Three Key Elements of Effective Story Telling

A while ago, I wrote a blog about Three Preaching Essential to Reach Today’s Culture. In it I wrote about the Word, Story and Humor. Today I want to dive deeper into one key element of communication: story.

Stories have always been powerful communication tools. Some people possess a vocal tonality that naturally lends itself to storytelling. Think about James Earl Jones, Garrison Keillor or Morgan Freeman. You feel compelled to listen to their stories because their voice sound so good.

Successful movie producers have mastered the art of storytelling on film. Prominent authors have skillfully used stories to capture the imagination of their readers.

Of course, Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential storyteller in history. He told stories of fathers, farmers, and fishermen. He told parables of hidden treasures on earth and lasting treasures in Heaven. He captivated his audiences with tales of shrewd money managers, persistent widows, proud Pharisees, and hated tax collectors. He made heroes out of outcasts and stars out of sinners.

Great communicators throughout history have skillfully used stories to draw in their audience. Pastors of today use stories to reinforce the point they are making. Motivational speakers use stories to compel their audience to act. They make it look easy. But it’s not.

Preparing and delivering an effective story takes work and practice. But storytelling remains one of the most effective methods of engaging communication. With that said, here are three key elements of effective storytelling.

Build some tension into your stories. Use excitement, fear, anxiety, joy or any other emotion that people can relate to. Tension helps draw people into the story and entices them to listen. Simply put, people will pay attention if there’s tension.

Jesus masterfully built tension in the story of a wayward son. He once told of a young man who left home with his inheritance and ruined his life making unwise choices. Many people, then and now, can relate to the tension in this situation. Jesus went on to tell of how the son came to his senses and planned to return home. His audience surely wondered, if that were my son, how would I respond?

That’s exactly why the use of tension is an effective tool to help draw your audience in. Skillful communicators will raise the tension in the story and then use the main point of their message to bring the tension to a satisfactory conclusion.

In the story above, I believe Jesus’ listeners were completely captivated by his story. And that’s the point. Ultimately, you want people to engage with your story.

Personal stories are best. But don’t always make yourself the hero. It’s been said, you can impress people with your accomplishments, but you will impact people with your struggles.

There are few things more engaging than a humorous or embarrassing personal story of how you failed miserably in trying to do something good or noble. People will get the point and they will connect with you through your honest, heartfelt story. Everyone can relate to failure. Your goal is to make your listeners jump into the story because they can relate to the situation or the feelings associated with it.

Every story should have a purpose. It could be to illustrate a point, cause someone to think, give the answer or simply to establish trust with the speaker. Before you tell a story determine what you want to accomplish. And then, make sure your story achieves its purpose.

In Jesus’ parable of the lost son, his goal was to demonstrate God’s extravagant love for his children, even the wayward ones. He did this by telling a relatable story, raising tension, causing his listeners to think, and then relieving the tension at the conclusion of the story.

What a great example of effective storytelling. As you preach and communicate, carefully use these three elements in your storytelling and watch your audience respond to your message with a new level of interest and engagement.