Four key elements of storytelling

“What happened next?” will be your three favorite words. Paint a vivid picture and your audience will “see” what you’re saying. They’ll inch forward on their seats, listen with their eyes and ears giving you their full attention – all because you know the secret of how to tell a good story. Some of the best and often funniest stories are best told as anecdotes just before the wedding toast. These vignettes follow a simple formula: PLOT (Purpose, Listeners, Organized, andTime).

Each anecdote should deliver a message, demonstrate a point, convey a feeling or an overall purpose – like in Aesop’s Fables and sum up the point in one succinct sentence. For example, Bob is head over heels in love with Betty (cliché, but let’s go with it). Now tell a story of how Bob showed his deep passion for his bride-to-be. At the end of your anecdote the meaning should be obvious and the listeners will easily grasp or identify the concept. So, determine your purpose and the plot will thicken.

For people to remember what you’ve said, you must reach listeners on an emotional level. Breathe life into your story’s characters and situations by describing specific parts of a scene, on action taking place or through expressive dialogue. Instead of saying, “Bob was in the kitchen,” which is flat and boring, elaborate: “Bob was wearing his new ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron and every inch of the kitchen counter was covered with all the contents of the refrigerator.” Add more flavor with dramatic voicing, pauses, expressive body language and facial expressions to help the audience connect with you and visualize the setting.

When a storyteller jumps around to seemingly random thoughts it only confuses the listeners. Tell your anecdote in a logical sequence. Make it clear, focused and easy so your audience can follow the storyline. Avoid endless details and unnecessary tangents. Have something happen in the story at a specific time and place affecting the main character. This creates a problem which needs to be resolved, followed by a series of events (the action) that reaches a climax then concludes. At the end of your account the story should connect to the overall purpose.

Brevity is paramount for anecdotes. A short creative story will quickly clarify and support your point. A beautiful byproduct of a two-minute tale is the ease of use: easy for you to remember the story and easy for your audience to remember it.

Assemble all the parts of your PLOT and you’ll have a successful and brief anecdote. For example:

“I knew Bob was on the road to marriage when he made dinner for Betty. Only true love can make a man who lives on frozen dinners and Domino’s pizza reach beyond his current skill set and boil water for something more than JELL-O. One night I walked into his bachelor’s apartment, which was decorated in jet black furniture, to find him standing in the kitchen wearing his newly purchased Kiss the Cook apron. Every inch of the counter was covered with all the contents of the refrigerator. There was a little flour in the air…and in his hair. When Bob saw me, he said, “I’m making food to eat. For me and Betty. Supper.” The only things missing were his club and cave. But alas, isn’t that what true love is all about?”

In less than 150 words, a complete story can be told. Images of each scene are painted in your listeners’ minds, logically linking from one thought to another seasoned with a little humor. A good anecdote will almost tell itself.

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