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The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job

The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job
Published August 7, 2013 by Jenn Tardif
Author Philip Pullman wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Whether we're talking about life, business, or art, storytelling is an essential skill. Maybe even THE most essential skill. But that doesn't mean it comes naturally.

Whether it's your own personal bio, a summary for your company's "about" page, or a pitch to a major client, fitting everything important into a concise yet engaging narrative is a challenging task. So we turned to performer, comedian, and storytelling guru David Crabb to share his storytelling framework. It's called the Five Beats of Storytelling, and you can use it to make any story more interesting, engaging, and memorable.

For example, let's say you’re a business major-turned-illustrator who’s jumped from finance to freelance and is now seeking an in-house position. When the interviewer asks about your work history, you’ll want to convey how your background is relevant, your excellent work ethic, and your passion for the position. The five beats can help you hit your mark AND keep your audience engaged. Here's how it breaks down:

Beat 1: The introduction

Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important. According to Crabb, this is the only beat that should include any summary.

Example: Although my formal education is in business, I’ve always been infatuated with illustration. In college my textbooks were filled with sketches instead of notes, and I used to drop in on calligraphy and drawing classes whenever I could.  

Beat 2: The inciting incident

The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge. This is a great place to show vulnerability; people are often wary of doing this in professional scenarios, but it makes a big impact when it's done well. If you share struggles or failures in the beginning, the accomplishments that you describe later will resonate even more with your audience since they will be rooting for you to succeed.

Example: After graduating I accepted a job at Goldman Sachs as a junior associate. I was the envy of all my business classmates, and knew I was lucky to have such a high-paying gig straight out of school, but part of me knew something wasn’t quite right, and I felt like an imposter when I put on my suit every morning.

Beat 3: Raising the stakes

A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident. This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable. People glaze over when you focus too much on broad strokes; details give your story a local habitation and a name. Crabb says, “This can be as simple as the difference between, “I went to Art College in Detroit” versus "I went to college in Detroit – you know, Motor City – but I opted for Art School instead of a job at GM.” At this point your audience should understand the inciting incident and be intrigued as to how your story will end.

Example: Even though I was working long hours, I would still rush home, open Illustrator and spend my nights sketching ideas for children’s books, making logos for friends, and developing a whole cast of characters inspired by coworkers and celebrities. Sometimes I’d even forget to eat dinner because I’d be consumed by whatever creation was in front of me. It was a crazy time, and definitely not sustainable.

Beat 4: The main event

This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax). This is either the answer to the question we asked in the second beat or where the protagonist solves his or her dilemma — a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur.

Example: After two years of sleepless nights, I knew I had to make a change. Even though waving goodbye to a steady paycheck went against everything I’d learned in business school, I knew I had to give my need to create room to grow. So I quit my first and only corporate gig and ventured out on my own, confirming to my friends and family that I was crazy.

Beat 5: The resolution

In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique. If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned. This is also where you could try to sell something — if you’re using storytelling as part of a pitch — or recap your competency if applying for a job.

Example: I’ve been creating new works almost everyday since, including a line of letter-pressed greeting cards and freelance illustrations for children’s books. With that in mind, I’m ready for the next challenge, and I’m confident that joining the team at [insert cool creative company here] is the absolute best fit for me.

What’s your experience?

Do you have any tips or tricks to make your stories more memorable?

More about Jenn Tardif

Jenn is a Product & Marketing Manager at Adobe and a Yoga Teacher. Formerly, she was the Associate Director of Partnerships for Behance and the Sr. Marketing Manager for The Drake Hotel. Say hello on Twitter.

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