Grouch Marx said, “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.” Fact is, very few would stop someone from telling a story. It is one of the most effective methods of communication.
I remember taking a childhood trip to Egypt, without leaving a tiny Sunday school classroom in West Virginia. My “pilot” was a teacher who told the story of Moses in the bulrushes so realistically I could almost hear the Nile lapping against the muddy shoreline. And by the time we arrived, it was as if that basket bobbing in the river was a two-seater, and I was the co-pilot.
I don’t know how much theological training the teacher had, but that Sunday, a simple story taught me about obeying God – and I’ve never forgotten it. Good story-telling is like a great cup of coffee: it’s a matter of getting the right blend.
1. Choose the right flavor.
When you brew coffee, you have a specific taste in mind. A good story needs a taste, a direction – a purpose and a point: “This is what I want to teach.” When you can boil that direction down to a sentence, your audience won’t be “serving a sentence.”
Then, map the direction. Is it a humorous or heart-tugging story? Who is the main character? What is the end result? How will you lead the reader or listener to the punch line or the bottom line? What decision will need to be made?
2. Use the right ingredients.
Blending coffee beans affects the flavor, aroma, and body of your cup of coffee. Blend is important in storytelling as well. Use variety.
- Paint a picture – and don’t forget the details. Focus on a person, place, or thing in a humorous or thought provoking way. Avoid put-downs or inappropriate references, but fill in enough of the canvas to make it worthy of a frame.
- Make it logical. The story has to make sense. In other words, don’t promise caffeinated if you’re serving decaf. There are enough true stories in the world to interest everyone. But in case you run out, don’t “bait and switch.” A “legend” is better than a lie.
- Focus on the oddity. Look for the 500-lb. gorilla in the room and make it comfortable. Odd news is popular – especially on Internet news sites. It usually makes the “most recommended” list.
- Use metaphors. Comparisons give the audience an immediate point of reference.
3. Use the right packaging.
“Styrofoam or ceramic?” is to the coffee drinker what “Paper or plastic” is to the shopper. It’s all about the situation, and the feelings of the buyer. Story-telling means creating the mood, providing the right packaging. Attitude is important. Actions are important. You don’t want the audience to switch channels, so keep them interested and involved. Too many details will bog them down – and you too.
- Use the vernacular. Tell the story in the language of the main character. Make it believable and identifiable.
- Include the peculiarities. Exaggeration is a million times better than plain and fancy! Give the story an edge, without going over the edge.
- Use variety. Appeal to the senses. Put the audience at the scene with descriptions that work the senses.
4. Use the right brand image.
Every cup of coffee sold by a brand name brewer puts the brand on the line. Christian communications is THE brand. And every part of it should either tell the audience more about Christ or introduce Him to them. There are lots of brands that may try to duplicate another, but the true connoisseur will know the difference. Let your faith shine brightly by refining the wonderful art of story-telling in the context of a genuine relationship with God.