This evening I attended a super helpful workshop in Boston, hosted by seasoned storytellers Norah Dooley and Karen Chace. In our workshop I, along with eight others, practiced storytelling technique and then performed, on stage and with a mic. Brilliant.
A few key lessons that I learned:
– Shed my ego: To be a great storyteller I should realize that it’s not about me; I’m merely a conduit for the story itself. Once I realize this, and my ego subsides, I will connect with my story more deeply and so will my audience.
– Don’t memorize: I need to see the imagery in my story in order for the audience to see it. This is easier to do when I’m making up the story as I go along, as opposed to reciting a memorized transcript.
– Project confidence: If I appear nervous on stage, the audience will feel an urge to take care of me and will lose focus on the story itself.
– Slow it down: There is a lag between when I speak a word and when it is processed by my audience. Allow my audience to process one image before moving on to the next one.
– Kill my darlings: Superfluous narrative needs to go. No matter how beautiful it is, if it’s not the meat of the story, my words will lose my audience. We practiced this until 30 seconds felt longer than 60 seconds.
– Recover gracefully (clever): If I accidentally omit a part of the story that is critical to understanding the ending, rather than saying, “I forgot to tell you something,” instead say: “but what you don’t know…” or, “what I haven’t told you yet…”
– Take a moment: At the beginning and end of my performance, take a moment to connect with my audience. Starting too soon or leaving the stage too quickly will undermine the power of my story and might also slight my audience.
Among us was also a 10 year old girl. I was amazed at the ease with which she spun stories, and it reminded me that storytelling is less about learning a new craft and more about rediscovering an old one.
Norah Dooley says
Yes! I felt the same way about 10 year old Violet’s offering.
Story is so natural and powerful. Stephen Pinker, the cognitive neuroscientist, put it: “Children are wired for sound but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on.” Research shows that the act of reading and writing changes this for adults but does not completely “rewire” us, as last night showed.
Sometimes I am discouraged because educators fail to recognize the power of story. Other times I cut them some slack because fish probably do not appreciate water much either, right?
In any case, rewarding for a teacher to see bullet points of our lesson plan summarized so well by our student. Looking forward to hearing more stories from you.
Karen Chace says
Many thanks for the shout out! Norah and I were so pleased with everyone at the workshop. You all rose to the occassion and your turn at the mic was amazing. Your pacing was “spot on” and I loved the story.
We hope to see you at the upcoming Story Slams. Let me know if you plan to come to New Bedford for the Story Cafe as well. I will save you a spot at the mic!
It was wonderful to meet you. You definitely have the gift!
Mary Grace Ketner says
You catch on fast!
Thanks for your excellent notes on storytelling.–Mary Grace
Nice summary, sounds like a great workshop!
Of you haven’t watched Victor Borges tell stories you’re missing a giant. I was raised on his performances. Also, rent swimming to Cambodia.
What a great experience you had. As a storyteller myself, I certainly endorse the tips you’ve shared, particularly the one about connecting with the audience at the beginning and end. It’s so important to be present in the ‘now’. Practising stories with a partner while blindfolded is a great way of ‘listening’ while you are telling…using other senses rather than just sight to be aware of our audience and what’s happening around us. Hope we can meet up one day. Blueskies and fair winds.
Nabil Laoudji says
Hi Mick — just saw Victor Borge’s Phonetic Pronunciation on YouTube — great stuff.
And Michael, thanks for your tip on practicing storytelling while blindfolded — I look forward to trying it ;)