As a writer who spent the past 35 years interviewing fascinating people and telling their stories, primarily in Fortune Magazine, it’s fun to have someone turn the tables and interview me. So when New Delhi author Tanmoy Goswami emailed us at SellersEaston Media, asking if we could answer a few questions about storytelling for his upcoming book, to be published by HarperCollins India, I jumped at the chance. India is a country known for its rich storytelling heritage.
Tanmoy’s first question: What makes today the era of storytelling? Ah, I thought, easy answer: You don’t need traditional media anymore to tell your story. Online platforms and social media enable everyone to become their own storyteller, own their content, and control distribution to reach the audience that they want to reach. That was already becoming clear back in 2014, when I asked fellow Fortune editor Nina Easton if she wanted to start a storytelling company with me. Most people don’t have the expertise to shape a compelling narrative, to “find” their own story. Nor do most companies and entrepreneurs.
Since Nina and I had spent our entire careers learning how to craft and communicate stories—particularly for impact-makers in business and government—transferring our storytelling skills to serve private clients loomed as a rich and exciting opportunity.
Tanmoy asked: What are the essential building blocks of any great story?
Pattie: Every story has a narrative arc—a beginning, a middle, and an end. Typically, there is a transformation in the story that enables the protagonist/subject to learn—and by reading the story, the reader learns something important as well.
The best business stories are a bit like romances—about love and loss and recovery. Or like sports stories: You win and then you lose and then you win again. Business is often about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat—and the lessons and strength that come from that. The art of storytelling is in capturing the action and conveying the emotion and lessons learned.
Tanmoy: Does every organization necessarily have a story that deserves to be told?
Pattie: Everyone has a story. Every company and organization, every business leader and entrepreneur, has a story. If you don’t know your story, all the more reason to get expert help to identify it and shape it. What do you want to be famous for? The answer to that question helps you identify your story and your competitive edge—and it enables you to build your legacy and perpetuate success for generations to come.