These six words, “Let me tell you a story…” are among the most powerful words in the English language, or any language for that matter.
If you have a message to convey to someone, whether to teach, entertain or just to make a point, the use of storytelling is the most powerful way you can achieve your end.
Storytelling was the process by which the histories of many cultures were maintained for centuries before writing came to be. The stories of cultures, tribes and families were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth, and storytellers were revered for their ability to recall and recount stories so that people remembered.
And that is the point of storytelling: to remember.
Stories impress upon certain parts of the brain so that the mechanism of storytelling strengthens the ability to recall. Anyone who has done a memory training course may recall that the ability to remember a long list of unconnected items, names or things, is through the use of stories to connect the unconnected.
There is something about the starting phrase of a story that puts people into a mindset ready, willing and able to listen and take in what is being said. When you hear those first few words it is like your mind transforms into story mode and begins to listen.
And let’s face it, we all love a good story. There is nothing quite like listening to a ripping yarn told by someone who can bring the story to life. This is the power that comedians, bush poets, movie-makers and good writers possess. It’s as though they compel us to listen with just a few words.
Think about some of these first lines that instantly evoke the idea of a story to follow, and put you into the mode to listen to what is to come.
Once upon a time…
A man walked into a bar…
In a galaxy, far, far away…
There was a man who…
A priest, a rabbi and a duck walk into a bar…
…and of course, “Let me tell you a story…”
All of these first phrases evoke an imagery that compels an audience to stop and listen to what follows.
Building the story
The story that then follows, with the exception of a short joke, will provide some details about an issue, situation or struggle that builds to a crescendo and resolves as a punchline, victory, solution or some point to be made. With a good story there is a take-away that adds some kind of value to the listener.
As an example, consider the fables of Aesop. All of his stories ended with a moral lesson. They used imagery from the natural world, things like the tortoise and the hare, to show a principle that the listener could take away. In the example of the tortoise and the hare, we see that it is the patient, methodical, the slow and steady person who wins the race.
The Bible is full of stories that are all presented so that we can remember. We recall the stories with faith and remember the goodness of God, how He protects and saves His people.
Jesus used the power of stories to both teach and hide teaching. Much of His teaching to the masses was done in the form of parables, which enabled the believers to learn what He was teaching, but obscured the fullness of truth from those who rejected Him. All of the parables taught specific points that together build into an understanding of the Kingdom of God and the power of God’s grace and salvation. And the stories open up to those who have faith and are led by the Holy Spirit.
Do you write, teach or speak? Then use the power of stories to get your message across. People love stories, regardless of who they are, and they remember them.
I have spoken to CEO’s and leaders of industry at business conferences using stories (and a ukulele…but that’s another story), and they sat in rapt attention. Stories work everywhere to entertain, amuse and teach, and they got the message across that I was attempting to make.
Stories work in all human interactions, so be sure to pepper your message with the power of stories and receive the benefits they are sure to reap.
And I know some of you are wondering about one of the story lines above, so let me put you out of your misery.
“A priest, a rabbi and a duck walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What is this? A joke?”
Since retiring from work, John Lemmon now spends his time teaching, preaching and writing about the word of God, online and offline, answering God's call on him to “Speak to my people.” John is the author of a number of Christian eBooks, which can be downloaded for free on his website at http://freegiftfromgod.com/my-ebooks/. You can connect with John on Twitter (@JohnBLemmon) or on his website: freegiftfromgod.com/