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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