Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

how to set the scene in English when you tell a story

Do you ever tell stories in English?

When you tell a story or share an anecdote do you know how to “set the scene” to prepare your listeners and make your story more interesting?

Today find out the exact words and phrases to do this to connect instantly with natives in English.

Lindsay: I have a quick story for you. Did I ever tell you about the time I hitchhiked to get from Chile to Argentina?

Michelle: No!

Lindsay: Ok well just to set up this up, I can tell you that I had been backpacking for 6 months in South America and I was broke…

M: Okay…and…


So in that quick little role play what was the key phrase that we used and why?

Lindsay said “just to set this up”


To build the context before she told the whole story.

Recently we’ve been doing a lot of episodes on the language we can use to transition between ideas.

A few weeks ago we talked about how to say that you’re about to  state something counterintuitive . 

We also did an episode to say that we’re about to give negative feedback


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But today we’re going to talk about how to prepare your listeners for a story.

I love our question because it came from one of our students who was listening to real native english and he picked it up.


Hi Lindsay,

I have a question for the podcast, which by the way, I’ve been listening every day, at least 2 episodes per day (to catch my lost time, I’m kind of new here).

I was listening a NPR podcast and I heard the guy saying: “Just to set this up, bla bla bla” (it was an episode about Beck Weathers, the climber that survived a storm in Everest). I thought that I knew the meaning of ‘set up’, but this was totally new for me.

So, what was he meaning with this expression “Just to set this up”? Is it common or natural to say this in casual conversations? Even not knowing the meaning, the expression sounded nice, so I would like to better understand the expression, perhaps I can use it in day-by-day conversations. Thank you guys for you superb work.

Best- Rodrigo Coelho 


Great question from Rodrigo!

He is doing the right thing to get ready for our Boston Adventure and to get ready for life in Boston.

He is listening to NPR.

So the NPR host used the phrase, “Just to set this up”?

The host wanted to get our minds ready because it’s weird if we just jump right into details.

This is a thing that you probably already do naturally in your own language.

Today we’ll give you guys a few other ways you can do this and we’ll show you what it looks like:


Phrases to prepare listeners for a story:

  • Just to set up this up.
  • To give you a little context.
  • I’ll give you some background.
  • Just so you understand the situation.
  • Here is what was going on…
  • Just to set the scene…


What other phrases do you know that could serve this purpose?

What questions do you have today?

Let us know in the comments below.

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