The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

The sport landscape is full of great stories. Those working in the field have a unique opportunity to bring those stories to life and tell them in a way that’s compelling and thoughtful.

In SIRC’s October 14 Experts in the House webinar, Storytelling in sport: Why it Matters, and How to Master it, Jill Sadler of blueprint North America provided a practical framework to craft better stories, using examples and webinar participant ideas throughout.

Below is a video recap of the session and a Q&A blog with Jill, answering some of the questions posed by participants.

This was the sixth session in SIRC’s new webinar series, Experts in the House. Register now for upcoming sessions, and look back on previous sessions.

Please note: this webinar recap has been edited for brevity.

Q&A:

Q: In your view, story success depends on the D-A-D process. Can you walk us through what separates this three-letter acronym from other storytelling best practices and tips?

There are many different components to storytelling – structure, delivery, body language, timing, etc. Where we find people have the most trouble is figuring out WHAT story to tell. The D-A-D acronym provides three steps to help with the story building process:

  • Define the message you want the listener to receive. Do you want them to hear a story of overcoming obstacles? Do you want them to hear a story of an ‘aha moment’? If you spend a few moments defining the message you want them to receive, it sets you up well for finding a scenario from your past that you didn’t even realize could be an interesting story to tell.
  • Ask yourself when this has occurred in the past. Reflect on your experiences to pull out an incident that might have seemed small at the time as a brilliant story to tell in the context of your overall message.
  • Deliver the story with detail and drama. Remember to focus on HOW you go about sharing the story.

The acronym is really about supporting one of the toughest parts of storytelling – finding an appropriate story that fits the message.

Q: What are the 5 key elements of a great story?

  1. Relatable Character – The audience has to be able to relate to the person or situation in the story. It doesn’t have to be that they’ve experienced that EXACT scenario, but they have to be able to say “I felt the same way when…”.
  2. Emotion – We know that emotions, not logic or fact, is what holds our attention, creates a bond with the storyteller and generates empathy for the overall story.
  3. A moment – A good story has a defining moment where things change. It’s when Cinderella leaves her shoe behind at midnight. It’s when the boy rushes to the airport but misses catching the girl on her flight by 1 minute. These are the moments that tell you a new normal is about to be established. It creates suspense and a desire to hear more.
  4. Enough detail – Skimming over details like the smell of the fire or the pink hue of the sunset deprives the listener of connecting to the situation. So give enough detail that the listener can picture themselves there but not so much that they lose interest. There is a fine balance!
  5. Structure – A beginning, a middle and an end. A baseline, a moment and a new baseline. All great stories have a structure to them. Think of your favourite fairy tale and you’ll see a predictable structure to follow.

Q: Are there differences in effective storytelling in different mediums or platforms e.g. written form, audio, video or otherwise?

Definitely. We know that body language, pacing of speech, and intonation all play a role in how a story is told. As such, the medium can really affect the outcome. If you’re in person, you have access to all of those physical components of delivering the message. Being on video gives you many of those same opportunities.

In audio form, you may work a little harder at pacing, leaving pauses for effect, or exaggerating the changes in tone to make the point a little clearer. When you can’t physically lean in to your audience like you would in an in-person session, you might take your voice to a really low whisper in audio to give the same suspenseful effect.

In written form, you lose the components I’ve just mentioned so you’ll need to create those emotions through the language. You may end up being a little more descriptive in written word to more clearly paint the picture for the audience.

Although there are differences based on the medium, take comfort in knowing the fundamentals are the same. Does the story match the message you’re trying to relay, does it have an effective structure, and have you delivered it with detail and drama to keep the audience engaged?

Q: There are a growing number of competing voices online, combined with increasingly shorter audience attention spans. What does this mean for storytellers, and for those aspiring to get better?

I would have two pieces of advice here:

  1. Work hard on a compelling hook. A hook is the thing at the beginning that gets the listener interested. Perhaps startle the audience with the first line, choose a surprising setting, or begin with a life changing moment. If you can start with a great hook, the reader will give you permission to take them beyond the average eight second attention span.
  2. Don’t be shy to tell a short story. We’ve talked about delivering with detail and drama and that holds true to all storytelling, but it is possible to tell a very short story and still paint the picture. Wired magazine asked a number of sci-fi authors to write a story in only 6 words. William Shatner came up with this:

“Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.”

It is possible to convey meaning, emotion and a message in just six words.

Q:  What’s the most common mistake or pitfall when delivering stories?

The most common mistakes we see in storytelling would be:

  • Choosing a story that doesn’t fit the message,
  • telling a story that’s only interesting to you and not the audience,
  • not having any conflict, and
  • making it too long.

Q:  Who are some of your favourite storytellers?

Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Bob Costas, Simon Sinek, Malala Yousafzai, John Wooden and Roald Dahl to name a few. I think CBC offers some fantastic storytellers right in our own backyard – Stuart MacLean, Terry O’Reilly, and I can’t leave out Bob MacDonald!

Q:  Finally, can you recommend a few resources we can use to continue to build our storytelling expertise?

There are some fantastic resources available to help improve your storytelling skills – here are a few places to go:


For more webinar content and to register for future sessions, check out SIRC’s full series – Experts in the House.


About the Author(s)

Jill Sadler conceived of her first business at the age of 12. It was a woodworking business and despite not knowing anything about woodworking nor owning any required equipment, her passion for generating ideas and building a plan was evident. Jill went on to lead Marketing, Sales and Operations teams in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors for over 20 years, including roles with Maple Leaf Foods, Atlantic Lottery, The National Arts Centre, and La-Z-Boy.

Jill is currently the VP of Learning & Development for Blueprint North America – an organization committed to building confidence in individuals, teams and organizations on both sides of the border. This means she spends half of her time studying, and developing, adult learning strategies and the other half of her time in large rooms with thousands of sticky notes. Whether it’s a negotiation workshop, a creative thinking webinar, or a strategic planning session, Jill is always looking to help individuals stretch beyond their perceived capabilities.

Jill holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Mount Allison University (2000), a Master’s of Science in Business degree from Queen’s University (2007) and hopes to one day complete a PhD in Organizational Psychology. When Jill doesn’t have her nose in a leadership book or a strategic plan, she can be found playing volleyball, swimming with her two kids, losing crib matches to her husband, having a glass of wine with friends or enjoying the performing arts in Ottawa.