Story Features to Make Them More Compelling

We are delighted to share that Bob Garmston’s next publication will be available soon through Corwin Press. The draft title is The Power of Story Telling: How Leaders and Presenters Persuade. Bob has been gracious enough to allow us to give you a little preview this month.

In Chapter 5, Garmston describes 8 features that increase the desirability of a story. We highlight three for this entry – engaging openings, present tense, and sensory images.

Engaging openings alert the audience that the story is coming and increase receptivity. Phrases such as, “Imagine this or picture this,” cue the brain. Strong experiences can invite connections from the audience, e.g., “When I was six, the world changed.” A prop might also serve as a means to attract the audience attention through a different medium.

It may feel unnatural to tell stories in present tense, but Garmston reminds us that is how we generally tell stories, “I am driving my car down the road and suddenly a huge crowd appears before me.” Writing your stories this way assists the audience in feeling they are there in the moment.

Using sensory references can cause an attention similar to a light trance. Garmston suggests vague references to senses so that audiences can construct their own meaning.

…one might say the trees were alive with color, sunlight dancing through their boughs, rather than refer to the green leaves. Saying the leaves are green puts the color green in the audience’s experience. Alive with color, instead, has listeners create their own colors, much richer and more engaging than you could suggest. This is not to say being sensory specific is bad; sometimes it’s quite appropriate to say the ball was red. Listeners will still produce their own conception of red.
How might these tips inform you in preparing stories for a presentation or meeting?