A Refresher on Storytelling 101


Today’s guest post is written by JD Schramm, a Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He offers a seven-part formula for storytelling success, which has direct application to our weekly preaching and how we engage our audiences. More on my secrets to preaching prep in the P.S. . . .

At bedtime, I tell stories to my godchildren, Anna and Noah, when their parents invite me to care for them. Their capacity for stories amazes me. They beg for “just one more” and then “just one more.” It seems we are wired to enjoy a well-told story.

And as we grow up, we do not lose our thirst for stories. I work with future leaders at Stanford to help them develop compelling stories that achieve their management goals — and I’ve developed a seven-part formula for storytelling success in presentations and business meetings.

Parachute in, don’t preamble. The best storytellers draw us immediately into the action. They capture our attention and set the tone for a unique audience experience. Avoid opening with “I’d like to tell you a story about a time when I learned…” Instead, drop us into the action and draw the lesson out later.

Follow the “Goldilocks” theory of details. Give us “just the right amount.” If you give too many details, we get lost, or worse, bored. If you don’t give us enough detail, we may lack the context to grasp the story fully or to see ourselves inside your tale.

Focus your delivery on “one person with one thought.” When speaking to a group, focus on one person at a time, for four to seven seconds. As you tell your story, try to connect with each individual if possible. Don’t wash your eye contact over the crowd like a lighthouse, but actually connect with individuals. Consider even “casting” a member of the audience as a character in your story as you tell it.

Use silence for impact and emphasis.. When a composer writes the score for a symphony she places a rest in the music when silence is called for. That rest is as much a part of the music as the notes. Silence is a powerful and underutilized storytelling tool. Matt May elaborates on this point in his recent HBR post. Intentional silence draws emphasis to what was just said or what is about to come – and allows others to contribute their own interpretations.

Click here to read more on the other three strategies.

Your partner in ministry,


P.S. – Stories can definitely make our messages more memorable. And we want the most memorable and impactful message possible to help people come to know Christ and be fully developing followers. Beyond storytelling, there are specific steps you and I can take to literally double (and even triple or quadruple) the effectiveness of our preaching! Today is the last day to pick up my new Double the Effectiveness of Your Preaching e-book where you will learn proven methods to increase your effectiveness exponentially. Click here for your FREE download now – last chance! 

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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church growth strategist, pastor, church planter and coach, consulting with churches around the world. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has personally trained more than 3,500 church leaders in over 45 denominations through live events, seminars and monthly coaching. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in Boca Raton, FL. Nelson and his church routinely appear on lists such as “The 50 Most Influential Churches” and “The 25 Most Innovative Leaders.” He is the author of over 100 church growth resources and 18+ books, including The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life, Ministry and The Difference Maker: Using Your Everyday Life for Eternal Impact, and At the Cross with the People Who Were There. He and his wife, Kelley, have one son, Alexander.

Nelson SearcyLeadership, Preaching

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