flickr-user-dennis-vandalImagine, for a moment, you’re sitting in your favorite chair and your loved one plops a brightly wrapped gift in your lap. “What’s this?” you ask. “Open it and see,” he says.

With great anticipation you rip into the package and pull off the lid. Out jumps a golden ball of fur with a huge grin, a wagging tail and puppy breath. Wow! What a surprise! Your heart swells with love and your face explodes with the biggest grin you can possibly manage. You’ve wanted a puppy for so long! This is happiness.

In this brief story, you’ve experience d a few of the key elements of storytelling – safety, anticipation and surprise, and a kiss goodnight. When we weave these elements into our stories, we take our listeners on a wonder-filled journey into the heart of the human experience.

Safety. There is this myth that to be creative, you have to strip away all comfort. The truth is, if there is no comfort at all, you can ignite the fight or flight syndrome, which is the antithesis of creativity. You can create so much stress it’s impossible to be creative because you’re so concerned with survival.

It’s the same with storytelling. We begin our stories by sharing our hero’s life as usual. This gives our listener the opportunity to settle in. Then we ignite the action with a change — an activating event. Now we’re off!  We follow the hero’s journey story arc – something else that creates safety because we’ve been exposed to it since we were children. It’s comforting and thrilling all at the same time. It’s also the most powerful vehicle you can use to engage your listener because our brains are wired to listen and respond to it.

As a coach and trainer, I accomplish that safety through structure. I love templates. I create them for almost everything. They give my clients a framework in which they can be creative. While some of us are free spirits who need no such comfort, most of us want to have some direction so we can allow ourselves to delve into our creative process. When we’re ready, we can throw the structure away!

Anticipation and surprise. Showing our main character in his normal life is also how we begin the process of creating anticipation. All is as it should be. Then, we introduce something out of the ordinary, or several somethings. We take our listener on a journey that is clearly leading somewhere but we don’t know w here. We can ask a bait question — something our listener will wonder about as we move the action forward. In our “puppy” story, our main character is sitting in her favorite chair when all of a sudden a gift is plopped in her lap! What is it? When will we find out? Anticipation. The surprise is the answer. Surprise catapults us into something new. It brings a kind of delicious satisfaction, whether that surprise is pleasant or not. We are moved out of an existing state into a brand new experience.

The kiss goodnight. The last 30-second portion of your story is the most important. It’s the kiss goodnight, the message you want to share, the experience you want your listeners to remember. As listeners, we want that kiss to be good. In our “puppy” story, the puppy is the surprise and kiss goodnight. The puppy is the catalyst for our experience of happiness. The puppy is our reward.

To enthrall and delight your listeners, engage safety, anticipation and surprise, and the kiss goodnight in your next story. I’d love to support you! I can be reached at