I don't claim to be a great storyteller, but I am the son of one. My 86-year-old father honed his story-telling skills in the finest school in America: the Appalachian Mountains. Below I list the tips I've picked up from him and other great storytellers I've had the privilege of listening to throughout the years. Storytelling is a vital component of good teaching and preaching. I hope these guidelines will improve your teaching as much as they have mine.
1. Never introduce a story by telling your audience how they should feel: "This story is so funny" or "You're going to love this …" It puts artificial pressure on your audience to react a certain way. Besides, if you tell the story well, it should have the desired effect.
2. Never end with the equivalent of "So the moral to the story is …" If the point is not self evident, I've got bad news—it's not a good story.
3. If your story involves some area of expertise, humbly concede your lack of knowledge. If you do your audience will be more forgiving of any unintentional misstatements. Say "I'm certainly no authority on string theory, but as I understand it …" as opposed to "This is the way string works …" Or say "I've never been to Rome, but people who have been there tell me …" as opposed to "Rome's Eiffel Tower is simply stunning …"
4. Embellishments and superlatives become tiresome: "I've never been so scared in my life!"; "It was the most awesome moment!" Remember: if everything has emphasis, nothing has emphasis.
5. Spontaneity is overrated. Practice telling your story, aloud if possible. As you rehearse your delivery, you'll find better ways of turning phrases and getting the timing right.
6. Don't let the story become the entrée. Stories are appetizers and sides; the gospel is the entrée. In a sermon, stories should illustrate not dominate. Stories that are too long or even overly affecting can actually distract from the main message.
7. Be humble. Personal stories that demonstrate your flaws are usually better than those that have you as the hero. If the point of most of your stories is that you're a saint, they will be met with rolling eyes.
8. Know your audience. And tell stories that will connect with them. Cowboy church in Montana probably doesn't want to hear about the Kardashians.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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