Telling tales

I was asked for advice on how to captivate an audience with an oral story.

One thing to know about stories… people want them. Stories are the catapults that propelled us to terrestrial mastery. We’re not the strongest or hardiest animals. But we can tell stories. We began by describing how tools helped us in difficult situations. And how we floored the hairy-arsed mammoth. We’ve always hungered for relevant narratives.

Stories are hard-wired into our psyches. We live off them, thrive on them, dine out on them. But if you want people to listen – you need to tell them well. For tips, rhetoric is the perfect place to start. Rhetoric describes the things that captivate an audience.

Political scriptwriters use rhetoric. Martin Luther King demonstrated it extensively in his, “I have a dream” speech. Hollywood scriptwriters use it for heroes. Stand-up comics use it for laughs.

The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle divided rhetoric into three parts: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is the speaker’s character. Will the audience listen? Pathos is a list of devices that create an emotional impact. And logos is a well-constructed narrative.

Sound a bit highbrow? It’s just understanding how to move people. And that’s what storytelling’s for. Whether it’s making people laugh, smile or remember you. Rhetoric does that. Be someone others want to listen to. Use tricks to play with their emotions. Construct a narrative they can follow.

Study of rhetoric offers helpful devices. Repetition – create a theme, bring it back. Changes of pace. The power of three, “live off them, thrive on them, dine out on them”. Recurring themes. (Hairy arses.) Comedy. Imagery. And never forget poetry. Imaginative language is what separates the cold soup bore from the sizzling steak storyteller.

Steve Jobs asked someone, “Who is the most powerful man in the world”. He answered, “The President of the United States”. Steve Jobs replied, “No. The storyteller”.