It’s easy for the audience to tell a good story from a bad one. If you’ve ever been trapped in the third retelling of your rafting buddy’s favorite, absolutely plotless story about “that one time he flipped a raft”, you know exactly what I mean. A good rafting story is like a good whitewater run—it pulls you straight into the moment, keeps you on the edge of your seat with a white knuckled grip on your paddle, and swoops through the boulders and into the next eddy at precisely the right time. A good rafting story makes you feel as though you ran the wave-train or fished out the swimmers yourself.
Some storytelling skills are instinctive; there are a few people who are born storytellers, who can weave a compelling tale out of nothing without really trying. But what makes those stories good? Some of it is a nebulous “je ne sais quois”, the mystery “something” that separates a great whitewater rafting story from a bad one, but a few key components are shared by every good story.
A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. It sets the scene, rolls into the rising action, comes to a peak and then resolves it in a way that makes sense. It’s more than just a long, jumbled ramble about something that happened; it has a clear sequence that draws in listeners and keeps their attention.
Not every good rafting story has humor, but it definitely helps. Most people are more ready to listen to a funny story than any other kind. Sometimes this means laughing at yourself as much as your fellow rafters, but hey—it’s supposed to be good for you.
3. Clear wording
If you forget every third sentence or repeat anything you aren’t sure you already said, both you and your audience will be incredibly confused. If the fact that you have no memory of what actually happened is the base of your story, go for it—but if it isn’t, try to keep things in order for the sake of storytelling clarity.
4. Hand gestures
Not entirely necessary for a good rafting story, but if you act out what happened with as much exaggerated drama as possible it will definitely keep your listeners entertained. Even a boring story can be spiced up into something interesting and engaging with enough bordering-on-the-ridiculous hand gestures. Bonus points for making your friends use a bench or picnic table as a stand-in raft and act out the story as you tell it.
If you don’t care what happens in your story, no one else will either. But if you tell a whitewater story you really feel—one where you were exhilarated, or terrified, or went for your first swim in glacial meltoff—your audience will pick up on that passion and bring it into their listening. This is the most important part. You can backtrack, you can wander off on a tangent, you can forget to gesture out a single event, but if you’re passionate about your story your listeners will be too.