How Do I Tell a Good Story? Part 3
1. Know the facts of the story. If you don’t, you will have difficulty relating the story. Do not try to memorize the story.
Read the story multiple times. Some teachers find it helpful to list the facts of the story. Highlight people/characters and important things to remember in the story. Become familiar with the characters, plot, and ending. These are just a few of the storyboarding techniques taught in the BibleStorying workshop which will help you learn the facts so you can tell the story well. (Check out the seminar through link in blue.)
2. Imagination is enhanced through using the five senses. After becoming familiar with the story, sit back and imagine what you would see, smell, hear, etc., if you were there.
- Sight: What do you see? Is it day or night, and how does that affect the story? Sunny or cloudy? Who do you see in the story? Are they crowds or individuals or animals? Do the people seem happy or sad or angry or perplexed? What don’ t you see that you should?
- Smell: What do you smell? A dinner cooking or warm bread out of the oven? The hay in the manger? The aroma of animals in the ark?
- Sounds: What do you hear? What are people saying? What kind of voices do you hear (crying, laughing, yelling, whispering, etc.)? What nature sounds are being made (water slapping against the ark, waves crashing over the fishing boat, the tromp of soldiers feet, etc.)?
- Taste: What can you taste? The cool water from the well, the manna or roasted quail, the juicy fruit in Eden. Make the taste buds “come to life” in your descriptions.
- Touch: what do you feel? Hot sun in the desert, the embrace of the prodigal or when Jesus held children, the rough wood of the cross or the hard, sharp nails. Use powerful, descriptive words as listed earlier under Elements of Storytelling.
3. Utilize the powerful personal pronoun “You” when addressing an audience of one or many. This little word makes everyone feel included, especially when making a personal application, giving the gospel, or including an invitation for a student to come talk with you about spiritual needs (salvation, etc.).
Examples: “Have you failed like Peter when he denied knowing Jesus? “You can tell the Lord you are sorry.” “The next time someone asks, ‘Are you a Christian?’ You can trust God to give you courage to tell them the truth.”
4. Use varying rates of delivery and a perfectly placed pause. These two methods of delivery will cause the tension in the room to rise at key places in the story. Example: John 20 (rate, normal): “By the time Mary reached the disciples she was (pause here) breathless. (Now pick up speed) “Men! (pause here) The soldiers must have taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb!” (pause here) Mary drew in a quick breath. “I – I – I don’t know where they have (pause here) taken Jesus!” So, Peter, John, and Mary raced back to investigate. (pause here; rate: slow) Tears ran down Mary’s face. (pause here) She heard someone call her name, “Mary.” (pause here) There was a familiar sound to that voice. She (pause here) ….”
5. Use varying Voice Pitch(es). A mid-range or lower range is the preferred voice pitch for people to listen to compared to a high pitch, nasal tone that can irritate your audience. But a change in voice pitch, especially in dialogues, will make characters come to life. The variation does not have to be great—just enough to indicate a different voice—a bit higher for a woman or a child, deeper for God. Don’t get silly in your voices unless you are going for laughs at a certain part of the story.
Example: I Samuel 28:7-12.
King Saul instructed his servants, (deep pitch, demanding voice) “Find me a witch who will consult the dead. I need help now.” His servants replied, (mid-range pitch) “King Saul, there is a witch in the town of Endor. You can get help from her.” So, King Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothing. He and his two servants traveled to consult with the witch of Endor. It was nighttime. The disguised King Saul demanded, (deep pitch, demanding voice) “Bring back to life the person I tell you.”
But the woman said to him, (slightly higher pitch, but lighter, thinner) “Look, you must know what King Saul has done around here! He has removed the people like me – the witches, the mediums, and magicians from the land! Are you trapping me so I will be put to death like the others?”
But the disguised King swore an oath to her, (deep pitch) “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be guilty in this matter!”
The woman replied, (high pitch) “Who is it that I should bring up from the dead to talk to you?”
He said, (deep pitch) “Bring back our prophet Samuel who died.”
Poof! Samuel appeared.
Immediately the witch of Endor pointed her finger to the inquirer. She screamed at him, (high pitched scream) “Why have you deceived me?! I know who you are! You are King Saul!”
6. Use facial expressions and body language. Your facial expressions and body language (silent communication through gestures) must match the action and the emotions of the story. A sad face reflects an unhappy event. A happy face reflects a joyful segment in the story. Never scramble the two.
Try to tell this Bible story of the wise men when they saw the star after meeting King Herod with a sad face. (Matthew 2:9-10) It’s impossible!
Conversely, the Bible story in Genesis 27 after Jacob stole the blessing is impossible to tell with a happy countenance!
7. Utilize your open Bible and eye contact to convey sincerity. Hold your open Bible in your hand from time to time. Read parts of the story—even if it is just a statement or a key response—directly from the Bible. Only refer to a prepared story outline for a brief moment so as to keep the story line in the correct order if absolutely necessary. If you have the paper, you will look at it. But if you prepare well, you’ll surprise yourself that you don’t need the notes.
As much as possible, maintain eye contact with your audience as you tell your story. It conveys your sincerity. And your eyes, facial expressions, and body language can each convey a wide range of emotions. When using eye contact, only focus on individuals in your audience for a few seconds each. Do not stare at one particular person or stare off into space when telling the Bible story.