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STORYWORTHY by Matthew Dicks

7 min
Average Score

Matthew Dicks

Speaker, Author, Teacher

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What makes a story compelling? According to statistics, stories that resonate deeply often contain a pivotal moment of transformation. Author Matthew Dix, who has won 36 Moth StorySlams, highlights the importance of what he calls the "five-second moment." This is the moment when you realize your life will never be the same. Whether it's falling in love, deciding to change careers, or overcoming a significant challenge, these moments are the cornerstone of powerful storytelling.

Why the Five-Second Moment Matters

The five-second moment is crucial because it gives a story its emotional core. Without these moments, stories would lack meaning and significance. Great stories build up to these transformative moments, creating a stark contrast between the beginning and the end. This journey from one emotional state to another is what keeps an audience engaged.

Examples from Popular Culture

To illustrate the impact of the five-second moment, let's look at some popular movies. In "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Indiana Jones starts as a skeptic but ends up closing his eyes to the power of the Ark, believing in its divine power. In "Jurassic Park," Dr. Grant starts off reluctant to have children but ends up protecting and embracing them. These transformations are not just plot points; they are the emotional highlights that make the stories memorable.

Applying the Five-Second Moment in Personal Stories

Matthew Dix emphasizes that personal stories should follow the same principle. Identify a moment in your life that changed everything. This could be a moment of realization, a decision that altered your path, or an experience that transformed your perspective. Start your story with a contrasting state and build up to this pivotal moment.

Techniques to Enhance Your Storytelling

To make your five-second moment impactful, use these storytelling techniques:

  1. Start with Action: Begin your story in the midst of an event. This grabs attention and immerses the audience immediately. For example, "Yesterday, I was running from a deadline when..."
  2. Misdirect: Lead your audience down one path and then surprise them with an unexpected turn. This keeps them engaged and curious about what happens next.
  3. Pause Before the Big Reveal: Build suspense by delaying the moment of transformation. Describe the events leading up to it in vivid detail, making the audience anticipate the big reveal.

In this session, you will learn how to craft stories that captivate and resonate by focusing on the five-second moment. Understanding and applying this concept will make your storytelling more powerful and engaging.

Contrasting Beginnings and Transformative Endings

The Role of Contrast in Storytelling

Have you ever wondered why some stories stick with you while others fade away? The answer often lies in the contrast between the beginning and the end. Matthew Dix believes that all great stories should start and end in starkly different places. This contrast highlights the journey and the transformation that occurs, making the story more compelling.

Examples from Movies

Consider the transformation of characters in popular films. In "Jerry Maguire," Tom Cruise's character starts as an arrogant sports agent but ends up as a humble man in love. This stark contrast underscores his journey and growth. Similarly, in "Jurassic Park," Dr. Grant's evolution from a child-averse scientist to a protective guardian is a powerful narrative arc.

Finding Your Story's Starting Point

To create this contrast in your own stories, begin by identifying the five-second moment you want to share. This is the end of your story. Then, find the opposite of that moment to determine your starting point. If your story ends with you feeling confident, start with a moment of doubt. If it ends with you finding love, start with a moment of loneliness.

Building Up to the Transformation

Once you have your starting and ending points, the next step is to narrate the events that bridge the gap. Describe the challenges, decisions, and experiences that lead from your initial state to the five-second moment. This journey is what makes the story engaging and relatable.

Using Contrast to Enhance Emotional Impact

The greater the contrast between the beginning and the end, the more impactful the story. This doesn't mean exaggerating or fabricating details but rather emphasizing the emotional and psychological journey. Highlight the differences in your feelings, thoughts, and actions at the start and end of your story.

In this session, you will explore techniques to create compelling contrasts in your storytelling. By emphasizing the journey from one emotional state to another, you can make your stories more memorable and engaging.

Three Compelling Storytelling Techniques

Starting with Action

Did you know that stories that start with action are more likely to capture attention? Statistics show that beginning a story in the midst of an event hooks the audience immediately. Director Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" starts with an intense bank robbery, instantly engaging viewers. Similarly, "Star Wars: A New Hope" opens with a thrilling chase through space.

How to Start with Action

To apply this technique in your own stories, start with a moment of activity or urgency. Use phrases like "Yesterday, I was running from..." or "Last week, I was in the middle of..." This approach pulls the audience into the story from the very beginning.

Mastering Misdirection

Another effective technique is misdirection. Matthew Dix calls this "dropping breadcrumbs". Before explaining an event in your story, tell the audience your plan and then derail it. This creates suspense and keeps the audience guessing.

Examples of Misdirection

In the first "Ocean's 11" film, Danny Ocean's plan to rob a casino is explained in detail, but nothing goes as expected. This keeps the audience engaged and invested in the outcome. In one of Dix's stories, he hints at putting on a McDonald's uniform to collect money, leading the audience to guess his next move. The actual event, however, surprises them, enhancing the story's impact.

Delaying the Big Reveal

The final technique is to pause before the big reveal. Build up suspense by delaying the moment of transformation. Describe the situation in detail, making the audience wait for the resolution.

How to Build Suspense

In Dix's story about pretending to collect money for charity, he delays the reveal by adding unnecessary details and repeating words. This makes the audience anticipate the big moment even more. When the reveal finally comes, it has a stronger impact.

In this session, you will learn how to use action, misdirection, and delayed reveals to enhance your storytelling. These techniques will help you keep your audience engaged and make your stories more memorable.

The Emotional Core of Storytelling

Why Emotional Connection Matters

Why do some stories resonate more deeply than others? The key often lies in the emotional connection between the storyteller and the audience. Matthew Dix emphasizes that a story must be deeply personal and vulnerable yet relatable. This emotional core is what makes a story memorable and impactful.

Sharing Personal Moments

To create an emotional connection, share moments that are significant to you. These can be moments of joy, sorrow, fear, or triumph. The more personal and authentic the story, the more likely it is to resonate with others.

Examples of Emotional Storytelling

In one of Dix's best stories, he starts feeling dreadfully alone and ends with his friends chanting his name after a near-fatal car crash. This story is compelling because it shares a deeply personal and transformative experience. By being vulnerable, Dix establishes a strong connection with his audience.

Making Stories Relatable

While sharing personal stories, it's important to make them relatable. Highlight universal themes and emotions that others can connect with. Whether it's overcoming a challenge, finding love, or achieving a goal, these themes resonate with a broad audience.

Techniques for Relatability
  1. Use Simple Language: Avoid jargon and complex language. Simple, clear language makes your story more accessible.
  2. Describe Emotions: Clearly describe your feelings and thoughts during the events of your story. This helps the audience empathize with your experience.
  3. Highlight Universal Themes: Focus on themes like love, loss, success, and failure. These are experiences that many people can relate to.

The Impact of Emotional Storytelling

Stories with a strong emotional core leave a lasting impact. They not only entertain but also connect with the audience on a deeper level. By sharing personal, vulnerable, and relatable stories, you can create a powerful bond with your audience.

In this session, you will learn how to tap into the emotional core of storytelling. By focusing on personal and relatable moments, you can make your stories more impactful and memorable.


In conclusion, mastering the art of storytelling involves understanding and applying key techniques such as highlighting the five-second moment, creating contrasting beginnings and endings, using action and misdirection, and tapping into the emotional core. By focusing on these elements, you can craft stories that are not only compelling but also deeply resonant with your audience. Watch this session to learn more about how to elevate your storytelling skills and connect with your audience on a deeper level.

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