Storytelling prowess is perhaps the most important trait of a Southerner. Confidentially, I am a storytelling work in progress, but I have friends who can suck you in so deeply to a story you don’t know you’ve been had until tears of laughter are rolling down your face.
Today, storytelling is more important than ever. Why? We are information overdosed. If you can’t tell a good story you won’t stand much of a chance trying to sell your product, idea or self. Luckily, the ability to spin a yarn is native to most Southerners.
All engaging stories follow a chronology. As the storyteller, you’re like the conductor on a train. Your goal is to get your audience on board and with a chronological series of “Situation Stations” that culminates at the close, ie. the destination. There are five essential steps of an engaging story.
Step One: Chum the water.
“Did you see that brawl at the Braves game last night?”
Ideally someone in the audience brings up a topic you can tie to your story, but if not, you have to spread some bait around.
Step Two: The Hook
“My EMT sister has seen really ugly wounds from hunting accidents.”
Like my title, this hook helps draw the audience in. No one would read this article if it was titled, “Southerners Are the Best Story Tellers.” That is just information we all know to be true. In this hook with the EMT, your audience is already thinking about all the gory things that they experience.
Step Three: The Setup
“She works at one of these dude’s hunting lodges. Apparently, lots of their clients think shooting a gun in ‘Call of Duty’ qualifies them with the real thing.”
Determine who your audience is, put yourself in their shoes and target them. In this case, the audience would not be folks who would spend thousands of dollars to shoot a deer, or be young enough to enjoy gaming.
Step Four: The Story
“Last week, two IT guys from Boston got themselves lost in the brush.”
For the story to resonate, it needs to be dramatic in some way that evokes emotion.
“As they work their way back, one guy collapses from exhaustion.”
Change the details of the story to fit your life experiences so that you can speak confidently.
“The other guy whips out his cell and calls my sister. “
You have to be concise and ruthlessly edit down to the high points.
When my sister picks up he gasps, “I think my friend is dead! What do I do?”
A great story must have conflict: triumph over adversity if serious, or a colossal failure if funny. The key to connecting with an audience is to reveal a simple, common truth that will connect at the very root of their humanity.
She replied “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
A great story involves a turning point. For a story to move an audience, they must see a character subjected to pressure, and changing as a result.
“Oh Right!” Says the guy.
A great story is not an anecdote. A great story is a tale of struggle; the funny ones are often about failures, and people never tire hearing of colossal failures.
“My sister hears the phone drop to the ground, and then a couple of gun shots.”
Give your audience a little bait along the way to keep them engaged. The bait is essentially a series of questions, i.e., the Situation Stations, that the story must raise.
Step Five: The Close
“The guy gets back on the phone and gasps “OK, he’s dead, now what?”
Now all the questions from the Situation Stations are answered. The story is about two guys who have no outdoor experience and are professionally prone to the literal – as anyone who has dealt with IT folks will confirm. The close is the easiest part to get right and also the easiest part to get cattywampus. Rookie storytellers try to arrive at the at the destination before the train. Learn to pause and relax.
I have not done research on the innate ability of Southerners to tell a tale, but my hunch is that it is passed on from one generation to the next through grandparent to child. Find your own style, practice and don’t rush the story. Nothing will boost your success or be more fulfilling than being a skilled storyteller.
Many thanks to master storytellers Guy Birmingham, BrandiMcCullough, Nanacita Lewis, Jimmy Jones, Pat Tierney and Scott Sammons. I can hardly wait for your next story.
Tim Heaton is a HottyToddy.com contributor and can be reached at email@example.com. His new book, “Bless Your Heart, You Freakin’ Idiot: Southern Sayings Translated” is available on Amazon as well as “Momma n’ Em Said: The Treasury of Southern Sayings.”