How to Use Story to Captivate and Connect with Any Audience

It was just prior to my college graduation. Several of my friends, with whom I had spent the better part of four years, and I decided to get together with our fiancées.

There was a sudden knock on the door. One of my friends opened the door and three masked men forced their way into the house and demanded we all get down on the floor.

The last thing I heard from my now wife was her yelling my name and then there was silence. I did exactly what they said, scared beyond words and hoping to somehow save both of us. Without warning, they placed a hood over my head, wrestled me to my feet, and shoved me out the door and into the back of an SUV. I tried to talk to my captors, but they said nothing.

After what seemed like an eternity, the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. I heard commotion outside, and then the back door opened. I was pulled out rather forcefully. I remember thinking, “This is it …”

My captors pulled the hood off my head and removed theirs so I could see them face to face. I couldn’t believe that I was staring into the eyes of … four of my coworkers, who burst into uproarious laughter! They had actually staged the kidnapping to get us to a surprise graduation party they were hosting for us at a hotel. I didn’t think it was quite so funny.

The right story is powerful, isn’t it? It has the power to shift emotions, change thinking, and create need. Thus, it is a vital skill for both new and experienced copywriters to learn.

Using story in copywriting is magical for a number of reasons.

The use of story largely bypasses the reader’s inner critic. Most people who read copy know that they are being sold and their resistance level is high. But that same resistance level is virtually nonexistent with the telling of the story. It is almost as if the critical mind is suspended and rational thought is placed on hold.

The use of story in copywriting also creates emotion. The right story at the right time told in the right way grips the reader, pulling them in and making them a part of that story. They become emotionally involved and suddenly it is now their story. They begin participating in the unfolding adventure.

Story can help you capture the reader’s attention, communicate your message, and convince them to take part in your irresistible offer. So here is a five-step process that will help the newbie or experienced writer put the power of story to work.

The first step in the process of story is deciding on the core point you want to make.

Everything starts here. It is the equivalent of your “one Big Idea” in copywriting. Don’t shortchange this first step. Take great pains to boil the point of your story down to a few words. Make it crisp and simple. I could use my opening story to make several different points. One might be “not all things are exactly as they appear” or “turning a problem into a party.”

The second step in the process of story is determining the context.

Some might call this the setting. It helps to provide a proper context and the backdrop against which the conflict will play out. When handled carefully, it engages the reader emotionally and begins to involve them in the story.

The third step in using story is defining the complication.

It’s imperative to answer the question, “What is the main problem that I am attempting to solve for my reader?” Every service or product we write about is designed to solve a problem or help the reader face a challenge. Our job as copywriters is to connect the dots for the reader from their problem to our solution.

The fourth step is the turning point or the climax.

This is the part of the story in your copywriting where you show how things change and how those changes will affect the final outcome.

The final step is conversion.

This is where all the parts of the story come together and the solution to the problem is revealed in its simplest form. Usually, it is followed by the offer because the product or service really is the solution for the reader.

So how do these elements come together?

One of the best illustrations of this is an ad that begins with the famous headline “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano. But When I Started to Play …” Its creative genius was that of legendary copywriter John Caples, and it was a control for many years.

The copy concludes with an offer for the prospect to purchase “teach yourself” music lessons. What follows is the breakdown of this story.

Core: You can amaze your family and friends by teaching yourself to play the piano or any musical instrument, as well as wow your critics.

Context: The man in the story was mocked by the crowd and by the more experienced pianist in the past.

Complication: The same man was both embarrassed and ashamed that he couldn’t play the piano. He felt the humiliation of being “less than” the other musician.

Climax: After much heckling by the audience and displaying a bit of showmanship, the man began to play and the room fell silent with amazement. Members of the audience congratulated him and inquired as to how he had learned to play so well in such a short time.

Conversion: The man explains that things changed for him when he took a “teach yourself the piano” correspondence course from the U. S. School of Music, which offered a myriad of other courses too!

Caples, in this one short ad, masterfully captures the problem and provides the solution. He then wraps it all up in one dramatic story.

Where do you find more stories for copywriting? The good news is that they’re all around you. Start observing life more closely. Remember that everything that happens is grist for the copywriter’s mill.

The potential of using story in your copywriting is limitless! Why not think of five to 10 incidents from your own experience that you could shape and use in your copywriting? Then employ this five-step formula to organize them and shape them into something magical.

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Published: June 12, 2012

2 Responses to “How to Use Story to Captivate and Connect with Any Audience”

  1. Children love stories. Whether it is Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White or Rapunzel, we seem to be hooked from the outset.

    Hollywood movies are successful because we love a good story. A blockbuster means the producer, director, actors and supporting staffers have done their job well.

    The moment you are a part of the "marketing mix" of public relations, sales, advertising, etc. you know you have to be a good story-teller.

    Thanks for the timely reminder. I am sure your readers will appreciate it.

    Archan MehtaJune 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  2. Bob, a brilliant article written by a brilliant, gifted, artistic writer...sadly, you guys have so much talent that you fail to realise the difficulties we mere mortals have to contend with...remembering all those stories for one...then converting them into something more than a pedestrian regurgitation of proceedings about as interesting as a shopping list for another...Your writing is full of fire and intrigue, immediately snatching the readers' imaginations and dragging them willingly or otherwise into the depths of your tale...your writing is infectious and irresistible and above all, INSTINCTIVE...That's why you are successful and we are not...you have genuine talent...the truth is that most of us "pretenders" will never experience the dizzy heights that are your destiny no matter how much we try to "fake it until we make it"

    Gavin MJune 12, 2012 at 10:41 pm


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