What is the value of context in storytelling?

Anyone who wants to create a strong storytelling experience for their audience must build a talk on relatable scenes anchored in context.

Immediacy comes into play too for stimulating as much resonance as possible. The speaker or storyteller -no matter what speaking skill they believe they do or don’t possess- must assert a relatable scene ideally in the first 10 to 20 seconds of their talk.

That’s not ‘a hook’ or ‘a message’ although in some cases those terms may equate to eachother.

How is a ‘strong storytelling experience’ defined?

These core factors feed my working definition:

1. Cohesion of thought and scenes — Strength comes from a cohesive and teachable line of thought — a structured, distinctly accessible journey of scenic meaning created by storyteller for audience.

2. Asserted point(s) of view — It means making an unmistakable assertion for the audience in a very short amount of time right from the start — from which all other assertions and storytelling scenes relate (and build from). The storytelling experience becomes stronger (more accessible and thus progressively resonant) when speakers lead remarks well beyond random soundbites.

3. Context — Strength in storytelling increases if the storyteller provides ample context especially at the beginning. The listening environment for the audience becomes more naturally participatory.

Do other decisions by the speaker affect the strength and resonance of their presentation?

Certainly.

Do passionate conviction and calibre of message make a difference to the audience? Don’t they matter in your talk too?!

Sure.

What about having some good ole FUN?

You bet YES!

But if you’ve got to run out the door now before finishing this blog post – then this is what I want to start (and leave) you with:

It’s an issue of conversion (and mental orientation).

The speaker especially one giving a shorter talk with 30 minutes or less of stage time, needs to convert their audience from being observers – to being – mental participants.

Content example:

Let’s say you’re about to give a reasonably short talk. You take the stage, and then say:

“Have you ever been enchanted by a historical place or landmark?”

Stop.

Now consider:

With that sentence, your audience is no longer an observer intellectually separated from you as the speaker. Instead, your audience is now involved – with you – in a specific scene which you constructed in the simple form of a scenic question.

That one-line question achieved a specific purpose:

It defined a scenic moment – a micro story – and delivered the audience to a framed context immediately. It oriented your audience to a specific starting point about historical landmarks (not baby pandas, not politics, not Asian chefs). Historical landmarks.

After that first ‘Have you ever be enchanted’ question, you next say:

“I have! And I want to take us to the day I first fell in love with my favorite landmark in Washington, DC.”

Stop.

Now consider:

These next two sentences progress the audience to a different yet still relatable scene.

The audience continues to be included in a defined storytelling experience with simple, relatable moments. These scenic moments — offered early on and in layered ways — are key to a resonant storytelling experience.

Retention, and clarifying the unconditional vs conditional speaking dynamic:

To build better trust with an audience with a teachable line of thought i.e. a thesis, perspective, persuasion, or a teachable insight should be offered by the speaker for the pure sake of telling it clearly…of being understood.

That’s building an unconditional dynamic…an offer of ‘non-transaction.’

Which differs from a conditional dynamic like a sales pitch.

It is reasonable to assume a sales pitch is transactional: “I pitch and you the audience consider to be my backer or customer.” This transactional expectation is a natural component for a pitch. But creating a strong storytelling experience involves more than transactional standards or simply good wording or floating sound bites.

Good writing and a good message will be lost if storytelling content lacks a cohesive trajectory of thought. A good message becomes an irrelevant message if the audience’s attention span isn’t provided enough context. If ‘a sound message bite’ is surrounded by a jumbled pool of random thoughts that do not relate or naturally progress – then disorientation (not retention) awaits your listeners.

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