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How to tell a story effectively


Who was the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I hear a chorus of answers: Jesus

And how did Jesus teach?

He told stories. Lots of stories.

Matthew 13:34 (CEV) Jesus used stories when he spoke to the people. In fact, he did not tell them anything without using stories.

If you would teach effectively, tell lots of stories when you teach. if you would change lives, use lots of stories when you teach.  If you would teach like Jesus, tell stories.

Stories illustrate. Stories make the text come alive. Stories communicate.

But, what exactly is it that makes a story so effective? As important as stories are, we have all heard stories that didn't work--lots of them. What is it that makes a story life-changing? More importantly, how can we tell stories effectively?

Recently some research has revealed at least part of the answer to this question. I have been rereading (actually re-listening to Heath and Heath's incredible book, Made to Stick. (I did a whole series on this book you can access here: http://www.joshhunt.com/mail313.htm)

Here is a great story from this book illustrating the importance of including details in your stories:

In 1986, Jonathan Shedler and Melvin Manis, researchers at the University of Michigan, created an experiment to simulate a trial. Subjects were asked to play the role of jurors and were given the transcript of a (fictitious) trial to read. The jurors were asked to assess the fitness of a mother, Mrs. Johnson, and to decide whether her seven-year-old son should remain in her care.

The transcript was constructed to be closely balanced: There were eight arguments against Mrs. Johnson and eight arguments for Mrs. Johnson. All the jurors heard the same arguments. The only difference was the level of detail in those arguments. In one experimental group, all the arguments that supported Mrs. Johnson had some vivid detail, whereas the arguments against her had no extra details; they were pallid by comparison. The other group heard the opposite combination.

As an example, one argument in Mrs. Johnson’s favor said: “Mrs. Johnson sees to it that her child washes and brushes his teeth before bedtime.” In the vivid form, the argument added a detail: “He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader.”

An argument against Mrs. Johnson was: “The child went to school with a badly scraped arm which Mrs. Johnson had not cleaned or at tended to. The school nurse had to clean the scrape.” The vivid form added the detail that, as the nurse was cleaning the scrape, she spilled Mercurochrome on herself, staining her uniform red.

The researchers carefully tested the arguments with and without vivid details to ensure that they had the same perceived importance—the details were designed to be irrelevant to the judgment of Mrs. Johnson’s worthiness. It mattered that Mrs. Johnson didn’t attend to the scraped arm; it didn’t matter that the nurse’s uniform got stained in the process.

But even though the details shouldn’t have mattered, they did. Jurors who heard the favorable arguments with vivid details judged Mrs. Johnson to be a more suitable parent (5.8 out of 10) than did jurors who heard the unfavorable arguments with vivid details (4.3 out of 10). The details had a big impact. -Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

These are the kinds of stories I try to find and include in Good Questions have groups talking. Stories with some punch. Stories with some detail. If you would teach effectively, teach like Jesus.

Jesus used stories effectively

Effective stories include an appropriate amount of detail.



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