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The Astonishing Power of Storytelling

The Astonishing Power of Storytelling
Leading, Teaching, and Transforming in a New Way

First Edition
Additional resources:

September 2018 | 240 pages | Corwin

Visit this page to access a Study Companion for the book. 

Master the secret to engaging any audience—from classrooms, to colleagues, to conference rooms


Everyone loves a good story. More than entertainment, well-told stories captivate listeners and motivate action. In this guidebook, Robert J. Garmston shows you how to leverage the power of storytelling to engage and persuade students, colleagues, and all other audiences.


Written in Garmston’s warm and conversational style and featuring current cognitive neuroscience research, the book includes:

  • Detailed breakdowns of the essential elements all great stories share, and templates for creating yours
  • Tips for supercharging your stories by drawing from personal experience as well as familiar movies, TV shows, and popular media
  • A guide to effective story delivery, including optimized vocal inflection and body language


Becoming a better storyteller will make you a more effective communicator and educator. Get started today with The Astonishing Power of Storytelling.

About the Author and Illustrator
1. Why Tell Stories
Communication Suffocation

Leading Through Narrative

Watch A Story Being Told

How Storytelling Began

2. The Neuroscience of Narrative
Story Worth Watching

Stories Arouse Cooperative Instincts

$$$ The Million-Dollar Story

Desired-State Stories

3. Finding Personal Stories
Story Categories

Locating Personal Story Material

Stories About Your Organization

Finding Your Personal Stories

4. Other Story Sources
Six Story Sources


Films and Television



Stories Unique to a Particular Culture

Two Stories Worth Watching

Metaphor Stories

5. Why Are Metaphors Important?
How Metaphors Are Processed

Right Hemisphere Engagement

Four Uses of Metaphor

Teach Concepts

Generate Ideas


Go Beyond Logic

Subtexts of Metaphor

6. Desirable Story Features
Engaging Openings

Have a Beginning, Middle, and End

Use Present Tense

Use Sensory Images

Include Tensions

Embed Conflict

Create Voices

Use Memorable Closings

Seven Steps to Preparing a New Story

7. Delivering Your Story

Stand Like You Are Credible


Vocal Variety

Intentional Movement

Story Worth Watching

Use Questions to Invite the Audience In

8. Promote Change: Story Structure and Examples
Desired State


Applying the Desired-State Map: Three Examples

1. Shouting at a Parent

2. Bear in the Cage

3. A Strong, Yet Delicate Rose

Presume Positive Intentions

9. Meet Groups Where They Are

Indirect Suggestions

What Listeners Experience

10. Design for the Intuitive Mind
Invoking Receptivity

Beyond Waking Awareness

Story Elements for Subliminal Processes



Artfully Vague Language


Indirect Suggestions

11. How Two Stories Changed Behaviors
General Components of a Well-Formed Story

Factual Specificity

Presentation Congruity

Audience Appropriateness

Elicits Empathy

Contains Submerged Moral or Point of View

Creates Internal Representations

Bypasses Protective Filters

Parallels the Audience’s Situation

Lingers on Point of Irresolution

Marks Embedded Commands

Offers Resolutions

12. In Conclusion
Story Catalog
Organizing the Stories

Shifting Perceptions

Inviting Learning

Inspiring Action

Seeking Desired States

Guide to Story Locations
Worksheet 1: Metaphor Subtexts

Worksheet 2: Anatomy of Desired-State Stories

Worksheet 3: Constructing a Desired-State Story

Poetry Referenced in the Preface

Storytelling Study Companion


From this point forward, this book will be one of those cherished friends I keep on my nightstand and pack during long travel journeys.  I encourage every educator to give yourself the gift of The Astonishing Power of Storytelling – it will have a profound impact on your personal and professional journey.

Stephanie Hirsh, Director of Learning Forward
Learning Forward

You will never find a more insightful book on the nature and power of storytelling as leadership. This book will stir your emotions, inform you, and inspire you to rethink how you lead. It will then guide you to become a better storyteller by helping you ‘shift perceptions, invite learning, inspire action, and seek a new desired state' in your local context. A unique and inspiring leadership book.

Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto

Bob Garmston captures the science and the magic of stories as essential tools for leading, collaborating, communicating, and connecting, showing how and why leading through story is vital in our complex world. This book is a must read for education leaders of all kinds—principals, central office leaders, facilitators, and all who want to support the growth of others in powerful ways.

Ellie Drago-Severson, Professor of Education Leadership & Adult Learning and Leadership; Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College, Columbia University

This book has comprehensiveness, careful structure, and graceful writing. Garmston didn't just pick a topic and write a book. This wisdom piece has been a lifetime in the making. It is really quite something.

Jon Saphier, Founder and President, Research for Better Schools
Research for Better Schools

We hear stories every day.  But we don’t necessarily tell—or retell—stories well.  Every leader needs to reach people, their hearts and minds, and Garmston’s new book speaks to the power of storytelling for just this purpose. A surprising read, I now see stories differently, as sparks for human transformation.

Wenny Kusuma, United Nations; Women Country Representative; Kathmandu, Nepal
United Nations; Kathmandu, Nepal

In this book, Bob Garmston—a mesmerizing storyteller himself—brings an age-old tradition to life with useful guides for crafting good stories and using them in our work and daily lives. 

David Chojnacki, Executive Director Emeritus; Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools; Athens, Greece
Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools; Athens, Greece

It has been said if you want to change the culture, change the story. Bob Garmston has been a premier professional development trainer and practitioner for over thirty years. This book will provide background knowledge and great practical tips on the use of stories as a teaching strategy.

William Sommers, Bricoleur, Leadership Coach, & Author; Austin, TX
Leadership Coach, & Author; Austin, TX

For eons, storytelling has linked one generation of humanity to another and Robert J. Garmston does us all a great favor by reminding us that story is the conduit of human experience. Those who lead, present, and consult will find this book an enduring friend for influencing and communicating to a variety of audiences, especially in one’s own voice.

James L. Roussin, Executive Director of Generative Learning; Strategic Change Consultant/Leadership Coach; Stillwater, MN
Generative Learning; Stillwater, MN

With rare insights, Bob Garmston offers many pathways into the practice of storytelling, most powerfully by showing how metaphors are basic structures for making stories meaningful, heartfelt, and enlightening across diverse cultures. 

David Hyerle, Author of Pathways to Thinking Schools (2014); Lyme, NH
Author of Pathways to Thinking Schools (2014); Lyme, NH

Guided by his rich life experience in helping educators embrace meaningful learning and development in schools, Bob Garmston has brought us another gem! He offers the why, what, and how for using this most effective means of inspiring change in individuals and organizations.

Sally Alturki, Co-founder of Dhahran Ahliyya Schools and the Educational Book House; Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Dhahran Ahliyya Schools; Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

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