Five Storytelling Tips

Five storytelling tips to make you more effective. The art of storytelling comes in handy not just for entertaining friends, but also for your career.

Effective public speaking is frequently very similar to effective storytelling - and these five tips will improve your efforts in both arenas.

1) To tell an effective story, listen to your audience.

Gauging the likes, dislikes and tolerances of your audience is the single biggest key to effective storytelling. Saying exactly what you did before, in the same manner in which you said it, cheats the audience and yourself. To deliver an experience that your audience will appreciate, listen to what they say and watch what they do. They will give you all the clues you need to deliver the right performance.

2) Work without a clock, but don't take all day.

Storytelling is a rare event. Like fine dining, you can't hurry through it. Pausing to collect your thoughts, or simply to let anticipation build, is a tactic that can have devastating impact on an audience.

However, make sure (once again, through your listening) that you use this tool to the right effect. Silence and pauses can also make people think you have finished before you are done, or to make your performance seem artificial. So keep them to a minimum, especially if you aren't confident in your performance.

3) Vary your speed and tone.

Droning on and on is not acceptable, unless you do it for brief comic effect. Make sure that your storytelling doesn't fall into the trap of becoming a rote performance. If other people speak in your story, change your voice to show it. In the more exciting parts, quicken your pace to reflect the action. These changes make it easier for your audience to maintain their attention.

4) Develop a "voice" by studying other storytellers.

Your normal speaking voice is probably not the same instrument you should use while engaged in storytelling. Many people fail to project, or to deliver a distinctive experience, when they start to tell a story. If you are aware of the fact that you are performing, you'll create a voice that you can rely on.

Oral history might be the reason why humans learned to talk in the first place, so it stands to reason that we learn how to do this by listening to other people. Who are your favorite storytellers, and why have they earned your esteem? What practices, tactics, and techniques do they use that work for you? Can you emulate, without slavishly imitating, their better qualities?

If you have no role models for storytelling, two exceptional modern storytellers are Spalding Gray ("Swimming to Cambodia") and Laurie Anderson ("The Ugly One With The Jewels"). Videos and CDs of their performances are available through your local library, video store or CD shop, as well as online. Each brings an intensity and intelligence to their work that is very powerful, and whether you like them or not, you can definitely learn something from their approaches.

5) Don't read, never tell the exact same story twice, and always thank your audience.

Listening to someone read is not storytelling: it is a speech, and speeches rarely have the same intimacy and effectiveness. You need to perform this material, and if you read to your audience, you are not performing.

If you don't read, you can't tell the same exact story twice. (Hooray!) Each time you tell a story, you should learn more about its effectiveness, and what portions work better than others. A storyteller that tells the same tale repeatedly is not a welcome sight.

Lastly, always thank your audience. It is the quality of their listening, not the quality of your performance, that determines whether a good tale is told. Always thank them, and always mean it.

© High Speed Ventures 2011