Jesus The Storyteller Can Transform Your Show
by Tracy Johnson
History’s Greatest Storyteller is Jesus. Jesus the Storyteller would have been a great air personality.
He loved stories. We know this because He told them all the time. He told them in the streets, at dinner, with friends on the road, at synagogues and even on hillsides.
Jesus told stories that connected to the people and places he lived. If you’re on the air, you are a storyteller. And you can learn from His example to transform your show, and perhaps change your life!
In the seminar History’s Greatest Storyteller, I share 18 lessons we can learn from Jesus’ storytelling techniques.
Here are highlights of five of the most useful:
Jesus The Storyteller Knew His Audience
Jesus had a target audience. He studied them, understood them. He cared about them. And he served them. Before launching his “campaign”, He carefully selected a small, targeted P1 audience…his loyal core of just 12 followers. You probably know them as the disciples.
Like you, he welcomed anyone. And he wanted everyone.
But he also realized that not everybody would respond to his personality. An audience of 12 by itself isn’t a movement, but by focusing stories first on a defined target, He excited them. And by leading this small community of followers, he empowered them to spread his message. This resulted in a growing audience…and he quickly became famous.
Apply it to your show: Focus on a core audience. Identify them, and know them. Build a detailed composite listener profile. Then empower your fan base to recruit on your behalf. But understand: they won’t all become fans. That’s okay! Stand for something and stand out.
Jesus Was Relevant and Contemporary
When He told stories, He entered through the audience’s experience, not his own. Jesus’ audience couldn’t identify with who He was, so the stories referenced everyday things they could understand. He related to relevant events in their lives. And, those things were contemporary. Today. Now.
If Jesus were here today, he would be telling stories about cars and athletes, celebrities and technology, relationships and the workplace! In short: His stories were never self-absorbed, but were about things his audience related to.
Apply it to your show: Design interesting, well told stories that hook listeners with familiar, relevant references. Combined with relatable communication, you win! This puts you in the center of the conversation. That creates fans. 6 Story Structure (Prodigal Son)
Jesus Told Stories With Structure
All of Jesus’ parables demonstrate artistry in design, story construction, unity, coherence, balance, contrast, recurrence, and symmetry. He implemented all five elements of story structure.
Hook. He gets into the stories quickly, wasting no time. There was no PPM in the first century, but He absolutely understood that He had to command attention quickly. In The Prodigal Son, he begins simply with, “There was a man who had two sons…”
Set up. He gives enough details to paint the picture, and each description was rich adding to the mental picture being painted. He describes the rich man in Hell asking Lazarus “to place a drop of water on the tip of his finger to ease his agony”.
Dress Up. He stayed focused on the direction of the story, but allowed enough depth to make it real and meaningful to the hearer. without confusing the audience.
Payoff. He hit the high point, delivered the message, and taught a lesson. He was clearly prepared and knew exactly where the story was going. He got there quickly and efficiently. There was a destination, an emotional conclusion.
Blackout. He knew when it was over, and left them wanting more. Sometimes they begged Him to continue, but he challenged them by leaving some of the stories unfinished. Not untold, but unfinished. This forced each to think, and develop their own meaning from the story.
Apply it to your show: Practice artistry in your stories by learning the five steps for successful break/story construction and follow them in your preparation. Hook-Setup-Dress Up-Payoff-Blackout. For more on this, check out The Art of Telling Stories.
Most of the parables end with an unexpected development. He used the element of surprise, an important ingredient in effective story-telling. For example:
- the poor, the lame, and the blind are guests at the great supper;
- All the workers in the vineyard receive the same wage
- The despised tax collector goes home justified.
- A dishonest steward is commended
- A widow receives justice
- A shepherd finds his lost sheep and a woman her coin.
- The widow who gives one coin is honored more than those giving much more.
Apply it to your show. Find unexpected, surprise endings. In preparation, ignore your first thought. It’s almost always common and they can see it coming a mile away. Find a unique, entertaining angle that will delight your audience and keep them coming back for more. That’s memorable.
Jesus The Storyteller Used Drama
Jesus’ stories were filled with drama. He created dilemmas that the audience could identify with. Great drama is never forgotten. A great story, well told, and with drama, only needs to be heard once. You get it. That’s the beauty of dramatic simplicity. The stories were almost always built on conflict, or contrast….there was friction in each story. And the friction was simple, not complex. Pick a side:
- Five virgins are wise and five are foolish.
- The king forgives his indebted servant who owes him a tremendous sum of money, but this servant refuses to show mercy to a fellow servant whose debt to him is minuscule.
- A farmer sows wheat but his enemy scatters weeds in that same field.
- Some workers in the vineyard grumble about their wages, while others are thankful and rejoice because of their master’s generosity.
- The children in the marketplace are either glad or sad,
- The fisherman’s catch yields fish that are both good and bad.
- The Good Samaritan contrasts a Priest and Levite against a Samaritan.
- The nameless rich man suffers in hell while Lazarus the beggar occupies a place next to father Abraham in heaven.
These contrasts simplified the story and his message. Reducing options makes everything easy, and engages a broader audience because it makes it easier to respond.
Apply it to your show: This is the practice of narrowing the choices. This makes it easy for the listener to understand by limiting possible outcomes. Open-ended questions are hard to respond to, but when you give them choices, it brings the content into focus.
Lead the listener where you would like to take them and make it easy to respond. Fill in the blank questions or multiple choice options create more reaction than asking broad questions like, “Call us with your stories about weird things that happened to you”.
These are just a few examples that demonstrate how Jesus revealed himself through stories. Study the technique and you’ll discover dozens of applications for your show as well.
Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.