I am a speaker who became a writer. I learned early on that the way to make a message sing and flow was through the careful placement and execution of good stories.
Weekly I stepped on the stage of a large church to teach the women’s bible study. I loved the preparation, the personal growth and the women I served. One Tuesday morning before showing up to teach I was frazzled and trying to collect my emotions, clean up the house after a burst pipe, while calming the kids before the large yellow school bus arrived at our corner for pick up. It was a mess of a morning.
As I drove to the church, I thought of the women I would be teaching that morning. They too had lives filled with unexpected things, chaos and fears. Rather than stepping to the stage, bible in hand, and a stoic front, I stepped up and was real with the story of how my morning unfolded and where I needed God in the middle of that day’s mess.
Then I noticed something—women were sitting taller, listening more intently and almost on the edge of their seats. The story I was telling got their attention and then the words I went on to teach from Scripture, found a way to their open hearts. That day I learned the power of story.
Why are Stories Important?
- 65% of the time we talk informally we are telling stories
- Our brains are hardwired for stories
- Stories paint pictures
- Stories engage and stimulate
- Stories open dialogue and thought.
- They connect and engage us with the message we are hearing
- They break down barriers through empathy
- Stories go beyond just dry factual answers
- Stories help us understand our world
- Stories help us retell history
- Stories are the way we think
Jesus used Stories
Jesus spoke in parables and taught lessons by painting pictures with his words.
Here are just a few examples:
- Parable of the Rich Young Man
- Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
- Parable of the Tenants
- Parable of the Wedding Banquet
Collecting stories for our audience
Once I realized the power of stories, I began collecting them. As a communicator, writer and speaker, I look for story in the everyday. I have a few subjects that I regularly write and speak about, so generally I am attuned to stories that help broaden and paint a picture in those particular areas. Story can come from what I see, what I experience or from an article in a magazine or paper. Wherever I find inspiration that fits the message, is where I look for story.
While in the moment, I take note of details, colors, actions and the way it is speaking to me or reminding me of a truth. I used to carry around a note pad, but these days I use the note app on my iPhone. When something strikes me, I record all the detail—what I am feeling, seeing and the parts that stand out to me. And, to this day, I have a list of stories that I can draw from. I have learned to deliver them in print or on the stage and I can choose the story based on the audience I am speaking to or writing for. My list is something like:
Jiff, Elvis, Amnesia, Bubba, Potty Training, 3 frames, princess dress, gardening hacks, parade, 828, puzzle box, mother’s last words ,etc… Each thing on this list means something to me and represents a well thought out story to include in a message. My list grows each week.
I can use a story where it will appropriately fit into what I am wanting to communicate.
Here is a recent example that I filed under, pruning.
Bougainvillea Bush, Pruning
As I backed the car out of the driveway, one quick look back at the house, left me in shock. I wasn’t expecting to see my favorite plant rearranged by the gardener. The bright pink flowers were in a heap, lining the bottom of the large bougainvillea bush. All that was left was a barren looking plant with little life left to it. The flowers made it stand out amidst the desert landscape, but without the bright pop of pink, the yard looked dead. Sadly, pruning was necessary for future growth and health…
Sometimes that is how it is with us. We must be pruned for future growth and health.
( reference John 15)
We can learn to show not tell
We hear that as writers we are to show, not tell. It is a skill to be learned and a craft to be practiced.Showing involves details while simply telling is like reading an instruction manual, there’s not much life to it. Just the facts.
Stories that are rich with detail will bring your communication to life.
When I outline a book, whether it is a Bible Study, Devotional, Self Help or Christian Living,I make notations of which story or stories goes into each chapter. I often do this with sticky notes. This gives me a flow and a road map.
When coaching, I often ask writers to make a timeline of their life—recognizing both good and bad events. Then I invite them into the practice of mining each event for memory and story. God has been working in our lives since the day our personal story began. He does not waste anything and now we can learn to be good stewards of communication by learning to be good story tellers.
5 Story telling techniques
- Bring characters and events to life with detail
- Beware of too much information—don’t weigh story down
- Use dialogue
- Speak/Write in Plain Language
- Dig for Deeper Truths Within Each Illustration
Everyday life is filled with story. Your story is FILLED with a multitude of smaller stories! One of the things I enjoy most about being called to be a communicator is the journey of discovery. I’m always learning, ever growing.