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  • Priscilla Howe

Sue Hinkel presents: Tips for Telling

by Priscilla Howe

THE BIG RULE: Tell stories you love, or feel deeply compelled to tell. If you don’t like your story, or it doesn’t matter to you, the listeners won’t be engaged.

• Relax! Before you tell a story, take a deep breath. Set your intention to have a good time.

• Know your story (unless you happen to be making it up on the spot). The good news is that you don’t have to memorize the words, just know the events, sequence, character and setting.

• It’s as if you are watching a film in your head and are telling the audience this film. You may want to memorize beginning and ending phrases, or a set phrase in the middle of the tale, if the language of the phrase is essential to the story.

• Imagine the people, places, objects and actions fully. Experience the story clearly in your own mind so the listeners will experience it as well. Use all your senses to imagine the story.

• Remember, though, that you don’t have to tell all you know—too much detail can bore the listeners. You’re painting a picture with your words and gestures.Practice. Some tellers find it useful to record their stories in practice or performance.

• Be gentle to yourself. Look especially for the parts you did well.

• Look at your audience. Storytelling is about connection, so you want to connect with

the listeners. Good eye contact helps the listeners know you want to connect.

• Vary your voice and your body language as the story demands. Pay attention to your movements so that your gestures add to the story, not detract. Some stories and some audiences demand more subtle gestures than others. Consider practicing in front of a mirror.

• Don’t worry if the listeners don’t get the same meaning from the story that you do. As storyteller Donald Davis says, “Meaning is the property of the listener, not the teller.”

• Know that the listeners have never heard this story told this way. Every storyteller is different, every story is different, every telling is different. Even if you think you have made a mistake, most listeners won’t realize it. You can usually backtrack if you’ve left something out.

• Don’t worry about being perfect. Know that the audience just wants to hear a good story. As the storyteller, you’re the bearer of this good story.

• Give credit: if you didn’t make the story up or it isn’t from your life, tell the audience the source. If it’s a folktale, learn as much as you can about the story’s culture. By respecting the author and the culture of the story, you also respect the story and the audience.

Have fun!

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