Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job

Author Philip Pullman wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Whether we’re talking about life, business, or art, storytelling is an essential skill. Maybe even THE most essential skill. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

Whether it’s your own personal bio, a summary for your company’s “about” page, or a pitch to a major client, fitting everything important into a concise yet engaging narrative is a challenging task. So we turned to performer, comedian, and storytelling guru David Crabb to share his storytelling framework. It’s called the Five Beats of Storytelling, and you can use it to make any story more interesting, engaging, and memorable.

For example, let’s say you’re a business major-turned-illustrator who’s jumped from finance to freelance and is now seeking an in-house position. When the interviewer asks about your work history, you’ll want to convey how your background is relevant, your excellent work ethic, and your passion for the position. The five beats can help you hit your mark AND keep your audience engaged. Here’s how it breaks down:

Beat 1: The introduction

Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important. According to Crabb, this is the only beat that should include any summary.

Example: Although my formal education is in business, I’ve always been infatuated with illustration. In college my textbooks were filled with sketches instead of notes, and I used to drop in on calligraphy and drawing classes whenever I could.  

Beat 2: The inciting incident

The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge. This is a great place to show vulnerability; people are often wary of doing this in professional scenarios, but it makes a big impact when it’s done well. If you share struggles or failures in the beginning, the accomplishments that you describe later will resonate even more with your audience since they will be rooting for you to succeed.

Example: After graduating I accepted a job at Goldman Sachs as a junior associate. I was the envy of all my business classmates, and knew I was lucky to have such a high-paying gig straight out of school, but part of me knew something wasn’t quite right, and I felt like an imposter when I put on my suit every morning.

Beat 3: Raising the stakes

A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident. This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable. People glaze over when you focus too much on broad strokes; details give your story a local habitation and a name. Crabb says, “This can be as simple as the difference between, “I went to Art College in Detroit” versus “I went to college in Detroit – you know, Motor City – but I opted for Art School instead of a job at GM.” At this point your audience should understand the inciting incident and be intrigued as to how your story will end.

Example: Even though I was working long hours, I would still rush home, open Illustrator and spend my nights sketching ideas for children’s books, making logos for friends, and developing a whole cast of characters inspired by coworkers and celebrities. Sometimes I’d even forget to eat dinner because I’d be consumed by whatever creation was in front of me. It was a crazy time, and definitely not sustainable.

Beat 4: The main event

This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax). This is either the answer to the question we asked in the second beat or where the protagonist solves his or her dilemma — a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur.

Example: After two years of sleepless nights, I knew I had to make a change. Even though waving goodbye to a steady paycheck went against everything I’d learned in business school, I knew I had to give my need to create room to grow. So I quit my first and only corporate gig and ventured out on my own, confirming to my friends and family that I was crazy.

Beat 5: The resolution

In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique. If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned. This is also where you could try to sell something — if you’re using storytelling as part of a pitch — or recap your competency if applying for a job.

Example: I’ve been creating new works almost everyday since, including a line of letter-pressed greeting cards and freelance illustrations for children’s books. With that in mind, I’m ready for the next challenge, and I’m confident that joining the team at [insert cool creative company here] is the absolute best fit for me.

What’s your experience?

Do you have any tips or tricks to make your stories more memorable?

More insights on: Self-Marketing

Jenn Tardif

more posts →
Jenn is a Product & Marketing Manager at Adobe and a Yoga Teacher. Formerly, she was the Associate Director of Partnerships for Behance and the Sr. Marketing Manager for The Drake Hotel. Say hello on Twitter.
load comments (43)
  • Otiti Jasmine

    I find it easier to tell stories when I speak straight from my experience, i.e. share how it REALLY feels to survive crippling major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and what it takes to make something of yourself afterwards.

    The challenge becomes turning something most people find uncomfortable into a learning experience that spurs my readers to live more fulfilling and engaging lives.

    I always talk about the present moment. All we have is now to be who we want to be and go where we want to go. so if we’re longing to create, to lead, to teach, to inspire, to love . . . what are we waiting for? Now is the time to do it with what we have. Now is the time to start where we are. Now is the time to fly high and soar beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings.

    How do we do all that? By showing up as fully as we can in the present moment and letting our hearts lead the way. I believe your heart will lead you home. Mine did.

    And that’s how I rock my storytelling jam sessions on my blog and in person. :)

    Thanks for writing this, Jenn!

  • certifyD

    Very nice point of view. During an interview t’s so important to be transparent and relatable without sound fake or rehearsed. Showing our human side, specially our failures, and how we have managed to learn while keeping our standards, ethics and passion intact can be the most memorable and convincing case we can make to a potential client, employer or co-worker.

  • Edwina@WINONAINC

    Perfect! Everyone enjoys a good story.

  • Pete R.

    Perfect breakdown of the story telling process. Very easy to digest these in. Thanks for the article Jenn. :)

  • gibberishincorp

    don’t think it’ll work for me.

    • João de Almeida

      why not?

  • Aaron Morton

    The function of a story is to engage the imagination of the other person. After this the other person has to form a conclusion on you as a person (we can’t help but do that) So when telling a story it is important in knowing what you want the purpose of the story to convey. Is it to infer you are a maverick, a thinker, a spontaneous carefree creative. Either way you can not NOT communicate so the story you tell will have an impact on the other person, it is your skillset in telling a story that will determine what that impact is.

    Aaron Morton
    The Confidence Lounge

  • João de Almeida

    Great stuff

  • Paul Towlson

    Great post. Any story needs tension and resolution, otherwise there’s no story. I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With A 1000 Faces, his idea of the heroes journey is also a great framework for compelling messages.

  • D. Lee

    this is a great article, it pretty much anwsers the questions i have about writing my about page, thanks Jenn

  • Cesar Idrobo

    This is a great article! it complements a similar article I wrote on about staying creative in your career. Check it out here

  • Dawn Thomas

    Great examples. Thanks for the info.

  • Mike

    ha! this is genius… need to start doing that!

  • Eoin

    Stories always work

  • Gurudatt Kundapurkar

    Excellent idea which most will hesitate, thinking it an unproductive compilation of one’s failures. Lessons learnt from one’s mistakes and one’s creative growth are interdependent. A prospective employer will also count this introspective attitude as an expression of inner spiritual strength.

  • mike rana

    How much of story telling is real and how much faked, where lies the balance. I am writing the novel, A mystery in the Clouds.. what do you infer from the title

  • Monica Aranda

    Awesome stuff, my exact feelings right now… sadly sometimes I’m very afraid to make a change but, it’s what we need to do to survive… thank you very much for sharing this!

  • ryanterryworks

    I made a “creature profile” for my resume to give a quick glimpse at my personality and the work I’ve done.

    • Sam


      • ryanterryworks

        Thanks, Sam!

    • Lance Poole

      This is really cool Ryan. Great stuff.

      • ryanterryworks

        Thanks a lot!

    • Robyn

      Ryan, you’re work is fantastic. Very enviable of those design skills.

      • ryanterryworks

        Thanks, Robyn. :-)

    • Gregory Kerns

      Ryan, your work is amazing. The one thing that makes your story interesting is you’ve established a character. I applaud Jenn for accurately outlining the story beats, but beats are meaningless without an interesting character (protagonist) to make us care about what happens from one beat to the next. Nice job Ryan.

      • ryanterryworks

        Wow, thanks a lot, Gregory. Much appreciated.

    • Milhealth

      Ryan, that is really COOL! What did you use to create that? (besides pure talent), e.g. apps

  • Chester Frame

    As a Theater major, M.A. Washington State, I understand beats. As the owner of an International Business Consulting company, I understand the power of illustrative stories. Thank you for bringing the two together.

  • Angelina Sereno

    I think I already do this when sharing stories with friends and colleagues but will be interesting to consciuosly apply in a business setting or with my video work!

  • R. Milton

    I love this article and the tips that are shared within it. I believe sharing stories adds a bit of personality to an interview or resume and gives you the opportunity to stand out. As I continue my job hunt I will certaintly be adding these tips to my routine.

  • Career Passion Coach

    Beautifully done. I like the idea of the Beats providing a rhythm to the story. I teach the STAR — Situation, Thinking, Action, Result–method to my clients, but this has come great nuances. Thanks!

    • EssaySnark

      The STAR structure is indeed useful. We teach it “Situation, TARGET (as in, “goal to work towards”), ActionS (always plural), Result.”

  • Nin Leavitt

    Great article! I will be back to set my “beats.”

  • quills52

    Brilliant idea. I’ve had more “challenges” than I can keep track of. All they’ve done is build up resentment. This is an excellent (and therapeutic) way to turn those resentments into positive, useful material. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tuhin Verma

    I challenge myself with visual story telling with every client pitch or work presentation. Story telling is like a miracle and has magical results.

  • Guesst

    If you convert this narrative to other jobs, you begin to realise how jobs in the arts are really kooky. Imagine: I sat in art class at school and I just couldn’t stop myself from solving equations all around the sides of my life drawing. I couldn’t wait to get home and balance my family’s books. My mother went crazy when she discovered all my accountancy magazines, which I’d kept hidden under my bed for years. I finally had to make the break when I was 18. Dad, I said, I know you wanted me to follow you into the theatre, but I’ve made up my mind: I have to give Accountancy my best shot, or I’ll never know if i can really make an Excel spreadsheet sing.

  • EssaySnark

    This advice is spot-on brilliant for telling stories in MBA admissions essays, too. Excellent article, we’ll be sharing it!

  • Milhealth

    It is really awesome … I look at a lot of websites and yours was really cool! Thanks … and I wish you all the best! ke

  • Airlight


    Thanks for bringing that across. Your point is good and the article fine, but presenting this as storytelling is in the same way we see the formations on the moon and give them names and shapes – it points to the reality instead of actually holding it.

    Allow me to contribute to the description, from a storytelling perspective.

    Let’s start with some basics: what a story is, is actually the journey of a soul through the world (read: time and space) to gain one of the qualities that it needs/lacks.

    These qualities are always – ALWAYS – related to the truth. True mission, true call, true form, true self, true being, etc. Because this is our essence, and this is our goal. This is what eventually makes us divine – the aspiration to the truth.

    This is in fact what makes it a story. This is what connects it to the audience: as long as we sense the truth of the story, we stay hooked. If it’s not there, it’s marketing :)

    Put that in your article.

    Then there is a dance, or a cycle, that does have discrete stages – in the sense that one can perceive the distinct types of the cycle vibration the soul is going through – which can be six, as per your model, or twelve as per mine – in which the soul rides a certain wave, or set of concerted waves, that will eventually lead him to reaching, or not reaching (this is what a tragedy is) the quality that is evoked/called into being in the first place.

    More things to notice: by looking at the initial world (“the ordinary world”, as Campbell calls it), there is in existence an echo, a musical note of pain – the sound of missing, the sound of lack: to that sound we resonate when we grab the story, as the soul tries to reach catharsis by means of metaphor and participation.

    Getting the quality that started the journey is almost always a matter of _internal choice_ of that soul that, done once, spins the story spiral upwards or downwards, depending what type of story this is. The choice is hard, because in order to gather more light, a shadow needs to be stripped off, and that’s in fact the crux of the process of soul development.

    Running away with the obtained quality and bringing it back to the world Promethaeus-style is what welds the audience to the story, because their souls can sense that the benefit is coming their way. That’s why we root for people to succeed: because that’s a promise that we will, too.

    “Resolution” is a bit more delicate in fact, and has, to my discernment of now, two or three distinct stages: the soul is first appropriating the missing quality, then is tested to be able to hold it, then it brings it out to the world (Return with the Elixir by Campbell) only to offer it to everyone – the true, unseen beneficiary of the quality from the start.

    If you need any other details on storytelling, I look forward to offer them to you. Exactly like in the manner presented above, this is an elixir that I went on a personal journey to find, only to figure out that it is not mine, but everyone should have it.

    Kind regards,


    • Suzanne Hale

      IN other words, stories are always about the pursuit of a greater truth?

  • Ash Srivastava

    Jenn – Thank you !! Appreciate you writing this article and exposing us to a new way to think about stories.

  • claudia cunningham

    Excellent! Concise examples and a framework of explanation I clearly understand and can utilize. Thank you.

  • Rachel

    I have shared this on our social midea sites everybody loved it –

blog comments powered by Disqus

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,146 other followers