Stories, Arcs, and What to Hang on Them

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BLUF – In relaying a resonant message for an intended audience, it helps to have a framework for concise conveyance. Using military constructs relaying how to build our message, we find structure to engage audiences with clarity. Used for sales, interviews, debate or relevant conversations, here are building blocks rarely discussed.


Once upon a time I had a briefing which was all the rage. It was reasonably adjustable to time allotments. It was animated (which is not easy in cyber). It was scripted and polished until I could recite it in my sleep. It was used for all the senior leaders, specialists, and organisations coming to hear about cyber findings where I worked.

You see, it was a story. A story which framed the context for all the technical briefing to follow. A story others could hang their more technical intel briefings on. The story was a part of a campaign of presentations the host organisation held and hung on to an arc of bringing the relevance of cyber to senior leadership, who did not see/ wanted to see (at the time) how this would not only complementary to kinetic means, but could be trusted to produce the same results as a smoking crater. My story was used as a means to initiate the messaging assault, weaving other stories in to give a more complete picture – creating a resonant, dynamic message.

Using a military lens it’s a bit easier to distill the various timeline elements into component pieces.

  • Engagements (or fights, really) are the smallest blocks, minute components of real-time interaction. For our purposes we will call these “briefs”. Briefs are singular incidents, the building blocks we work with. You morning coffee engagement is a brief. A meeting with a friend or client is a brief. Any single incident with distinct start, finish, and limited purpose can be a brief. Could you make more of it? Perhaps, but it would be stretching that singular brief into…
  • Battles (aka stories) are the composite of multiple engagements – over time and/or in multiple spaces. In this, a connecting thread ties the different engagements together. While this thread can be a unifying theme between the engagements there is (ideally) still the basis of a story; beginning, middle, and end. Your story/ battlespace could be as generic as ‘started working at x place at y time, these things happened during my time there, left.’
  • Campaigns (or arcs) are the tying-together of multiple battles, generally for a greater purpose. In a campaign, the battles all tie together with a specific goal in mind – achieving X. There may be different aspects in use or engaged; from a broad perspective we tie air/ sea/ ground to the overall. Translating, we may create an arc bringing together personal/ divisional/ organisational components of your life/ community for a unified purpose or different divisions within an organisation working to achieve the same. This is how you bring different parts of your personal life demonstrating how overlooked points come together to meet a position’s hiring requirement that you don’t seem to in a linear work CV.
  • War is the composite slice of your life comprised of the collective. For any war, you’ve several campaigns, hundreds of stories, thousands of engagements. Stepping back to look at the 50k level, we can see pivot engagement points, how different campaigns were either complementary or counterproductive, themes and elements to carry into the next.

To give you an example (and those of you who’ve heard this, apologies) my own recent arc is as follows:

When I was younger, I worked in a juvenile felon rehab centre – learning how criminals think, seeing how their decision-making developed. Wanting to do more, I did some brilliant work as a state police officer, though I learned a hard lesson from the experience – law enforcement operates almost exclusively after something illegal is done, leaving little room for prevention or pre-emption. From there I went into military intelligence, looking at how nation-states could and would incorporate cyber into their war-plans. But the real need is in private sector, where I joined pillar institutions of the financial and healthcare sectors – provisioning a comprehensive understanding of what underpins the cyber threat landscape, the systemic risks invoked and helping organisations create operational resilience.

I can shorten or lengthen depending on the audience and time involved.

Everything is messaging. As we look to engage our audiences to build trust, drive change, or hold the line, creating a resonant connection is crucial. Hanging stories on arcs helps.


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