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Saturday, November 9, 2013

"The Art of Storytelling" (John Walsh)

TITLE: The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story
AUTHOR: John Walsh
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (160 pages).

"I can't speak. I'm not gifted. I'm too afraid to stand before a public audience." These protests are all too common. That is why public speaking is often considered one of the biggest fears people have. This book is not particularly about public speaking. It is about a particular skill that is vital to good public speaking. Telling stories. Written by a person who began as a stutterer, and who at one time felt that he was never cut out to speak in public in the first place, the author is keen about helping those who are inexperienced, who desire to improve, those who lack confidence, and especially those who not only love stories but desire to tell them well. This is the central purpose of this book, to teach storytelling. Written in two parts, the first part is about learning to craft the stories, and the second part is about telling them.

A) Crafting the Story

In crafting the stories, Walsh proposes 14 steps in order to craft a "captivating story." Steps 1 to 9 are basics while steps 10 to 14 are for more advanced and special cases.
  1. Select a story
  2. Push through the story
  3. Envision the scene with present-day feelings and concerns
  4. Tell the story from the view of someone at the scene
  5. Establish the story's central truth
  6. Find a memory hook
  7. Tell a story within a story
  8. Plan your first words
  9. Plan how the story ends
  10. Research the facts
  11. Eliminate needless details
  12. Add description to the story
  13. Include audience participation
  14. Arrange practice audiences.
The key idea in the book is to learn to tell stories in a way that audiences think. Walsh calls this "story thinkers." In fact, there are less "analytical" persons in churches compared to "story thinkers." Just making a three-point sermon and adding in a story to close it all seems too "linear" for anything captivating. Why not tell a story that weaves in all three points instead? Giving a message in a linear manner may make sense to the head but telling a gripping story will capture the heart. Not only that, it is much easier to connect through stories than to convince through points.

Walsh gives tips on how to find stories as well as choosing small stories to begin. This enables the speaker to be creative and to concisely build his story up to cater to the audience's ability to listen. Getting a story is one thing. Having it touch one's heart is another. He does not seem to favour memorizing stories simply because memorizing is more "story-centered" than "audience-centered." We also remember how story-telling as an art form is "best developed in front of people." The step about tailoring a story to modern needs and audiences is a precious learning jewel. Using sights, sounds, smells, and all kinds of sensations, good story-tellers will be able to invite audiences into the scene. One of the best ways is to use oneself as an example. The secret of making a story unforgettable is about having one central idea or truth. One can use memory hooks and memorable phrases for both adults as well as children.

There is also a section about when to "ramble" without having a prepared story to tell. In situations like these, it is critical to realize that audiences attention span will only be for a few minutes. If the rambling fails to catch their attention, the speaker will have lost the captivating opportunity. There are tips on how to craft great beginnings. Walsh urges speakers to be quick to "get to the mountain" in the story. Shorten the introduction and lengthen the key point. I especially appreciate the part when Walsh urges the linking of the end of the song with the beginning of the sermon message. Readers also learn that stories can be entered into in different ways, not just at the beginning. The creativity is very much up to the storyteller.  Other challenging parts of the book includes audience participation, researching the facts of the stories, and how activities can be designed to fit the stories.

B) Presenting the Story

Seven tools are provided. Use imagination to see the story in one's mind first. Use facial expressions to communicate emotions. Adopt bodily movements and gestures to let audiences see what we say. Use the voice carefully in terms of speedy, tone, volume, word choices, vocal variety, etc. Make use of pauses appropriately. Try to get the better of nervousness instead of letting nerves get the better of us. Speak with confidence.

There is a bonus section in the book that talks about "BibleTelling" to help preachers and teachers of the Bible be more effective in storying the Bible. One of the key things is to remember the "Bible Telling Triangle" which is to form the storytelling like a triangle of "listener," "storyteller," and "Bible story."

So What?

This book is not just a book about the techniques and methods of story telling. It is also a personal odyssey of the author's learning path toward great story-telling. He was inspired by people who spoke well. He was encouraged to pursue the path of public speaking by people who believed in him. He was willing to be trained, and to learn how to make stories come alive not just for himself but for the audience. The two pieces of advice Walsh provides in this book is worth remembering. Learn it well. Then teach it well. I am full of praise for this very powerful book of ideas that not only gives tips of how to craft and to present stories effectively, it inspires even the meekest persons or untrained individual to desire to give storytelling a shot!

I recommend this book highly for all speakers and speakers to be.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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