3 Simple Ways to Start Your Story

How do you start your story?

Once upon a time… [wait no… that’s too cliche].
It was a dark and stormy night… [we’ve all heard that one before].
Just the other day… [hmmm… getting better…]

Let’s be honest – one of the hardest things to decide is where to start your story. If you don’t know where to begin, you don’t really know where to take things either. It’s easy to feel like you’re chasing your tail.

  • Do you start by figuring out the story of where you’re going?
  • Do you start by figuring out the story of where you’re coming from?

Storytelling can be complex and the information about storytelling, well, overwhelming. The good news, is that you can start either way — from the future (with a vision story) or the past (with an origin story). In this article I want to show you simple ways that you can dive right into telling your story (without fretting or worrying so much if you’re getting it right).

In a recent client workshop in New York City we unpacked this process, sharing some of my favorite ways to lead off any purposeful story. I shared six kick-off phrases that ANYONE can use to start a story in a way that’s compelling, uplifting, and inspiring. I like to think of it as Mad-Libs for transformational storytelling!

The story literally spills out of you, when you use one of these 6 kick-off phrases.

These 6 strategies are something we cover in great depth in our StoryU Online course Undeniable Story. Today, I want to share with you a few of them that are really important in setting the context and frame for your marketing, storytelling, and leadership efforts.

The first, a “future vision” story, is used when you want to describe your vision for change and growth. The second, your “origins” story, talks about where you are and where you’re coming from. Both stories are critical in terms of establishing the bounds of your story universe, and helping people to find themselves inside your world.

Here are three of my favorite ways to tell these stories.

Setting the right frame for your future vision story.

For a lot of us, we’re working on describing a world we imagine — the world we want to live in. But how do you tell the story of where you want to go in a meaningful way that doesn’t sound fantastical or unrealistic? How can you create a future-vision story that has your clients and prospects nodding, yes, totally, I believe you? How do you make it real?

At its heart, a story about the future is a story about possibility. We’re describing the way we want things to be — painting pictures of new ideas in the imaginations of our audience.

Here are three phrases to use to set up your own vision stories.

#1: “Imagine if …”

Imagine if is a really, really powerful phrase to start your story. It’s a way to ask your audience to suspend disbelief and imagine the following possibility — it’s a way to set up an invitation for people to connect to way they want or desire. Take a look at these examples:

Imagine if you could travel to any city around the world and feel like you’re living a little bit more like the locals. (This is the AirBNB story). 

Imagine if you had the convenience of driving a car without the expense and hassle of insurance, parking, and all the other stuff that stresses you out. (This is the ZipCar story).

Traditional sales has people starting off with a problem and then closing with the solution — yet what this does, unfortunately, is it raises fear in people’s minds (and pumps cortisol, the stress hormone throughout their body). Problems make us feel tired, overwhelmed, and depressed. Future-vision stories that are anchored in possibility are providing an invitation, an uplift, a boost to your audience emotionally. When you invite people to imagine, you bring them into a space to begin to see the world in a new way.

Next comes the important part:

So you first is to set the stage with your “Imagine If…” phrase. It’s critical that you follow up with people and show them the picture you’re painting already exists.

For example, with ZipCar:

“Guess what? That possibility is already real. Let me show you how it’s already happening…”

It’s important in an possibility story to not wander so far off into dreamland that your listeners become skeptics, shaking their heads in disbelief. You need to show them where it’s working in the world. Say, “not only is this an amazing idea, it’s already real.”

Then introduce the creative tension. Only at this point, your story talks about the obstacles and challenges. How do we bring to scale this idea to all the cities of the world? How can you take your classroom of 100 and bring your breakthrough curriculum to life for 1,000 students?

To recap, here’s the three step sequence:

  • “Imagine if…”
  • “Let me show you how it’s real…”
  • “Yet there’s obstacles that stand in the way of this promise being more available”

Interested in more storytelling tips? Try The Red Pill, my free 5-day email course that helps you get your story straight.

#2: Here’s what excites me…

This is another great way to start your story.

The phrase “Here’s what excites me” is a really easy way to talk about what you’re passionate about and paint a picture about where things are headed in the world.

For example:

Here’s what excites me about how technology is making it really easy for people to express themselves and use their voice…

Here’s what excites me about what’s happening in the classroom, both online and in person, today.

Here’s what excites me about some of the environmental changes people are making in their lives.

You always want to tell a story that excites you. Why? Because our emotions are contagious. So, start from the place of what turns you on. What’s cool? What’s intrigues you? What gets you all hot and bothered?!? Paint the picture of the exciting changes you see happening and this will others excited — yet only if YOU are excited too.

What these phrases have in common.

All of these little phrases have one thing in common: they serve as an invitation. They have an underlying emotion — a curiosity that invites people, draws them in. Emotional content is what lifts people up. They initiate attraction and engagement. Because we’re all naturally drawn to things that are expansive and have energy. They create a space between you and your audience, and invite the excitement of possibility to take ahold of both of you.

When telling future vision stories, start with an invitation, a possibility. Then introduce the creative tension. (This is the Feel Good Principle that we talked about earlier).

Possibilities are an invitation. When we talk about possibility, we get people turned on and excited about what is possible. From this place, magic happens.

What about your origins story?

How do you talk about where you’ve come from?

While a Vision Story transports us into the future, an Origins Story talks about your past: who you are, where you come from, and what have you done. Knowing how to talk about the past, in a succinct, pithy, and relevant manner can be anxiety producing for many of us. We don’t know what to say, without feeling like we’re bragging, boasting, or being a bore.

Which is why we have several catch phrases we love at Get Storied that help people jump into their Origins Story in a way that’s easy, exciting, and invites the listener in.

Here’s one of my favorites:

#3: “I remember when…”

A member of our StoryU tribe, Sarah Peck, worked for a number of years at an architecture firm before transitioning to her life in writing and design communications. In the architecture world, the transformation from the paper world to the digital world upended the industry in less than a decade. It was common to hear people talk about how much things changed by using the phrase, ‘I remember when…” to describe the rapid changes happening to her organization.

I remember when we used to do everything by hand… I remember when we used to scan and Fed-Ex drawings to our clients; now we can send blueprints digitally in just a few seconds!

If you’re part of the start-up craze, you’ll hear founders say things like: “I remember when we were a startup, drinking crappy Folgers coffee and working out of our garage.”

The key phrase “I remember when” let’s you acknowledge how far things have come, and what’s continue to change for your organization, industry or sector. It allows you to be circumspect.  By reminding people of the past, you can create a contrast frame with the unfolding future, and again how excited you are of the new possibilities ahead.

“I remember when we used to do things this way, and look how far we’ve come since them.”

Let people understand where you’re coming from.

The key with Origins Stories is that you use them as a way of offering perspective. Origin Stories lay the foundation for your faith in the future and what’s coming ahead. By sharing what you’ve accomplished so far, you can inspire confidence in where things are going.

“I have no doubt we’re going to get through this,” you can say. “I’m so excited about these opportunities.” “If we’ve done this much since we began, imagine where we can go in the next five, ten years ahead.”

Origin stories create rooting and foundation. These story frames let you show not only who you are, but where you’ve come from — and, if you want to string two stories together, it sets the stage for you to paint a picture of where you want to go.

How do you start your stories?

These are three of our favorite ways to start your vision and origin stories — three easy mad-lib phrases that kick things off with the right tone and frame for your message.

Share with us your own catch phrases or let us know what your vision story is in the comments below! We love reading your stories and we’d love to hear what you have to say.



37 thoughts on “3 Simple Ways to Start Your Story”

    1. Ah yes, the Quentin Tarantino approach. Depending on the topic and the audience, that can work really well. For stories very early or very late in the day, I’ve found that the invitational approach is more widely accepted by the audience, and we are at their mercy.

        1. Because jumping right into the action in the middle of story and then giving the backstory is a device often used on Quentin Tarantino movies. It can work really well.

    2. Hi Matt

      From a performance standpoint – you’re totally right, jumping right into the action can make a lot of sense.

      In a professional setting, most people don’t know where or how to start their story…i.e. organize their thinking. And if people are afraid to dive in, they won’t do it at all. Thus, my desire to demystify for folks, there’s always some simple easy ways to start a story (that has the purpose of educating on future vision or origins of where you come from).


  1. these are all very useful and I love the way you thread them together and make them very conversational. and I really like your Zip car narrow the GDP point.. make the future plausible by pointing out it’s already here but you didn’t notice – I learned that from
    Shawn C and Madelyn B. .. I want to propose that there’s a pre origins moment: what started Sparknow? I suppose it really began when… Also there’s direction of time travel: when I look back it’s hard to believe we’ve got to where we are today. So there are two selves, the telling self and the self in the story. I find that useful because it also allows me to look at and describe myself in the action. Also I remember when is very different, because told from outside the story than ‘when I wind back and relive those early days/my first impressions’ …

    1. Love it Vic! Some very useful nuances for the advanced storyteller. You’re speaking to the way in which we are in the story, and acting upon the story at the same time. Holding two selves…that are one. That’s some deep sh*t! Thanks for inviting us to go there. I can always count on you for deep reflections.

  2. Great post Sarah! Getting started and then connecting all the dots at the end can be challenging. You’ve made some helpful suggestions on getting started and giving the audience a context. Setting the context is critical for gaining understanding and making the connection. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Awesome article. This helped me so much. I’ve been working on my own story for a few months now. Loved your book Believe Me. found my way to your site. Im still testing my approach but getting there with what works. Although I also believe Im yet to tap into certain communities where I will find my audience. Spiritual based tours require I think an invitation approach, I love the Imagine if……:-)

    1. Not to be rude but perhaps you should try and focus on your grammar as well. I’d put more effort into that. But I really hope you get good grades! Good luck!

  4. I just wanted to say thanks Michael for making you business approach available. Your storytelling abilities really are easy to read and easy to get. Applying them is a whole other story. Hopefully I’ll demonstrate your lessons sooner than later in my sales business, and send you chocolates when I get results.

  5. Diona Krysanthe

    I read this and I decided I would start with We’ve been running almost all our lives …

    1. Diona Krysanthe

      Sorry if this isn’t ment for fantasy stories but I used it anyway because it came up on googleas the first thing I accually could read without getting really confused.

  6. Really enjoyed the article. How about this?

    I remember sitting on the sofa staring up at the ceiling and imagining this amazing chandelier. The
    flat was rented and I was in the middle of a life meltdown! It became almost like a meditation staring at the bare lightbulb and imagining. Feeling pretty alone and in financial trouble because my previous business had disappeared with my relationship. I decided I just couldn’t bear to spend money I didn’t have on another depressing lamp shade, Id honestly rather have the bare bulb. I could see this lovely funky artsy chandelier clearly, it must be there somewhere. I scoured the shops both online and locally but nowhere could I find what I was searching for. What I could see didn’t exist it seemed, except inside my head!

    I’m a creative soul and I’ve spent my life in the creative arts in one way or another and I’m not a huge fan of massed produced. I’m no different from you, I like my home to be filled with warmth and individuality. In that white square room I badly wanted a splash of vibrancy, something individual
    and different that would make me smile!

    Here’s what really excites me – making something real from something imagined! What if I could
    create the light I was looking for and make it real? It became my journey back to life. So many of the chandeliers I found cost huge amounts of money, I wanted to make lights that were different, gorgeous, could co-ordinate with any colour scheme and didn’t cost the earth. I had never even worked in glass and had no idea how to even begin. The chandelier I actually made for myself was a very homemade affair, I decided to use recycled glass first off because its all I had, but later because its both characterful and works for the planet (yes Im a little bit of a hippy – I am an artist afterall!).

    I loved that first chandelier so much, it really did make me smile and apparently it made others smile too because now I make chandeliers and lamps for lots of people. People like me who aren’t crazy about mass produced and are looking for something special with some spirit and some originality to light their homes – an actual one off, like them and like me! http://www.loverslights.com

  7. Me when trying to figure out what to start my story with…

  8. i love writing stories they take me to a different world altogether and its the only way i can get away from my wife and children.

  9. HI Michael, thank you for the useful artikel.

    “Origin stories create rooting and foundation. These story frames let you show not only who you are, but where you’ve come from — and, if you want to string two stories together, it sets the stage for you to paint a picture of where you want to go.”

    Do you mean you can string a origin and future vision story together?

    Much love


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