Three Critical Elements of Storytelling: Aretha Made Them Memorable


Three Critical Elements of Storytelling:
Aretha Made Them Memorable

              The incomparable Aretha Franklin (1968) .

Last Thursday, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, passed. The world will never be quite the same.
Aretha could tell a story like none other. Take a listen to her nearly eleven-minute version of “Amazing Grace.” If that doesn’t move you to tears, have you on your knees, or believing in a Higher Power, I don’t know what will.
Stories are critical to making your congregation or organization come alive to your people.
Ron Arnold, the former Charity: Water COO also knows a thing or two about storytelling. When experts point to an organization that tells its story well, Charity: Water rises to the top. In “3 Secret Storytelling Ingredients to an Irresistible Nonprofit” Mr. Arnold says:

Stories are a fundamental device that we humans use to communicate and process information. We think in metaphors and learn through stories. Which means that every time you communicate to your audience – whether through your website, email, videos, social media, events – you are telling people a story about your nonprofit.

Arnold let's us in on the three “secret ingredients” to storytelling. As you’ll see in my comments following each word, you can learn a lot about these ingredients from the Gospels and Aretha.
1.  Transformation. Think of the transforming Gospel stories. The woman at the well. The feeding of the 5,000. Jesus calming the storm. Think of Aretha Franklin’s transformation story: she was pregnant with her first child at 12. She had her second at 14. She was in an abusive marriage. She beat the odds to become an icon. People love knowing that their gifts of time, talent, and treasure contribute to transformation. They – your givers - want to know that they can make a difference in someone else’s life.
2.  Emotion. Think of the emotion-filled Gospel stories. Jesus on the cross. The Last Supper. Jesus letting the little children come to him. And go back and listen to the raw emotion in Aretha’s version of “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors. Emotion moves us – sometimes to tears of sorrow or to tears of joy.
And it’s based in science: Arnold quotes Omar Jenblat,

Scientists have uncovered that humans feel first and think second. When confronted by sensory information, the emotional section of the brain can process the information in one-fifth the time the cognitive section requires.

 3.  Simplicity. Think of all the Gospel stories. They generally take place within five-six verses. No muss, no fuss and yet, we remember them clearly. The woman who was to be stoned. Nicodemus. Peter’s betrayal. There’s clarity when Aretha sings, “Baby, I Love You.” One or two cues conjure up the entire story. You want people to remember your story? Keep it clear and simple.
As Aretha would say, “Think” when it comes to story telling…but don’t over think it. Who in your congregation or organization is being transformed? Why are they being changed? And how can you tell his or her story in a clear and simple way?  
Learn from the Gospels and Aretha just how to inspire your people by following these three “ingredients” – transformation, emotion, and simplicity. By doing so you will avoid getting twisted up in a (forgive me) “Chain of Fools.” RIP Aretha Franklin.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. If all else fails, she recommends getting fired up with a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” She was the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.