The power of the narrative


Greta Thunberg’s 495-word speech created waves of publicity – some positive and some negative about her and her message.

I’m not going to take a side. I have a view but that’s not the point of me writing.

Her short speech had much to admire from a narrative point of view. It had many of the narrative conventions that make a good story, and many of the modern tropes that are key in today’s social media landscape.

First, let’s look at her speech from a traditional narrative point of view. It had much to consider.

  • Context: it came in a powerful setting and had heroes and villains (you can choose which was which).
  • Simplicity: it was 495 words long, with one simple message ‘we’ll be watching you’…’how dare you’.
  • The unexpected: when she says ‘this is all wrong, I shouldn’t be up here’ she shocks the audience.
  • Credible: she brings credibility, not just because of how famous she is, but because four million people are striking and she is at the United Nations.
  • Emotional: there is anger, there is fire, there is force in her speech. It is rich with emotion.

Some of these techniques are covered in books about how to make stories stick. Books like Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is a book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, or Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

What is also quite remarkable is the way it is so suitable to be digested via social media. It is raw. It has lines ripe for algorithms, hashtags and sharing.

So whatever you think of Greta, her message or her views, respect the power of the narrative.

Read Greta Thunberg's Climate Summit transcript here 

Watch the full video here