How to Tell Tall Tales

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"We discovered that tall tales work like potato chips - once we started writing, we couldn't stop at just one."

The announcement was made in July: "This year, instead of a humorous speech contest, District 27 will hold its first Tall Tales contest." Everyone in the room responded with an, "Oh!" and I think we may have achieved a record for the variety of ways to say that word. Some were intrigued, some were enthusiastic... but most of our members were confused and concerned.

What was the cause for all this dread? After all, most of us began telling tall tales on the playground. By the age of five, we found it easy to make a claim like, "I can kick a ball all the way to Kentucky!" or "My dog wagged his tail so fast that the news put out a tornado advisory."

If you've been in a tall tales contest, you know the challenge is to come up with something more than just an outrageous claim - you have to write a contest-worthy story that develops and supports this claim. These can be more difficult to write than their deceptively simple themes suggest. The members of my club are all talented at writing humorous speeches, but our first efforts at writing truly clever tall tales failed.

Our members were intimidated, and only two people signed up for the contest. That changed when our club came up with the following creative ideas. Soon, we discovered tall tales work like potato chips - once we started writing, we couldn't stop at just one.

How to Begin

How to Develop Flavor

After watching the movie Big Fish, try to copy the main character's story-telling abilities. Notice the use of tone, speed of delivery and volume, as well as the use of language.

It is funny to set up a predictable sequence of events, or a predictable sequence of logic, and then twist the final link in the sequence. Among successful humorists, the "Rule of Three" is popular. First, set up a joke. Second, reinforce the setup. Third, pay off with a punch line that smashes the pattern. For example, This porridge is too cold. This porridge is too hot. This porridge is asking to meet our leader!

Editing Helps

Follow these steps and your club will soon enjoy writing and performing tall tales without hesitation. It worked well for us. In the end, all 35,000 people in our club wrote tall tales. You believe me, don't you?

Elizabeth Keogan, ACS, is a member of Cascades Communicators Club 9064 in Sterling, Virginia, as well as Free Spirits Club 5160 in Reston, Virginia.


A Tall Tale Should Include The Following Features:


Facts Tell, Stories Sell

Follow the BASIC formula.

Facts speak to a person's intellect, stories touch the intellect and the emotion, a much more powerful factor in connecting with people. Fundraisers have been using the story technique for years. People will donate money if they are moved - either by personal experience or by a compelling story. Think about the number of times you are solicited for donations. Which causes are more likely to get your hard-earned dollars? What moved you to give? Watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon and you'll see hundreds of stories about children with muscular dystrophy and other diseases and millions of dollars pledged.

Use the power of story to improve any presentation you deliver. Here are five BASIC tips to help:

Believe in the story. Speak from your heart or from a real experience. Or pick a well-known story that supports your message.

Appropriate. Is the story appropriate for your message and audience?

Structure. Include an opening, a problem and a resolution. Stories are about journeys. You start off in one situation, face a problem, overcome the problem and grow or learn from the experience.

Internalize. Practice! With enough rehearsal, the story becomes second nature and flows like part of a conversation.

Captivate. Bring the story to life and focus on your audience's needs and your message. Use facial expressions, gestures, voice inflection or props, all tools learned in the Competent Communication manual.

Those are the BASICs to help you get started talking with tales. For indepth practice, try Toastmasters' advanced manual on storytelling - it's a great tool for learning to tell and incorporate stories into all your presentations.

By Carol_Mon

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