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The Phenomena of Storytelling

pexels-photo-448835.jpegAfter many years of observing other communicators, breaking down their messages and the practice of public speaking myself, I have come to understand (while still learning of course) what kind of general structure or flow makes for a effective sermon or teaching. However, the thing that would always challenge me was the breakdown of a single component: the story.

Call them stories, illustrations, examples, whatever you want. But these play a critical role in helping people identify and remember a point of truth that you are making – after all, everyone loves a good story. But what makes for a good story? You might hear people say, “Well some people are just good storytellers, they just have it.” This may be true and satisfactory a hearer, but in the interest of our own training, influence and communication I would raise the questions:

  1. If you don’t have it, where do you find it?
  2. If you do have it, how can you better leverage it?

By breaking down the phenomena of storytelling, I will respond to these questions in a series of posts to help you (and I) become better storytellers.

Part 1: The Use of Neg-Story

Incongruence. It’s a fancy term but a profound one.

Would you believe that incongruence is one of only three attributes that makes something funny? It’s why we laugh at characters like Donkey from Shrek, Andy Samberg playing an adult role in any movie, and the majority of Arrested Development or The Office (among a billion other things).

So while I had inevitably experienced incongruence across my lifetime, I was first introduced to the concept when I did a subject on comedy at university. A simple definition of incongruence with reference to space could be: “not fitting well with something else” or “those two things don’t make sense together”, but it can also be used with reference to time, such as when you take one position on something, and then moments later you take a contrary position.

While the use of incongruence will add flavour and attraction to any story, it is this second definition that I want to explore with the storytelling phenomenon the neg-story. Read More…

The Stool (How Position Affects Power)

Stool on StagePeople sometimes joke with me saying that they can always tell when I’m going to preach because there is a stool on the platform. Perhaps two stools, maybe even three. Let’s just say that the humble stool has become a bit of a calling card for me.

So why the stool? Do I get so tired after such expressive hand gestures that I need to sit down and recover? Perhaps. But it’s about so much more than that. The stool is a communications tool, one that is well worth understanding and embracing.

Most people would be aware that body language is the most significant factor in effective communication with some studies suggesting that its contribution to a message is up to 85%. Body language includes a number of factors, most particularly eye contact, gestures, mouth expression, and position.

Position is where the stool comes in. Position sends a message to your audience about who has the power, and how much power that person has. Position, while often interpreted subconsciously, involves a number of factors including the environment, props and posture, which all contribute to a statement of power that must be taken into consideration if your public speaking is to be effective as both authoritative and relatable.

Listen for the power dynamics at play as we break down the things worth considering as a communicator: Read More…

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking (aka glossophobia) is one of the most regularly identified fears among humankind with many people ranking it of higher concern to them than the fear of death!

Stage Fright

The eyes. The eyes say everything.

For the huge proportion of people who suffer from it, whether mild or severe, we know the signs and symptoms: increased heart rate, memory loss, moisture being absorbed from the mouth to magically reappear in the form of profusely sweating armpits. For me, it was that my hands would shake as if I was holding a jackhammer. At times it felt frustratingly irrational, my brain would look down at and scream, “STOP SHAKING!!” all to no avail.

Ah, but did you notice the subtle change in tense? WAS.

Read More…

PSA: How To Give a Great Wedding or Party Speech

MicrophoneYep, it’s time for a PSA because this is a topic that really needs to be tackled. You know it, and I know it, because we have all been to a party or wedding where the speeches given are either really awkward, boring, or before we can escape, take a form eerily similar to a marathon filibuster. My feet are getting sore at the thought…

The good news: it doesn’t need to be this way! Regardless of your experience, you can give an amazing, thoughtful and creative speech that will be appreciated by both the guests and those being celebrated.


  1. Birth Stories – I have no idea why people (especially mums) feel inclined to share publicly the details of childbirth. Nobody wants to picture that. Nobody. Ever. For some reason birth stories have become a piece of staple content for significant birthday parties AND IT HAS TO STOP! Read More…

How Can a Loving God Send Good People to Hell? (Spoken Word)

Tonight at church I did something really different. I actually can’t remember a time I when I have been so nervous (I’m talking days!) prior to sharing. Having been given the topic “How can a loving God send good people to hell?“, and a grand total of 5 minutes to share from the platform, the scene was primed for creativity.

God, Freedom, Grace and Hell

Each of the statements would appear as I spoke them.

So rather than preaching, I wrote and presented the message in a “spoken word” format while the graphic above progressively appeared behind me. It wasn’t just about communicating with a different style, but rather, with the limited time that I had, to share in a way that would prompt questions, invite people’s hearts to resonate with the imagery, and hopefully make a few key statements stick. The video can be found here, but for those interested here are the lyrics:

When I proposed to Megan I put everything on the line
in the hope that she would say, “Yes, you’re mine.”
Moments like these are stunning moments of love,
but it is still a choice, not a push or a shove.

Read More…

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musings about life, faith and culture

Free Radical Gav

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