audience what to expect and assures them they are listening to a story with a direction. Example: “I’m stuck in New Hampshire with a flat tire and no spare.” This sets the stage immediately, presenting a clear problem and creating instant stakes.
  2. Backpacks: Use Backpacks to load your audience with anticipation about what’s to come. Describe your hopes and fears before advancing the narrative. This aligns the audience’s emotions with yours, especially when things don’t go as planned. Example: In a story about a failed attempt to get gas, the audience shares the storyteller’s disappointment because they were primed with his plan and hopes.
  3. Breadcrumbs: Drop hints about future events without giving away too much. The goal is to keep the audience curious and guessing about what’s next. Example: Mentioning a specific item like a uniform and leaving the audience wondering how it will play into the story.
  4. Hourglasses: When you reach a pivotal moment in your story, slow down. Describe unnecessary details, prolonging the suspense. This builds anticipation and makes the audience eager to hear what happens next.
  5. Crystal Balls: Make a false prediction within your story. This should be something plausible and intriguing, leading your audience to wonder if it will actually occur. Example: Suggesting a potential future event like an arrest to create suspense about whether it will happen.


Evaluating Stakes in Your Story:

Ask yourself:

  • Would my audience be eager to hear my next sentence?
  • If I stopped speaking now, would they be left wanting more?
  • At this moment, is my story more captivating than distractions like video games or other entertainments?

Remember, the key to effective storytelling is to keep your audience invested and anticipating what comes next.


The Five Permissible Lies of True Storytelling

These are not exactly falsehoods, but subtle tweaks to the reality for storytelling purposes.

Essential Caveats – When to Lie:

  1. For the Audience’s Sake: Our alterations to reality should always be in service of the audience’s understanding and enjoyment, never for personal glorification or to hide our shortcomings.
  2. Acknowledging Memory’s Flaws: Remember that memory is not infallible. Each retelling of a story might inadvertently alter its truth, subtly changing it over time.
  3. Sticking to the Truth: We must never invent new elements or events. Our role is to reshape existing facts and memories, but not to add fiction to them.

The Five Lies

  1. Omission: Strategic omissions are key. Telling every detail is impractical. Remove elements, especially extraneous characters, that don’t serve the story’s core purpose. Example: Ending a story or a novel slightly before the audience wants it to conclude, leaving them with lingering questions and curiosity.
  2. Compression: This involves condensing timelines or spaces for clarity. Simplify the story’s timeframe to maintain flow and avoid confusing the audience with unnecessary complexity.
  3. Assumption: If a crucial detail is forgotten but vital to the story, making a reasonable assumption about it can be necessary for coherence.
  4. Progression: Altering the sequence of events for emotional impact or clarity. This is less common but can be used to enhance the audience’s emotional journey.
  5. Conflation: Concentrating the emotional and intellectual essence of an event into a shorter timeframe. This heightens entertainment by fitting significant change into a condensed period, as often seen in movies.


Every moment in your story needs a location:

The key to effective storytelling lies in a simple yet crucial detail: every moment in your story must be anchored to a specific location. Each part of your narrative should unfold within a clear, defined setting.

This approach ensures that your audience can vividly visualise the story as it progresses, like a movie playing in their minds. When each scene is grounded in a tangible location, the story comes to life, the mental film rolls seamlessly from one frame to the next.

However, if your audience loses the sense of ‘where’ in your story, the mental imagery falters. The cinematic experience in their mind halts, and their attention shifts from the vivid landscapes of your narrative back to the present reality, looking at you rather than seeing your story.

Maintaining this ‘cinema of the mind’ is all about consistently situating every scene in a particular place. By doing so, you’re not just telling a story; you’re creating an immersive, memorable, and tangible experience for your audience. This is what transforms a good story into a captivating, unforgettable one.


The Principle of But and Therefore

In storytelling, the most effective connective elements are often the words “but” and “therefore,” along with their various synonyms. These words, whether used explicitly or implied, are crucial in signaling shifts and progressions in the narrative.

“But” and “therefore” indicate a change in direction. The story may be proceeding one way, but then it veers off on a new path. An action occurs, and therefore, a consequence or a new development emerges.

Notice how each sentence, paragraph, and scene either counters what came before (it was this, but now it’s that) or builds upon it to form a new concept (this plus this leads to that). This approach keeps a story dynamic, always moving towards something new, even if the plot follows a linear and foreseeable path.

Students who employ this technique often find it clarifies their storytelling process, providing a clearer sense of direction and making it easier to decide how to start the next scene. One student remarked, “I feel like I know where to go next in my stories. When I’m stuck, I just look for the but and the therefore.”

A story is more than just a chronological account of events. It’s a deliberately structured representation of events, woven together to illustrate change and evolution in the life of the narrator. By applying the but-and-therefore method in both formal narratives and everyday anecdotes, you can become a storyteller that captivates and engages your audience.


The power of negative:

Another key facet of the but-and-therefore storytelling principle is the effectiveness of using negatives.

Strangely enough, in storytelling, expressing what something or someone is not tends to be more impactful than stating what they are.

Consider this comparison:

“I am dumb, ugly, and unpopular.”


“I’m not smart, I’m not good-looking, and I’m not liked by anyone.”

The latter sentence is more compelling, right? This is because it implicitly includes a ‘but.’ It subtly suggests the alternative, presenting a contrast rather than a straightforward declaration.


Big stories are hard stories:

Telling big stories presents a unique challenge because their grand, significant elements are often one-of-a-kind, extraordinary, and less relatable. This is a common thread in all substantial narratives.

The key to effectively narrating a big story lies in focusing not on the grandiosity but on the smaller, more relatable and understandable aspects within it. It’s about identifying and highlighting those elements of the story that people can connect with and comprehend on a personal level.


The key to story is surprise:

Matthew Dicks emphasises that in storytelling, surprise is crucial for eliciting an emotional response from the audience, be it laughter, tears, or any other feeling. The element of surprise is key to this emotional engagement.

Storytelling inverts the structure of a typical five-paragraph essay. Instead of starting with a clear thesis statement and then providing supporting evidence, effective storytelling involves presenting the evidence first. The ‘thesis’ or main point comes later, and only if necessary, to maintain the element of surprise.

Thesis statements tend to spoil surprises in narratives. A storyteller’s role is to depict action, dialogue, and thought without summarising them, preserving the unpredictability of the story.


Methods to Preserve and Enhance Surprise in Your Story:

  1. Avoid Thesis Statements: Steer clear of summarising or stating the main point at the beginning of your story.
  2. Amplify Contrast: Increase the impact of the surprise by creating a stark contrast with the preceding moment.
  3. Leverage Stakes: Use stakes to deepen the audience’s investment in the story, enhancing the effect of the surprise.
  4. Conceal Key Details Strategically (Planting Bombs): This involves:
    • Mixing crucial details in with other less important information.
    • Positioning these details as far from the surprise moment as possible.
    • If feasible, surround these key details with humour to disguise their significance.

By following these strategies, a storyteller can effectively create a narrative that captivates the audience through unexpected twists and turns.


Use the present tense:

Using the present tense in storytelling weaves a spell of immediacy, drawing the audience into the narrative’s timeline, regardless of where they are physically – be it in bed, beside a crackling fire, or even lounging in a bathtub. This tense acts as a temporal conduit, pulling the reader or listener into the specific moments the storyteller wishes to highlight.

Employing the present tense narrows the gap between the audience and the story’s events, sometimes creating an illusion of time travel, as if the audience is experiencing the moments firsthand.

Another advantage of the present tense is its ability to make the story more vivid for both the teller and the audience. For storytellers who can visually imagine their stories, this tense allows them to virtually relive the events as they narrate. Instead of focusing on their audience, they are mentally transported back to the scenes of their story, enabling a more dynamic and engaging recounting.


How to tell success stories:

When it comes to narrating stories of success, it’s advisable to adopt two specific approaches:

  1. Self-Deprecation: Rather than glorifying yourself or your achievement, aim to downplay both. This helps to maintain relatability and humility in your storytelling.
  2. Focus on Incremental Progress: Instead of emphasizing the grandeur of the success, highlight the smaller, incremental steps that led to it. This makes the story more realistic and relatable, as most achievements are the result of numerous small efforts rather than sudden leaps.

Remember, people inherently root for the underdog. The universal appeal of the underdog story lies in its potential for unexpected victories, which are far more satisfying than predictable outcomes. A triumph against the odds resonates more powerfully than a foreseen success.

Moreover, human beings are more engaged by stories of gradual progress than dramatic transformations. Success is usually a gradual process, not an overnight phenomenon.

In telling your success story, focus on a specific aspect or a small step in your journey rather than the entire accomplishment. Hint at the possibility of future successes, but avoid detailing the entire path.

It can be tempting to share every detail of a hard-earned success, to be the unblemished hero of your story. However, remember that there’s a fine line between being a hero and being perceived as self-important. Exercise caution and aim for a more modest and approachable narrative.


Don’t memorise you stories:

Avoid memorising your story verbatim. Unlike actors, who need to remember their lines and have the support of their cast to assist with forgotten dialogue, your role as a storyteller is different. Actors portray characters, but you are sharing your own experiences. Authenticity and vulnerability are key in storytelling, and these can be compromised when you’re reciting from memory.

Instead, focus on memorising three key elements of your story:

  1. The Opening Sentences: Begin with impact. A strong start sets the tone.
  2. The Concluding Sentences: End memorably. Your conclusion should leave a lasting impression.
  3. The Key Scenes: Remember the essential scenes of your story. If you lose track of the exact wording, knowing the scenes ensures you can still narrate effectively.

By memorising these crucial parts, you maintain the structure and flow of your story without sacrificing the natural and spontaneous delivery that makes storytelling so engaging.