Bringing Compelling Stories to Life

How to make your audience the star of your story; show don’t tell


I have had a recurring nightmare for over twenty years that I am back at school. Now, thanks to lockdown and the fact that I have three kids in school, I am living my nightmare.


My son, who is in Year 4, had to write a creative story and wanted to write about his first ever concert. We discussed how to start his story:


Massimo: “I got a ticket to a Queen concert, my first concert ever!”


Mark: “No Massi, you have to set a context like I woke up in the morning and washed my face. Then I went into the kitchen and there was a letter for me. I opened it up, and it was a ticket to a Queen concert!”


Massimo: “No.”


Mark: “What do you mean no?”


Massimo: “It’s not very good. I like mine better.”


Mark: “Do you realise I tell stories for a living?”


Massimo: “I know. I thought you would be better at it.”


Let me start by saying I love my son, but his feedback threw me. My intent was to help him write a great story – as quickly as possible. My impact was to make him dismiss my advice.


On reflection what I realized was I had fallen into a trap many leaders fall into, I was telling him, not showing him what I thought he should do. I wasn’t thinking about my audience and I got some pretty direct feedback.


Before communicating with any audience, there are five critical questions you should always consider:

  1. Who is my audience?

Often, we will pull out an existing deck, change a couple of slides and present the same information irrespective of the audience. By getting clarity on your audience you can begin to tailor your content to suit them specifically.

  1. What difference do they make?

Typically when we talk to an audience we make ourselves the topic of our story, who we are and what we do. By shifting your focus to your audience and the difference they make, it demonstrates that you understand them.

  1. What is their greatest challenge?

Asking yourself this question enables you to put yourself in your audiences’ shoes and see the world through their eyes. By identifying the challenges they may face you can show empathy and demonstrate that you are on their side.

  1. What is your unique view of their world?

Once you demonstrate you understand your audience, they will be ready to hear a different perspective. Now you can create a vision of what is possible for the future and the opportunity your audience has to be a part of it.

  1. What difference can you make for them?

Finally, once you have them imagining what’s possible, you can demonstrate how you can support them in creating this new world. In this way you can show them how you can solve their biggest problems and create a compelling future.


Most importantly, what these five questions enable you to do is make your audience the star of your story.


By following a similar approach and making my son the star of his story, I was able to engage him in the process and create an amazing story that he owns. He also helped me with my nightmares and I now feel like I am crushing Year 4!