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The Astonishing Power of Storytelling

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

September 2018 | 240 pages | Corwin

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

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