There’s an incredibly strong urge that comes over us, right when we end an anecdote, to explain what the story means. This urge seems especially strong when we tell a story at work. We’ll finish it and then go on and say something like, ‘So, what this means is …’
You must resist this urge as you’ll kill the potential impact of your story. You’re implicitly saying, ‘It’s clear you don’t have the ability to make sense of this story so I’m going to tell you what it means’. It’s like telling a joke and then saying, ‘So the reason why that’s funny is because …’
It’s much better to let your listener make sense of the story themselves. That way they own the interpretation, and as we know, we are much more persuaded and motivated by our own ideas.
So how can you end a story then? Here are a few options.
That’s right. At the end of the story, just pause and then move on to the next point. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it’s effective.
Ask a question
Stories often spark other stories in your listeners’ minds, so why not ask them what’s popped into their heads. It becomes a conversation. So you finish your story and then say something like, ‘Does that remind you of any of your own experiences?’ or ‘Did that spark anything for you?’
Share what the story made you think
This doesn’t mean telling the listener what they should think. Rather, you share what the story got you thinking about. There’s a subtle but important difference here, and you still get the opportunity to reinforce some ideas. So when your story ends, say something like, ‘You know, that experience got me thinking …’ or ‘When I heard that story it really got me thinking about …’
Tell them you’ve finished
In traditional oral storytelling, it’s common practice to just tell the audience you’ve finished the story with a standard phrase such as, ‘So that was the story of …’ Movies often use a version of this, simply finishing with ‘The End’.
It would be difficult to get away with either of these endings in a work setting, but I’ve heard a few variations you might want to try out. Mike Rowe finishes each story in his popular podcast with, ‘So that’s the way I heard it’. I’ve also heard people finish a story by saying, ‘Well, so I believe’.
Reiterate your point
In traditional storytelling, it’s also common to finish with a short sentence describing the moral of the story. My preference is to leave this out and instead go for option 1 above. But to change things up, you can finish with a very short statement like, ‘As you can see, persistence is important’.
There are lots of ways to finish your story without having to summarise it. Just let your listeners work it out and one day you might even hear your story being retold, which is, of course, the greatest of compliments.
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About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: