If you are a speaker, teacher or pastor, you probably have books on your shelf that are full of illustrations and anecdotes to help you in communicating your message. Using some of those stories can come in handy, no question, but you have a more valuable resource available to you, a resource that could be a much more effective tool than the oft-repeated stories in those books. That resource is YOU. Your life is made up of hundreds of short stories. These stories are better than any other stories you can tell because they are your stories: you lived them, they are part of you. Authenticity is placed at a very high level in our culture today. People are paying attention to leaders who are willing to be real, transparent, and vulnerable. The best way to do that is to share your own stories. (I am seeing this for myself with my presentations in which I share some of my own “life stories” —Truth Be Told and Go Ask Your Mother.)
So where do you begin? The first step is to pick a story and write it out. As a teacher or pastor, you often have a message in mind and you pick a story to illustrate that message. However, good stories have the priority of story first! Rather than picking a message and trying to force a story around it, pick a story and see what message emerges—you might be surprised!
As an actor, I have learned much about story from improvisation. In improvisation actors are often given suggestions of random things, and create a story using those suggestions. It might be a place, a thing, or a relationship. Then off they go making up a story out of a few simple suggestions. No thought is given to message—their only criterion is “what happens next?” Yet many times, without even trying, a message or moral to the story will emerge.
You have an advantage over the improv actor in that you already know these stories; you already know “what comes next.” So to get started, here are 5 ideas to help you jump-start your storytelling.
- Emotional Stories: Make a list of emotional triggers. An embarrassing story, a sad story, a happiest moment, a time when you were angry, a love story. There will likely be several of these that come to mind.
- Event Stories: A birth, a death in the family, your wedding day, a birthday, a vacation, a crime.
- A Place: At home, church, school, an amusement park, a zoo, a concert, a cemetery, a shopping mall, a foreign city.
- A Thing: You have stories already in your life about all of these: a food, a car, a pet, a book, clothing, a computer, a suitcase, a favorite childhood toy.
- A Person: A spouse, a brother or sister, a parent, a child, a teacher, a celebrity, a pastor, a doctor, a lawyer, a taxi cab driver, a best friend, a rival, a bully.
All of these are triggers to get you started. Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of overlap. You will find that many stories will contain something from each list. Your most embarrassing story might involve your wedding day, at a church, and a disaster involving your spouse and the wedding cake.
Write your story using a simple story structure of a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve talked about that more in my article “A Really Short Story.”
After you have written the story you will be able to go back and find messages and morals that may complement a number of themes. The wedding story might contain a message of proving your love, or staying calm when things go wrong, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Over time, you can create your own book of illustrations from your own life and that will be far more effective and meaningful than those stories from that book of illustrations.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 3 comments