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The Art of Storytelling
Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story
By John Walsh
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2003 John Walsh
All rights reserved.
A NEW WORLD AND ITS STORY
Enhancing your story-telling skills will increase your ability to affect people you have not been able to reach before.
It was a drizzly Sunday morning when my daughter Christie and her husband, Michael, were getting ready for church. Michael needed to stay home and take care of their two sons who were sick. He helped Christie get the two girls into the car, kissed them all good-bye, and they were off.
When the trio arrived at church, Christie delivered Amelia to the nursery and escorted Laura to children's church. She planted herself in the auditorium, finding pleasure in knowing she could enjoy the pastor's sermon without being distracted with restless children.
Christie always enjoyed the way her pastor preached with love and compassion. It was evident that he put a lot of preparation into his sermons; that Sunday was no different. She took notes, all the while thinking, God has given our pastor such insight.
When the service ended, Christie gathered her two daughters together, and the three headed home where the men of the family awaited them. Upon entering the house, Christie was greeted with a kiss from her husband, who asked how the service was.
"Great!" she replied with enthusiasm. She told him about the choir rehearsal after the service, and how she practiced her solo in preparation for the next Sunday.
"What was the sermon about?" asked Michael.
"Oh, um ... well ... it was really good." She wracked her brain for details of the sermon that had meant so much to her, but she couldn't remember a thing. She thought all the activity after the service caused her memory to lapse. Finally, she shuffled through her Bible where she recovered the notes she had taken.
"Let's see ..." she said, her voice trailing off as she skimmed her notes. "Ah, yes. That's right. He was preaching on Luke. Remember? He's doing that series through the gospel of Luke. It was really good."
From behind her, Laura exclaimed, "I remember what Mr. Gorman spoke about in children's church." With that, the child went into enthusiastic detail about all her teacher had spoken about in the children's service. Not only did she remember the entire sermon, she was able to relate it in a way that made her parents wish they had been able to hear such an exciting presentation of the gospel.
Did my granddaughter remember the sermon because she is younger and has a better memory? Not at all. While preparing his lesson, Mr. Gorman was aware of how his audience receives and remembers information. This should be done whenever a presentation is prepared for any group.
Two types of adults respond especially well to stories. They are 1) story thinkers and 2) men. Knowing about these two groups will help you to adapt your lesson, sermon, or business presentation with them in mind.
ADAPTING PRESENTATIONS FOR STORY THINKERS
On September 11, 2001, four jet airliners were hijacked. Terrorists flew two of them into the twin towers in New York City, and the other two flew toward Washington, D.C. Our society, and life as we know it, has not been the same since.
That same afternoon, I was visiting with a professor friend of mine. He asked, "What do you think, John? How do you feel about what happened today?"
My answer was simple: "Well, everything has changed. I was used to life, just the way it was. I didn't want it to change, but it has." After a little pause, I added, "I wonder what the new world is going to be like."
Most people did not want the events of that day. It was tragic, and we didn't like it. Still, it happened, and we all had to adjust.
Our culture has gone through another change that also has altered our society. Many Christian ministries were not aware of it because of its low profile. Since they didn't know about it, they didn't make the needed adjustments. Other ministries knew about it but labeled it as ungodly, so they continued on as if everything were the same as it used to be.
What has happened, and how should we adjust to it? The difference is in the way people receive information and the way people remember information.
People of my generation are considered analytical thinkers. For us, everything is linear. We think in facts and figures, and the best way to communicate to us is through an outline.
If you want the analytical thinker to remember the information for any length of time, you create points and put them in order. For instance, you could make sure all the words of the outline start with the same letter. Better yet, have the first letter of all the points spell out a word.
It was not always necessary to include stories, unless, of course, they reinforced the outline. Stories were props that supported and illustrated the theme. Because of this, we stopped calling them stories and started calling them illustrations.
Sorry, but that has all changed. Most people born after the Baby Boomers receive information best in the form of stories. They are not linear; they are what I call story thinkers.
These people have become some of the most creative, productive citizens of our society. They want the information, and they want it straight. But they want it in a way that holds their interest. Stories are the best way to reach this new breed of thinker. They are left cold if you try to impress them with outlines or by putting your main points in some order. You still need a theme and even an outline; just don't let them know you have it. They don't want your clever tricks and ingenious alliterations.
TIME TO ADJUST
I went to a Christian school several years ago to teach creative writing to their students. The principal was concerned about my going into one particular fourth grade class. The teacher had tried everything but was frustrated. The principal told me, "The class is full of problem students. I predict you will have difficulty there."
He felt it wise to accompany me, and I was glad for his reinforcement. As I taught the class, he sat in the back, amazed. I was using storytelling to teach the students to create, write, and rewrite. He watched as these students listened in rapt attention. He was astonished at how I kept the room in seeming chaos, yet every student was learning and creating. Students walked around the room, sat on the floor, talked to one another, participated in fun activities, and created fantastic compositions. This classroom was full of story-thinking students, and I was successful with them because I adjusted to their way of thinking. It seemed chaotic, but it was organized and completely under my control.
THE SCRIPTURES CONTAIN BOTH
Jesus stood before Galileans and looked into their faces. He had a message and wanted them to listen and remember what He said. He opened His mouth and told them stories. People say Jesus was the master teacher because of His use of stories. No, He was the master teacher because He knew His audience and adapted His message to their way of thinking.
Paul stood before Greeks and looked into their faces. He had a message and wanted them to listen and remember what he said. He opened his mouth and used analytical reasoning to explain the gospel. He knew his audience and adapted his presentation.
Later, when Paul went to Jerusalem, he neglected to adapt his presentation for the Jewish audience. When he used the analytical method that worked so well with his Gentile audience, the people standing before him were unmoved by his message. Only the Romans listened to him.
Many today are making the same mistake. We should always present God's Word in a way that is consistent with how people think.
The Bible reflects the different ways in which people receive and remember information. The various writers of Scripture wrote to either story or analytical thinkers. The Gospels are written in stories. To this day, they appeal to the story thinkers in our society. The Epistles are analytical and appeal to that type of thinker. Both need to be read and studied, but the appeal is different.
It is no longer acceptable to add an illustration near the end of a lesson, sermon, or business presentation. Storytelling techniques provide you with the ability to skillfully adjust your message so that you are talking the language of the people around you. Today your audience thinks in stories, they remember stories, and they will listen if you tell stories.
A few years ago, I was teaching a storytelling workshop in a church in Waterloo, Iowa. Afterwards, a lady told me she enjoyed learning how to tell stories, but she had a problem. She was scheduled to speak to a group of people that next week, and they were going to allow her only seven minutes. She wanted to know, "How can I give my three important points and still have time to tell a story?"
My answer was not to add an illustration to her points. I showed her how to create a seven-minute story that contained all three concepts she wanted to communicate. The key was to emphasize the story and not the points. I said, "Your talk will be the most dramatic seven minutes of the day, and the audience will never forget it." The solution to her predicament illustrates the change in our society.
ADAPTING YOUR PRESENTATION FOR MEN AND WOMEN
A second group of people responds especially well to stories. Generally speaking, there is a difference in how men and women receive information. Men tend to think in pictures, while women tend to think in words.
I was in a meeting of business people attended mostly by men. A woman came to talk about her business. She spent the entire time telling us all the facts concerning her exciting work. Unfortunately, she was talking words, not pictures. While no one physically left the room, all of the men slipped out mentally. They kept their bodies in the meeting to be polite. Each one started thinking about things unrelated to what she was talking about.
I knew this lady had fantastic stories that would have completely captivated this group. She just wasn't using them. Instead, she was reasoning with the group, trying to enlist their encouragement and support.
I knew her well enough to feel I could talk to her about the situation. I also knew she would appreciate knowing why she didn't sway her audience in a way that would move them to action.
I waited a few days and made an appointment with her. I asked how she felt the meeting went. She knew all had not gone well but was puzzled.
When she asked my opinion, I explained about the different thinking processes of men and women. I told her to relate stories instead of giving facts the next time she gave a presentation to men. I asked a series of questions to find out what was important to communicate to such a group of business people. I should have gotten all this at the meeting, but being a man, I guess I wasn't listening.
I asked her to tell me a set of stories that illustrated all her information. Together, we put her points inside the stories. Soon we had created a presentation about herself, her clients, and the impact her business was making. It transformed how she was received in the business community. She was able to tell all the facts, but now they were hidden in interesting stories. Not only did her audience pay attention, but everyone remembered what she said.
Ask someone in the group to tell about a job, business, ministry, or profession. This will work especially well if you select someone who is preparing for an upcoming presentation.
Have that person give three or four aspects that are important concerning this job, business, ministry, or profession.
Have him/her tell a story (in no more than two minutes) that illustrates each area.
Weave these stories together to make a formal presentation. The presentation should not be longer than ten minutes.
REACHING LISTENERS WITH YOUR STORY
We are called to minister to both analytical and story thinkers. We are to communicate to both men and women.
This book will increase your ability to impact those you may have been unable to reach until now. This book will teach you to prepare a story and present it in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
You may need to create stories designed to enhance business presentations or influence clients. You may want to specialize in children's stories for your Sunday school class or children's church. Perhaps you sense a need to put a new spark into family devotions and capture the hearts of your children. It may be that you want to become more creative in the way you prepare and present sermons.
If you learn and use these skills:
Children will focus on what you are teaching.
Adults will pay attention to your message.
You will improve your relationship with professional clients.
Family members will enjoy family devotions.
Church members will remember what was taught.
Nonbelievers may finally understand the gospel.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Learning to connect with story thinkers is easy compared to communicating with analytical thinkers. The only reason many of us like the old way better is because that is what we are used to.
Read this manual (more than once), practice each simple step, and do all the exercises. It is going to show you how to prepare and tell stories that story thinkers will hear and remember. The men and boys in your audience will listen with a higher level of attention.
Unfortunately, Christians are a little behind in this area. For years the world has been teaching humanistic philosophy in story form. Theaters, books, music, television, and videos have perfected the art of concealing teaching inside stories. Even news broadcasts have changed to a series of stories. Still, we can make up for lost time. Follow these steps, learn the skills, and reach out to a world that is desperate for your message.
* * *
Before, people heard you speak. Now, they will understand what you are saying.
* * *CHAPTER 2
"WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR STORIES?"
Few things are as exciting as creating a story that is all your own.
Let's say you have been asked to tell a story for the adult Sunday school summer cookout. This starts the search for the perfect story. You rummage around, read books, ask for help from friends, but all to no avail. You finally give up on finding the perfect story. Any old one will have to do.
We have heard wonderful stories all our lives, and some of them are dear to us. The world is full of stories, yet we can't find one that fits both the occasion and us. The search can be frustrating.
AN ENDLESS SOURCE OF STORIES
I am going to simplify the "finding" process for you. Start with a few old favorites. Over the years, these have been perfected and come down to us as classics. They are fun stories you enjoy telling at family get-togethers, office functions, or church fellowships.
You will find a limited list of these in the resource section of this manual. Another way to find old favorites is to listen to other storytellers. Select one of their fictional tales, and ask for permission to use it. This book will teach you how to adjust it so that it fits your personality.
One of the best ways to find these "classics" is to talk to the librarians in the children's department of your public library. They love to be asked for recommendations. Call them in advance and tell them you are developing your storytelling skills. Ask if they can help you find books that contain "old standbys." When you go to their department in the library, no doubt they will have a stack of books waiting for you.
Once you have practiced with old favorites, you can then move through the open door to an endless source of stories.
The world is full of great stories someone else has taken the time to create. They have followed certain established rules of development. In most cases, you are permitted to change them to fit your personality and situation. In doing this, there are two precautions:
Generally, you are at liberty to tell someone's fictional story as long as you are not being paid to do so, and you are not making a salable recording of it. If you are planning to do either of these, contact the author and ask for written permission.
Many Native American stories were created as part of a religious ceremony. In respect to their culture, it is best not to retell these stories out of that setting.
PROCESS FOR CHANGING A STORY
Recently I was asked to tell a story at our church's Thanksgiving service. There were three requirements. It was to be about twenty minutes long, have a Thanksgiving theme, and contain a good Christian message. "Oh, by the way," the pastor added, "try to make it enjoyable."
My pastor wanted to add a little variety to the traditional service. It was my job to help him do it. I had to find a story that would be just right for this occasion. There is a world of possibilities that could be used. What type of tale should I look for? Here are the criteria I use when I search for a story.
Excerpted from The Art of Storytelling by John Walsh. Copyright © 2003 John Walsh. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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