How to Engage an Audience with Storytelling: Part 2 – The Telling

“Artists should always think of themselves as cosmic instruments for storytelling.”—Ted Lange

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In another post on creating a memorable learning experience, I promised to talk more about storytelling. Last Thursday we focused on the story. This Thursday we’ll look at effective ways to tell a story.

While telling stories, I’ve observed my listeners becoming trance-like because they were so immersed in the story.

During a dramatic reading of one of my short stories to adults, my listeners eerily looked off into space. I realized they no longer saw me. They saw the imaginary people my words portrayed.

Another time, I invited four-year-olds to go with me into a Biblical time. During the story, I thought I’d lost their attention when a few whipped around in their seats. Then I realized they’d looked behind them to see the person who I’d told them approached us – the person I saw in my imagination had entered into theirs.

Those are the moments a storyteller tries to re-create.

Storytelling tips.

 1. Be sensitive to your listeners in story length and what you say. You want to move them, not bore, offend, or unreasonably scare them.

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 2. Invite children to participate to hold their interest. For the very young, include repetition.

Me (repeating throughout the story): The donkey traveled to the next house—

Children: [patting knees] Clipity-clop. Clipity-clop.

3. Don’t memorize the story. Know the story well. Picture and internalize the chronological unfolding of what happens next.

4. Dress like the narrator of your story. In 5th grade, I dressed like a gold miner in a flannel shirt, baggy pants, black boots, and a pipe and retold The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.

For young children, let them see you dress up like a character or you might frighten them.

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5. Enter into your story. Use your body and facial expressions as “props.” I dressed as a blind man whom Jesus healed. During my preparation, I asked myself how I’d feel the first time I could see and when I saw what my parents looked like. I let my answers flow through my emotions, body movements, and facial expressions as I told the story.


6. Invite your listeners into the story. Make eye contact.

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Me: Let’s move closer to the crowd so we can hear what the Pharisees are saying about Jesus. Look, one Pharisee is angry. He says, [I screw up my face and punch my finger as I speak.] “It is time to get rid of Jesus.” (For my young listeners, I used rid not kill.)

7. Set up the where, when, and why. Use colorful adjectives. Mix up narration and dialog. Leave out irrelevant information. Entice your listeners senses.

Me: In 2004, I was a budding author of two self-published books of short stories. Because I longed to write novels, I now had a Christian historical romance I wanted to launch into the world through a traditional publisher.

I needed an agent.

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“You can do this and not die,” I told myself until I almost believed it.

I drove to a writers’ conference in Maryland. While there, I stood in line in a narrow hallway—fraying my fingernails—to sign up for an agent appointment. Soon, I’d sit for fifteen minutes … alone … with a scoffing, what-makes-you-think-you-can-write literary agent … 

8. Use pauses for suspense, faster speech for action-filled moments, and slower speech for calm periods. Vary the volume of your voice. Use unique voices for each story character.

Me: Just then, [pause] the large, old door to the church hall [louder] clunked open. [slower] The door opened, [pause] but no one appeared in the doorway.

What storytelling technique captured your listeners?

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How to Engage an Audience with Storytelling: Part 1 – The Story

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. — Hannah Arendt

In another post on creating a memorable learning experience, I promised to talk more about storytelling. The story and the telling are distinct parts of storytelling. To hold your audience’s attention, consider both. Today I’ll focus on why including stories in presentations is valuable and the types of stories that can be used. One presentation may use multiple types of stories. Next Thursday, I’ll give effective ways to tell a story.

9 Reasons to Use Stories in Presentations

1.  Stories can create an experience that listeners can step into and identify with. For a conference of cooks:

List the dos and don’ts in an industrial kitchen.

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Also, tell the story, I Cooked My Way Out of a Sunk Soufflé, showing the dos and don’ts.

2. Stories can cause listeners to learn without realizing it. For children:

Warn them not to do poor work to hurry and play.


Tell them the story: The Three Little Pigs.

 3. Stories can show listeners solutions to moral predicaments. During a school assembly:

List school rules about bullying.


Also, tell the story, My Friend Jack Turned a Bully into a Friend.

4. Stories can touch listeners and call them to action. During a dentist visit:

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As usual, the dentist told me to start flossing my teeth. (I didn’t.)


Finally, he told me about a patient who didn’t heed his directive, then showed me a picture of a person’s black gums. I have flossed once a day ever since!

 5. Stories can get listeners talking. In a leadership workshop, ask:

“What are elements of making a wining decision?”

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Tell the story of the three whales trapped under the ice. Then ask, “What would you consider when faced with the choices: save the endangered whales at $1 million or let local whalers feed the natives?”

6. Stories are more interesting to listeners than shoveled information. For a class on storytelling:

List 9 reasons to use stories in presentations.


Also sprinkle mini-stories and examples among the reasons to stimulate listeners’ thoughts. :O)

7. Stories can show listeners how to use information. In a Bible Study Fellowship training session for Children’s Leaders:

Read the tips for large-muscle exercises from the manual.


As our supervisor did, ask the seasoned leaders to tell the actual experience of their most popular large-muscle idea.

8. Stories can encourage listeners to see what’s possible. In a workshop on self-publishing:

Tell the steps to self-publish.


Also relate the story of how you did it.

9. Stories are memorable and make a message easy for listeners to pass on to others. In a crime awareness class: 

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Tell dos and don’ts.


As our presenting police officer did, tell us stories of what happened when people failed to heed such advice. I shared his stories with other women.

5 Types of Stories

1. To Entertain – regale listeners, not send a message. Often jokes are designed solely to tickle funny bones. Campfire ghost stories are usually intended to keep listeners awake listening for tread-on sticks.

2. To Teach – tell parables as Jesus did using common life events of His day to teach about the kingdom of God.

3. To Persuade – relate true testimonies to draw listeners to action or make life changes.

4. To Apply – give examples how an idea or an item can be used.

5. To Inform – impart facts in travel logs, documentaries, and biographies.

What story worked well in a presentation you attended or where you were the speaker?

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How to Layer a Message to Create a Memorable Learning Experience

The true method of knowledge is experiment.” —William Blake

In another post on creating a memorable learning experience, I promised to talk more about layering activities that add to, build on, or complement the message during a learning session.

5 Possible Layering Ideas

An Illustration of Layering: A preschool Sunday school lesson on Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish as told in the Gospel of John.

1.  Start the learning as soon as participants enter the room. Decorate the space with items or pictures that relate to the subject that will be addressed.

Example: For a dog training class, hang posters around the room of dogs heeling, waiting, and responding to other commands the dog owners will learn.

2.  Provide activities for participants to enjoy while people are still arriving. Make sure each connects in some way to the main lesson.

 Example: Have resource materials related to a conference’s subject displayed on tables for participants to peruse before the conference starts.

3.  Take advantage of layering in all periods of a class, a conference, or workshop. It’s okay if the connection is minor in some.

 Example: If times for singing or physical exercise are included, relate the songs or games to the class’s theme.

 4.  Use roleplaying to layer what has just been presented. Make sure it’s more fun than intimidating.

 Example: In an English As a Second Language class on food, set up a café complete with round table and inexpensive plastic food. Invite participants to take turns ordering and serving.

 5.  Send home with participants a goody that encourages using the new knowledge. Something tangible will remind participants of the learning experience days later.

 Example: In a workshop on prayer, have participants make prayer chains with animal beads that represent people to be prayed for.

An Illustration of Layering: A preschool Sunday school lesson on Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish as told in the Gospel of John.

Story: This was the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after His death and resurrection. Some of His disciples fished from a boat close to shore, not catching anything. They didn’t recognize the man on the shore who told them to throw their nets to the other side. They obeyed and caught 153 fish.

When Peter realized the man was Jesus he jumped into the water and headed to Jesus while the others followed in the boat. Jesus had cooked them a breakfast of fish and bread before imparting directives to Peter.

Did you count 153?

Opening Free Play: Layer fishing and cooking. Three stations 1) make breakfast with cooking gear and play food; 2) form fishes and bread loaves from playdough; 3) fish for paper-clipped fish with pole and magnet hook.

Storytime: Layer message. Dramatic telling of the Bible story.

Scripture: Layer message. Children teach verse to their sock “fishing” worm puppets.

Story Reinforcement: Layer message. Children make bell ring by answering 5 story questions.

Large Muscle Exercise: Layer story. Role-play the story wearing Bible clothes, rowing, jumping out of boat, cooking, and eating.

Music: Layer message. Brief introductions to lesson-reinforcing songs stress the message.

Snack: Layer fish. Enjoy eating goldfish crackers.

Take-home Craft: Layer message. Talk about the story while children creatively decorate their fish with the Bible verse on the backs.

Closing: Layer boat. Play Doggy, Doggy Where’s Your Bone? substituting a plastic boat for the bone.

How have you layered activities for a learning experience?

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