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  • Bill Miller

Telling a Good Story Well

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Nayomi Chibona, an expert in storytelling techniques has written a simple and handy guide for telling good stories well. Her article: Seven Storytelling Techniques Used by the Most Inspiring TED Presenters was published on her blog site in July, 2015. Here is a synopsis of her research:

She begins by stating that our brains are hardwired to process information that comes to us in the form of stories. The oft used invitation to listen: “Once upon a Time”, is an indicator of this programming technique. Nayomi quotes professional storyteller Akash Karia who says: “Stories are irresistible because they activate our imagination.” This process then compels us to listen and to pay attention to what is being said. Think of the last time someone said to you: “I want to tell you a story”. If you are anything like me, your mind was intrigued, your curiosity aroused, you wanted to hear what the speaker was going to say next.

Nayomi has done professional research on storytelling and has discovered that many storytelling techniques used thousands of years ago continue to be effective today. Of course, one need only look as far as the person and the message of Jesus Christ, especially his use of parables, to appreciate that what Nayomi says is true. Moreover, thousands of powerful stories can be found in the pages of history and literature dating back to the beginnings of humanity.

Nayomi’s seven key techniques can be summarized as follows:

  1. Immerse your audience in the story. – Be sure to use words and images that create a clear mental picture of the scenario for your story. If possible use visual images in your words that will add detail and color.

  2. Tell a personal story. – Tell a story that really means something to you! As a rule it should be something that you experienced or observed as it was happening. Choose your story based upon its relevance to the topic you are presenting and make sure that you have reflected upon why this is an important story in your life.

  3. Create suspense. – A good story generally needs to contain some conflict and a plot for resolution of the conflict. You want to keep listeners on the edge of their seats as they wonder what will happen next.

  4. Bring the characters in your story to life. – Mention details about the characters in your story that will paint a picture of who they are, what they look like, how they talk and act, what thoughts and emotions seem to drive their actions.

  5. Show. Don’t tell. – As you are describing the setting for your story, also put your listener into closer proximity with the events of the story by using direct quotes spoken by the characters. This helps the listener imagine that he or she is actually observing the event as it is happening. (Note: One of the finest catechetical examples of this technique is to ask your students to imagine that they are actually right there, inside one of Christ’s biblical encounters or his parables! They can play the part of a participant and/or an observer. In any case, ask them to describe what they are seeing, thinking and feeling as they “live” the experience.)

  6. Build up to a S.T.A.R. moment. – This stands for: “Something They’ll Always Remember. It is a dramatic statement or action in the story which drives home the point that you are hoping to make…the part of the story you want your listener to remember and to reflect upon long after the story is over.

  7. End with a positive takeaway. – The takeaway is a key bit of wisdom or advice that can be summarized in a phrase or a sentence…a sound bite of sorts…that will stand as the lesson taught by the story. Interestingly, it can also be used as part of a text message or a twitter post when communicating with others.

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