What makes a great story

The Business Agility Conference is a conference of stories and inspiration. We want people to leave the event thinking, “I didn’t know that was possible” or “if they could do that, so can we”. At our heart we are all inspired by stories. Tales of challenge and triumph, of disaster and redemption, of people and courage. And we want you to tell your story.

Logically, the next question we are usually asked is, “so what makes a good story?”. There’s no single answer to that question. So, we want to take a moment to share the four elements we look for in both selecting and refining a story, including examples of what we believe are good examples in each case. We’ll also share examples of stories that are exceptions to the rule – those stories which inspire despite lacking one of the four elements.

Specifically, the 4 elements we look for; authenticity, context, relatable, and narrative.


Authenticity means telling a real story from personal experience. Audiences are tired of hearing theory and abstractions. They want to know what you’ve done, where you did it, why it was started, and what was the outcome. It means naming names, owning your mistakes, and sharing the real outcome.

Example: Paul Cobban: The 22000 Persons Start-up – We love this content and engaging delivery style.

Exception: Jimmy Allen: Founder’s Mentality and Micro-battles – This generated discussion and new ideas in the entire audience.


Each story exists within a specific context. Missing the context doesn’t make it a bad story, just not relevant for this forum and audience. In our case, the appropriate context is Business Agility. This means we’re looking for stories relating to customer centricity, employee engagement, governance, leadership, and similar organizational topics. While technology is technically part of Business Agility, we generally avoid these stories as there are hundreds of other forums that will cater to, and tell, these stories. Otherwise we have no other restrictions; we invite any industry, any function, any size, any sector to take part.

Example: Nevine White: There is an “i” in agility – The content is spot on and, while complex, highly approachable.

Exception: Jon Smart: The Yin and Yang of Speed and Control – Despite being heavily influenced by the technology team, it is absolutely fantastic content.


A series of unfortunate events, while making great young adult reading, is not necessarily going to help others on the same journey. Each story must have some bearing on the experiences and challenges of the audience. An entertaining story about a fundamentally unique situation isn’t going to inspire anyone to change.

Example: Renee Troughton: Reality Bites and Stranger Things – We love the content of this talk. It tells a personal story and focuses on the human relationship skills end of the spectrum (“soft” skills). It’s also an unusual presentation type.

Exception: Vered Netzer: Why the army is the most agile organisation I’ve ever been in – We generally don’t have military in attendance, yet despite the unrelatable context, this was an inspiring story.


At our core we are all storytellers, and great stories are crafted and refined. A story must have a clearly identifiable beginning, middle, and end – If you don’t have a narrative, then it isn’t a story.

It must be something we can connect with on an emotional level. The best stories are those where everything doesn’t go perfectly from the start. Show vulnerability. The audience will feel the struggle you went through and may be living it today in their organization. People hearing your story should be able to see themselves reflected in it.

Tension builds throughout the story – You’ll want to jump to the success and tell us all about how great the way of working is today. Don’t rush to the ending. Help your audience understand the mistakes, missteps, and learnings along the way. Not all stories will have a successful or happy ending; these stories are equally valuable for the lessons learned.

Finally, we want to see a clear result. How did the business measurably improve? Or, what was learned which will help others improve?

Example: Joni Wheeler & Susan Courtney: A Story of Leadership Transformation – We absolutely loved the messaging and content. Their delivery style is calm, easy to understand, and interesting. This is also a good example to demonstrate pairing.

Exception: Marina Alex: Make your business run better with Agile in Sales – Transforming an organisational department, such as sales, is on-topic. This presentation, despite not having a single narrative, was inspiring and led to one of the most robust Q/As.

The Process

When you submit your story, you will be able to ask our excellent team to work directly with you in crafting and refining your story. Together, we will inspire the next generation of companies.

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