The setting is Verona. There is a feud between two families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo (a Montague), meets and falls in love with Juliet, who is a Capulet. They wed in secret. Romeo then is banished from Verona for killing Tybalt. Romeo kills himself, Juliet kills herself, and the families then vow to end their fighting in honor of their children.
Is this the story of Romeo and Juliet? Sure, kind of. Is it an interesting story? Meh — not really. And why not? What is missing? You got it — the climax!
Let’s try to tell the story again, this time including that vital story element:
The setting is Verona. There is a feud between two families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo (a Montague), meets and falls in love with Juliet, who is a Capulet. They wed in secret. Romeo then is banished from Verona for killing Tybalt. Juliet is distraught, takes the potion from the friar, Romeo misses the message, Romeo finds Juliet “dead”. But she is merely sleeping! Romeo kills himself, Juliet kills herself, and the families then vow to end their fighting in honor of their children.
Much better this time around, no? That’s because without a strong climax, your story very well could just come off as “meh” — a reaction we definitely do not want from our audience! Think of your climax as the point of monumental change for your hero or heroine. That change may be positive or negative, and may happen in different ways for comedies and tragedies. However, after that big moment, nothing will be the same.
Here’s why the climax is such a vital point on our story map:
- The climax creates tension. Using our example of Romeo and Juliet — without the climactic moment of the discovery of Juliet’s “death”, it just becomes a sad story, not a devastating tragedy.
The climax leads to confrontation/realization. When the Montagues and Capulets learn the news of the lovers’ deaths, they are forced to confront the circumstances leading to this tragic turn of events.
- The hero meets the unknown. Certainly Romeo faces the greatest unknown when he commits suicide and leaves the world.
First, avoid convenience. Don’t make it too easy for the audience — you want them on the edge of their seat! You are typically the hero of the story within your presentation; if your story is about working with a challenging colleague and then they suddenly get transferred to another city, you’ve hardly created the tension required to make your story memorable and impactful.
Second, be true to the true story. Not telling a true story can get you into all kinds of trouble, so pick one that’s real and personal — trust yourself, you’ve got tons of great true stories you can use! If you just brainstorm a bit for a true story, you can flower the vocabulary, heighten the emotions, add some zing and pizzazz, and craft a story leading to a strong climax that will create tension and make way for the falling action.
A great rehearsal technique for developing your climax is simply telling your story out loud, to whoever will listen: a colleague, a friend, a family member. Watch their reaction when you reach the climax of the story: are they smiling? Do they gasp? If you’re not getting a strong reaction from your audience, you may want to spend some extra time working on this element to ensure that it makes the impact you desire.
How's your business storytelling going? With what are you succeeding or struggling? Shout it out in the comments. We'd love to cheer on your good work, or answer any big questions about your business story ideas.
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