Stories are everywhere. As a leader, it’s up to you to communicate meaningfully about your work and your aspirations. Whether it’s for marketing materials, a client presentation, a unifying story to fire up your team, an investor pitch, or simply a story about you as a person — this 25-minute class with the founder of SYPartners, Keith Yamashita, will teach you how to craft a compelling story that matters to your audience.
Keith draws on years of experience helping Fortune 100 companies tell their brand stories, and has developed it into a structure that anyone can use and benefit from.
He walks you through the types of stories that leaders need to tell, the components of a great story, the archetypes involved, key methods for crafting and refining your story. You don't need any prior experience to take this class. But if you’ve ever been moved by a story — and we know you have — you’ll want to remember that feeling and search for it in the creation of your own.
Keith founded, and currently serves as chairman of SYPartners. For the past two decades, Keith Yamashita has worked alongside CEOs and their leadership teams to define--and then attain--greatness for their institutions. He has worked with leaders at Apple, IBM, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, eBay, Nike, and Gap, among others. He also serves on advisory boards, including the MIT Media Lab Advisory Board. And he often advises start-up companies and leaders of new ventures.
From 2009 to 2011, Keith served as The Charles and Ray Eames Brand Fellow at IBM--a post dedicated to driving IBM's growth and greatness as an institution, and enabling IBMers to perform at their best. In that role, Keith worked side-by-side with leaders to formulate the company's brand strategy and design,... See full profile
Your assignment is to build a story that communicates your work and your mission.
You can choose to tell the story of you, your company, or a project you love. The important thing is making it compelling and true.
Use the worksheets and steps shared in this class to guide your thinking, and by the end you'll have a powerful story you can share with the world — through marketing materials, a client presentation, an investor pitch, or even the bio for your personal website.
First, you'll identify your story's topic.
- The Story of Me
- The Story of Us (or Our Company)
- The Story of an Idea
- The Story of Results
Next, brainstorm your story's components — conflict, drama, challenging situations, lessons learned, etc. Remember, you don't need all nine elements. I recommend choosing 4-5 from the attached worksheet #2. Also, it's totally fine for this section to feel a bit rough! Mix and match the order of your components until it flows in an interesting way.
Once you have your components laid out, see which archetype fits your story. Choose one (1) archetype from the attached worksheet #3, and set it aside. You may find you want to play with several archetypes before settling on the final story arc that best conveys your narrative.
With all of this prepared, you'll be to ready to write, record, or even draw your story in the most effective way possible.
Share your story in the Project Gallery. A completed project should include:
- Topic (choose 1)
- Components (choose 4-5)
- Archetype (choose 1)
- Your drafted story
Whichever way you prefer to share your story — written word, a visual storyboard, recorded audio, or even a YouTube video — feel free to use your project as an open workspace to get feedback from your fellow students — then revise, and refine.
I'm excited to see your story come to life!
Keith Yamashita is extremely engaging. It was apparent to me that, using the four pdf downloads, it was possible to create stories that are properly structured. I especially enjoyed this course as I feel now I have the tools and inspiration to unleash my inner muse without meandering mindlessly, over-complicating and confusing the poor readers. Definitely a great course to begin your storytelling journey with.
Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.
- So, why stories? Well, stories are the currency of our lives. They keep us interested in things that matter, the things that connect us as human beings. So, the things that help you understand my mission in the world, and how that compare to your mission in the world.
- My name is Keith Yamashita. I'm the founder of SYPartners. We're a firm that believes in greatness and companies and individuals, and a big part of expressing your greatness is having other people understand you through your story. So, what should you expect?
- Well, together, we're going to first start by talking about why stories, and what kind of stories are there in the world, and especially the four types of stories that matter for you. We're going to think about the different components that make a great story. I'm going to share and teach with you components that when I call them out, you're going to say, "Yeah, I get that, " and the stories that I really admire, it had those components.
- I'm going to share for you something that I call story archetypes. Probably something you haven't had a lot of time to think about already, which is underlined the best and most fascinating stories are patterns that you're going to want to take advantage of. Then, of course, we'll craft your own story. We'll look at the components that matter to you, and how you want to share them, what language you want to use to share in the world.
- So, one of the questions is always, "What kind of prior knowledge do you need to do this course?" My answer is "None." If you've listened to a story, been enthralled by a story, been captivated by a story, that's all you really need. Everything else, we'll teach you in the class. So relax, have fun. Join in in this next section and we'll start, and begin together.
- So, let's talk a little bit about the exercise we're going to do together. What's the brief here? So, the brief is, to create a story together. That could be a story about you, or your team, or a brand, or a company. We'll literally start from a blank sheet of paper and then, assemble all of the key components you need to tell your story well.
- So, whether you're a freelancer, or you're an entrepreneur, or you own your own company, whether you're trying to convince a bank to give you money, or a candidate to come join your company, whether you're trying to land a new client by expressing what you can do, or you're trying to help a client, tell their story in the world. What we'll be doing together, is bringing all those elements together. So, that you can tell your story to the world, in a way that builds your confidence. Therefore, other people will believe you, and join you.
- So before we dig into your story, let's pause for a moment and talk about the different kinds of stories that people and leaders need to use to kind of really rally others. There are many, many, many different types but here are four that I think are really, really valuable.
- So one is what I call the story of me and it's about a person's personal telling of their world. You see this in literature and press, on the movies, and the news. One person I think is obviously extraordinary, this is Oprah Winfrey. So when Oprah gets up and tells her personal story about her upbringing, about the hardship in our lives, about their early years as a journalist and really before she figured out that what she really wanted to do was be a champion of other people and other people's stories, that whole arc when she tells it to you both legitimates Oprah as your guide and shepherd but also gives talent and credence to those she's interviewing.
- Another story that's worth thinking about is what I call the story of our company. So this is a group of people, it could be a loose collective or it could be a mega global company. Why do we exist? What's our purpose? What's important, and what really matters to us? One of them I particularly admire is Brian Chesky's story and the formation of Airbnb. Brian tells the story that he was in San Francisco for a technology conference and there was not a hotel room to be found. So some of his friends and enterprising people decided to rent out rooms in San Francisco. They saw opportunity where other people didn't. It's that core story that's become the story of Airbnb in our $25 billion disruptor in the hospitality industry.
- Another story is what I call the story of an idea. Of course the master at this was Steve Jobs. So anytime you've seen an apple introduction and he mesmerized you with the story of a new product or an idea in the world and showed you a possibility that you hadn't seen before, your mind was open to a new way that products could satisfy things in our world. Very early in my career, I had a great benefit of getting a personal demo from Steve Jobs of the yet to be released iPhone and I can tell you everything that happens on that grand stage as he does in an introduction is even more intense in person and you see this master storyteller captivate you with a vision of what this thing is going to become. So even though it's not ready for prime time, still had a few bugs in it, you can completely see what Steve saw in his own mind about this idea.
- The fourth kind of story is what I would call why these results. It's about outcomes and a real difference you're making in the world. I think an interesting person to study is Mark Zuckerberg. From his earliest days at Facebook, he's been talking about a world where all of us would be interconnected and in those first days, he talked about these results largely as a vision of the future, imagine a day when. If you follow his time at Facebook and that grand trajectory and listen to that same story today with more than a billion for people connected via Facebook, the stories are now real and vivid and show how this connection from human beings all across the planet is changing the face of humanity. It's the stories of results. It's talking about what we hope for but also what we've created that helps capture people's attention and draws them in to be part of your community.
- So what we're going to do in this course is you're going to choose one of these kinds of stories whether it's the story of me, or the story of us or our company, the story of an idea, or the story of results or the difference we want to make in the world. You're going to choose your version and your topic and together we're going to construct that story so that you can tell and share it with others.
- So, let's start making your stories. So, one of the first things you're going to want to do is download these sets of worksheets. So, think about stories. So, think about all the stories that have captivated you over your life. If you really examine them, they are built on components, and I want to share with you nine components that matter to stories. Now, not all nine will be in every story. In fact, some stories only have three or four of these components. But once you understand these components, you'll think differently about storytelling.
- One element is something that we call once upon a time. It's the dramatic opening or the stage center. Using that component well have grip people into your story.
- Another is what I would call a world view or it's kind of your lens, your angle, your perspective on why this story matters.
- A third component that you're going to want to think about is something we call great characters. So, who's the hero of your story? Who's the villain of the story? Who are ancillary characters who end up being important in the end? As you make the journey through this story, those characters are going to be what people pay attention to.
- Other things in a great story. Number four, challenging situations. So, as you're telling your story, you have to be able to spell out what was the challenge? What was the thing that was hard? Conflict, drama, lessons learned. All three of those are important components that you're going to want to think about.
- Almost all stories have something important called new possibility. In the telling of the story opens your eyes up to something that you haven't thought about before, or didn't know about, or something that was going to become important to you as you went on.
- The last element, of course, is happily ever after. What's the moral of the story? What's the ending of the story? Why does it matter for humanity? So now, let's dig in on the making of your story. Now, some of you are natural born storytellers for whom this comes very naturally. I think for the rest of us, we need a little bit of help. So, go back and pull out those worksheets. So, remember you thought a little bit about the topic of your story and the type of story. Now, it's time to jot down your thoughts about the nine components of your story. You might end up jotting notes down about a few of them, or maybe even all nine.
- So, the story I'm going to work on today is a story of Todd Holcomb. His story is a story of a 50-year-old who decided at 50 to completely change his career and pursue a new passion, which is he believes that the world really needs to be changed, and that students, adolescents, teenagers need to be mobilized and taught how to do that. So, his story is about how he went from the profession he was in to studying how students and teenagers learn, and then how to activate students largely through the schools that they go to act on the issues that they care about. So, go back to your story, the topic of your story. Go back to the type of your story. What I want you to do now is take out this worksheet with the nine different components on it. Take out a pen and jot down the key thoughts you have for each of the components. Just let it flow, capture any thought that comes to mind. Once you fill this worksheet out, you're going to see that certain components matter more than others. It's the ones that you've written the most interesting or most profound things. So, go do that work now, I'm going to work a little bit more on Todd's story. When we join back together, we'll put these components in an order that becomes a more powerful telling of the story that you want to express to others. So, now you've spent a little bit of time with your story and this worksheet of components. What I want you to do is take out a pair of scissors and cut them up into cards, because when they're in cards, you'll be able to look at these components in a new way. So, for Todd, as an example, I pulled new possibility, and it really talks about what he's been doing in education with students on projects for them to galvanize around the issues that matter to him and to them. Drama is another card that I filled out, and it's about what is possible at age 50? How does one remake one's career at age 50 to do a totally different thing? Is it actually possible to begin again? Is the idea itself of empowering teenagers to change their world a crazy idea to start with? I filled out a world view which is Todd says that, "Everyone can change the world. But if you really want to change the world, you have to start young." So, these are just some of the component parts of Todd Holcomb story. Use a pair of scissors, cut yours up, and then put them out in front of you because what you'll find is, when you look at each component part and their relationship to each other, you'll see new patterns that are worth doing. When you come back, we're going to think about what is the archetype of your story or these kind of age-old history proven ways of telling the story that are riveting. Come back and we'll do that work together to make your story even more powerful.
- So, now that you have the components of your story and they're out in front of you and you can see the different cards with your story, let me share one more thing about how to make your story more interesting and more gripping, which is to take advantage of patterns or I would call them archetypes of stories. These are the age-old ways people have told stories to capture your attention and keep you listening. Think about pretty much any favorite story you have. Whether it's Star Wars and the different episodes or Catcher in the Rye or simply a headline in USA Today, that makes you want to read more. Almost all of them will tap into a fundamental archetype.
- Online, you can download another set of tools to help you, they look like this.
- In them are different archetypes you might want to think about because each archetype helps you prove a different thing in the world. So for instance, you could have a story about coming of age, this is the Holden Caulfield story and Catcher in The Rye, you usually use this kind of archetype when you want to show that go through an experience makes you stronger.
- Another kind of archetype that matters is something we call overcoming obstacles. Almost all adventure stories are of this type. You use this archetype when you really want to show someone or something's resilience or their ability to come back.
- Another archetype is what I call constant evolution. You use this archetype when you're really trying to prove adaptability or an ability to change oneself, one's organization, one's brand to beat the changing conditions of the world. I think actually some great politicians fall into this category where they have to actually change their points of view on issues because the public has changed their points of view on an issue.
- True as it ever was, is an archetype where it's about constantly re-finding center, constantly re-finding home, constantly coming back to the thing that makes you unique and strong. Certainly from our own teams that we've worked with, IBM is a corporation over 140 years has constantly gone back to science and human thinking capacity as the thing that advances society forward. Every 10 years, they rejuvenate and renew that commitment to science and humanity.
- Another archetype that is very valuable and it's usually one that you use to explain a new position, journey or new direction is what we call an archetype of rebirth. So, it's we were this and we're being reborn as this. Certainly Apple and the comeback of Apple is a story that falls into that category.
- The last archetype in our worksheet is something I call quests. These are stories that show a re-commitment or a demonstration of true dedication. It's through the quest, it's the encountering of many obstacles along the way and the overcoming of them that matters. This is often useful in comeback stories, turnaround stories or stories that have to demonstrate extreme grit in the world.
- Think for a moment of each of these archetypes and which one might help you accomplish what you most want to accomplish with an audience. So, if we go back to Todd Okum the story I'm working on at age 50 changing his profession. If I really look at the archetypes here I think the one that is the most powerful telling of that story is the archetype around rebirth. So, reading over time, you've accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge. Today you're harnessing that to start a whole new chapter and become an even better version of yourself. Certainly without a doubt, this is an archetype that's great to explain Todd's new direction in life. Spend some time looking at the card, spend some time thinking about which archetype that works and rejoin me where we put those things together in the actual telling of your story.
- So let's craft your story. So, if we go back to the story I've been working on and Todd Holcomb, a couple of things are true. One is, we chose this archetype about rebirth. As the main archetype of historian, let me talk about some of the component parts. One component of this story is that there are a lot of lessons learned that Todd has gone back to school to get another teaching degree, and he's now using that in schools to invent programs so kids can learn about topics they're interested in doing and then do activist things and community.
- Another part here is the new work that he's doing, that he's developing a curriculum to help students make change, to teach design thinking to students. Another component here is what I call world view, which is that he has come to believe that everyone can change the world but it's especially powerful if you start young.
- Another component of our story is drama. His personal drama, can you really actually start at age 50 and remake yourself? Is it really possible to begin again? Is this idea of empowering students to make changes not just a crazy idea to start with?
- Then, challenging situations. When you're at 58 and you remake your career, where do you go to learn how to do these things and what do I actually need to learn?
- So, what I want you to do with your story is put your archetype out and put all the component parts out, and here's where you get really creative. A lot of storytelling, we think of it as this linear process, one thing leads to another. Profound stories come from mixing things up.
- So, in Todd's particular case, we could start with the world view and say, "Well, I believe this about myself, and therefore I just decided to embark on self-reinvention so I could reinvent others." Or we could decide, "Well, no, there's new possibilities in the world. Let me show you a world where students are really making change in their community and let me tell you my relationship with it."
- Or you might actually start with the drama of the story. This is a story of a 50-year-old who's trying to remake himself for a more relevant world. Part of this is about changing and constantly changing the order until you get something that you think will stick. Perhaps we start this way and tell our story, perhaps we need to do it this way and tell our story. So, just take some time and look at your archetype and your components, and keep rearranging them until you get them into an order that you think is really powerful.
- So, you've spent some time choosing your archetype and filling out the components of your story, and you even put them in an order that you think is the most powerful telling. So, now's the time to tell that story. You need to get it into words.
- Download this worksheet, which is called Crafting Your Story.
- What I'd like you to do is find some peace and quiet in your house, in the office, somewhere you like to work, and take a look at the cards in front of you, and just start jotting notes. Start telling that story in words. Draft it, take a look at it, have a cup of coffee, redraft it, redraft it again.
- Each person writes in your own way, so there's no correct way or wrong way to do this. But, I can give you some other helpful hints that a lot of people don't know about. So, sometimes, writing is difficult but speaking is easy. So, take out your mobile phone, tap a recorder icon and tell it as if you were telling it to a friend. Some people prefer a little bit of feedback while they do it. Actually sit down with someone at a cafe and tell your story.
- Other people prefer to work visually. Draw as a storyboard and then give words to it. There many, many creative tips on how to get your story on paper, the most important thing is that you spend the time to do it well. So, carve out time on your calendar, find a little bit of peace and quiet, and spend some time writing down the story and revise it as many times until you feel good about it, and proud about it.
- So, what have we done together in this lesson? Well, the first thing we did is talk about different types of stories that you need to tell and that leaders need to tell. The second thing is we went over nine components that you can use to assemble a powerful story. The third thing we did is we said, "Well, what archetype is the most powerful one to use in the telling of your story?" We mixed and matched, as our fourth step, the components that go into your story, and the fifth thing we did it started to draft that story for the world. So, where do we go from here? Here's what I would love to see.
- Take a moment, think about the story you've written, and then upload in the project gallery something that shows us where you are. It could be an early draft. It could be your worksheet. It could be a visual depiction of your story, or you could get really audacious, make a video about it and send us the video.
- The point is, every time you commit and turn something in, your story's going to get better, and more important than that, your skills are going to get better. So, I wanted to take a time, storytelling is the thing that connects us all as human beings. So, thank you for taking the time to do the work with us because I think it's been good for you, but I'm looking forward to a world where everyone can be a brilliant storyteller because that's a life we all want to live. Thank you.