Can you tell a good story? Would you like to? What makes a ‘good story’ to you?
The story Kat wants to share is her memory of how her dad could turn a very ‘dry’ subject around and make it an engaging experience, fun and interactive, and most importantly memorable.
I was brought up very religiously, dutifully attending our congregational church with my parents twice a week. As a young child being made to sit through bible talks, (highlighting scriptures, topical references, or general ‘morals’) as you can probably imagine, was the most boring, uninspiring and disconnected experience I could endure. The majority of the speakers stood at the podium on stage with notes and bible in hand, merely reading parts. They would refer to scriptures for the congregation to look up in their own bibles, and the main interactive part was asking a question to which a couple of assistants in the church walked through the aisles with their extendable microphones, to let the people with their hands up give their answers. Not much different to what you might see at any student lecture, public debate or even the House of Commons.
I was always extremely relieved when the two-hour meetings ended. I couldn’t wait to get out of the church and back into the fresh air and excitement of the ‘real world’ again. That was unless my dad was giving a talk.
I clearly remember a palpable change in the atmosphere of the congregation when it was announced that David Allen was speaking. There was an air of excitement! I heard people actually draw in a breath, sit up straight and look on in anticipation of what my dad was going to come up with to make this different. Something to enjoy, to learn from and something they actually looked forward to hearing!
So, what did dad do that was different from all the other speakers? Simple. He didn’t just speak. He told a story. He used props. He made sure to have a ‘hook’ on each talk he gave that would reel the audience in and get them hanging on his every word. He didn’t just ‘tell’, he ‘showed’.
On one occasion he approached the podium with a telephone, placed it in front of him then began his talk in a normal way, probably with a question or two. There were titters and whispers among the audience and a lot of fidgeting to get the best view of whatever dad was going to surprise them with. Sure enough, mid-sentence the phone rang and my dad held his hand up as if to say sorry for the interruption and proceeded to answer the phone. “Hello, sorry, who? Pope John Paul? Ah hello John Paul, how can I help you?” The congregation was completely his; gripped with amusement at the audacity and humour of his role-play; impressed with his (very simple by today’s standards) set-up and use of an everyday prop, and eager to see where this little gimmick was going to take them.
His talk continued in this role-play style, with a question-and-answer type conversation in which my dad highlighted certain scriptural quotes with ‘Pope John Paul’. He chatted about relatable scenarios and anecdotes, and even put ‘John Paul’ on hold while he ‘asked his friends’ the answer to one of the ‘Pope’s’ questions! The congregation gave their answers to those assistants with mics, and the whole talk was beautifully rounded off with the ‘Pope’ thanking my dad so much for his and his friends’ fabulous advice! The crowd were in stitches and clapping so loudly it seemed that they’d completely forgotten that they’d actually been listening to a bible talk!
So, what did the audience take away with them after the talk ended?
I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and say that I think they told the story of my dad’s talks to other people who weren’t there. I think they may have chuckled, thinking about them afterwards. I also think they absorbed and related to both the message and the delivery of dad’s talks purely because he made them memorable. He gave them life. He made them fun. He created a scene visually (with the telephone) and narrative (with his fake conversation) that made his audience feel they were part of the story. I hope too that they’ve been inspired to adopt a slightly different style for any talks or ‘performances’ they might have given, following the ‘Pope’ talk.
Me? I like to think my written style paints almost as much of a picture as my dad’s presenting style. For me, it’s about starting with a thread that weaves in and out, to evolve into something beautiful – ‘spinning a yarn’ if you will. Creating a place in the audience’s mind that sparks their curiosity so they want to delve deeper and learn more. Presenting an art form (which storytelling most definitely is) that gives people joy, motivation, understanding, or sometimes even just a good laugh!
To me, the best comics and comedians tell the best stories; it’s inherent in what they do.
So, back to my original questions. Can you tell a good story? Would you like to? What makes a ‘good story’ to you? #nationalstorytellingweek
You can check out the full, unabridged article on Kat’s Linkedin profile