top of page


Screen Shot 2020-10-11 at 3.31.12 PM.png

Book:  Storyworthy

Author:  Matthew Dicks

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Dicks, M. (2018). Storyworthy : engage, teach, persuade, and change your life through the power of storytelling. Novato, California: New World Library.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Your story must reflect change over time. A story cannot simply be a series of remarkable events. You must start out as one version of yourself and end as something new. Stories that fail to reflect change over time are known as anecdotes. Drinking stories. Vacation stories. They recount humorous, harrowing moments from our lives that burned brightly but left no lasting mark on our souls. (pg. 26)

  2. All great stories tell the story of a five-second moment in a person's life. The purpose of the story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible. These five-second moments are the moments in your life when something fundamentally changes forever. These moments make great stories. The rest of the story is crafted to serve that singular moment. Anything in the story that doesn't help bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible should be removed. Everything you do needs to bring the audience as close to seeing and experiencing this five-second moment with as much clarity as possible. Dig. Search. Hunt for the five-second moment. Allow yourself to recall the entire event. Seek out the moments when you felt your heart move. Until you have it, you don't have a story. When you find it, you're ready to begin crafting your story. (pg. 99)

  3. Storytellers cannot ruin a surprise. Often storytellers will use an opening sentence that gives away all that is surprising about the story. "This is a story about a time in my life when my friends became my family." Giving away the surprise is done all the time. People feel the need to open their stories with their thesis statements, either in an effort to grab the audience's attention or because this is how they were taught to write in school: thesis statement, followed by supporting evidence and details. But storytelling is the reverse of the five-paragraph essay. Instead of opening with the thesis statement, storytellers provide the evidence first and then only offer the thesis statement later when necessary. This is how we allow for surprise. (pg. 229)


Other Key Ideas:​​

Stories must pass the dinner test. Is the story you tell in the boardroom or at the sales conference similar to the story you would tell a friend at dinner? This should be the goal. Storytelling is not theatre. It is not poetry. It should be a slightly more crafted version of the story you would tell your buddies over beers. An audience wants to feel that they are being told a story. They don't want to see someone perform a story. (pg. 33)

Looking for stories? Reflect on your day and ask "If I had to tell a story from today - what would it be? Enter those into a spreadsheet as it will force you to capture these moments in just a few words. Then, you can sort them later for use as well as see patterns in life. You also have them stored so you will never forget. What would have been just annoying and forgettable five years ago is now something I've captured and will have for the rest of my life. Just from recording that moment, it will never be lost to me. When I'm laying on my deathbed I'll be able to look back at that spreadsheet and return to that place and time as if I'm a time traveler. (pg. 42)

When you write down your stories time will begin to slow down for you. The pace of your life will relax. We live in a day and age when people constantly say things like: "Time Flies" or "My 20's went by in a flash." I used to feel this way, but once I started writing my stories the world slowed down for me. Days creep by at slow speeds. I cannot tell you what a blessing this is. I don't lose a day anymore. I can look at any one of those entries on my spreadsheet and I'm right back in the moment. I will have those moments forever. A lifetime of moments at my fingertips. (pg. 54)

It's crazy to think that you won't give five minutes a day to write down your stories, but many won't. Instead, you'll blindly give two hours of your life over to a television show that you will barely remember a year later. You'll give at least that much time to aimless surfing of the internet and liking baby photos on Facebook, but you won't give five minutes of your day to change your life. There are meaningful, life-changing moments happening in your life all the time. Those moments will just be lost unless you learn to see it, capture it, hold on to it, and find a way to keep it in your heart forever. (pg. 56)

Tell a story about a real moment of meaning from your life - a five-second moment - and people will want to hear more. More good news. You've also found the end of your story. Your five-second moment is the most important thing that you will say. It is the purpose and pinnacle of your story. It's the reason you opened your mouth in the first place. Therefore it must come as close to the end of your story as possible. Sometimes it will be the very last thing you say. (pg. 115)

Once you've distilled your five-second moment down to its essence, ask yourself: What is the opposite of your five-second moment? Simply put, the beginning of the story should be the opposite of the end. Find the opposite of your transformation, revelation, or realization, and this is where your story should start. This is how a story shows change over time. "I was once this, but now I am this." Regardless of whether your change is small or profound, positive or negative, your story must reflect change. You must begin and end your story in entirely different states of being. This change is what makes stories satisfying. It's how storytellers are able to move an audience emotionally. (pg. 117)

When you search for the beginning of your story you have a mound of material to choose from. Less effective storytellers latch onto the first thing that comes to their mind. Rarely is the first idea the best idea. It may be the most convenient or easiest to remember. But rarely is the first idea the one I choose. First ideas are for the lazy. Try to start your story as close to the end as possible. You want your stories to be as temporally limited as possible. Strive for simplicity at all times. By starting as close to the end as possible, you shorten your stories and avoid unnecessary setup. To help your listener make meaning, simplification is essential. When the beginning can be pushed closer to the five-second moment, your audience will be better for it. (pg. 124)

Don't start your story by setting expectations. Often, people will start with "This is hilarious'' or "You need to hear this." This is always a mistake. First, it establishes potentially unrealistic expectations. Second, starting your story with a thesis statement reduces your chances of surprising your audience. Third, these are simply not interesting ways to start a story. Start with the story, not with a summary of the story. There is no need to describe the tone at the onset. Just start the story and open with movement. (pg. 131)

As storytellers we only lie for the benefit of the audience. We never lie for our own personal gain. We don't manipulate the truth, alter the fabric of reality, or shift time and space for our own benefit. We're not in the business of making ourselves look better, appearing more noble, or mitigating our shame or failure. We lie in our stories only when our audience would want us to lie - only when the story is better for our doing so. However, remember that memory is a slippery thing. We tell stories as well as we can remember them, but we must acknowledge that this is probably inaccurate in many ways. We want to tell true stories of our lives, but no story is entirely true. Intentionally or otherwise, our stories contain mistakes, inaccuracies, slippages of memory. (pg. 163)

In storytellings, you should always try to say less. Shorter is better. The 20 minute commencement address is almost always better than the 40 minute commencement address. The 30 minute meeting is almost always more effective than the 60 minute meeting. As Blaise Pascal said, "If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter." Being short and to the point takes time, because short and to the point is always better. The longer you speak, the more engaging, amusing, and captivating you must be. The more perfect and precise you must be. The longer you stand in front of an audience, the more entertaining and engaging your words must be. So speak less. Make time your ally. (pg. 221)

Try to make your audience laugh in the first 30 seconds of a story for four reasons: 1) It signals to the audience: "I'm a good storyteller"; 2) It serves as an unspoken signal that you have the floor and will help limit potential interruptions; 3) An early laugh lets the audience know that regardless of how serious or intense the story may be, everything will be fine; an 4) And early laugh also provides the storyteller with an all-important auditory signal of approval. It says, "Oh good. My audience likes me. They're on my side." It's a fine way to feel as you begin. (pg. 243)

You must end your story on heart. Far too often I hear storytellers attempt to end their story on a laugh. A pun. A joke. This is not why we listen to stories. We like to laugh; we want to laugh. But we listen to stories to be moved. Those last few precious sentences should end with heart. Close with meaning. Stories must conclude with something greater than a laugh. (pg. 247)

There is nothing wrong with sharing your success stories but the truth is: failure is more engaging than your success. Rather than attempting to be grandiose about yourself or your success, you must undermine both you and it. This is because of two realities: First, human beings love underdog stories. The love for the underdog is universal. Underdogs are supposed to lose, so when they manage to pull out an unexpected or unbelievable victory, our sense of joy is more intense than if the same underdog suffers a crushing defeat. Second, human beings prefer stories of small steps over large leaps. Most accomplishments, both great and small, are not composed of singular moments but are the culmination of many small steps. Overnight success stories are rare. They can also be disheartening to those who dream of similar success. This step-by-step nature of accomplishment is what people understand best. (pg. 284)

If you are conducting a one-hour meeting at your company, you have effectively stolen one hour from every person in the room. If there are twenty people in the room, our presentation is now the equivalent of a twenty-hour investment. It is therefore your responsibility that you do not waste the hour by reading from PowerPoint slides or providing information that could have been delivered via email. You must entertain, engage, and inform. Every single time. (pg. 324)

bottom of page