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Flexible Storytelling Styles
By: K. Sean Buvala

Are you flexible? That is, do you have more than one telling style?

I was once booked to tell for one sponsor who had two distinctly different audiences. In the morning, the audience was over 250 people, and required that I use an audience-involving, fast-paced style. On the other hand, the evening event was much smaller, 25 people, and was more reflective.

For these two different audiences, the sponsor was asking for the same material. They were hoping that both groups could get the same message, but conforming with the character of each group. The sponsor asked me, "Could you do that?"

About a dozen years ago, I would have defined my storytelling style solely as animated, audience-centered and energetic. Loud would have also been a good word, too. My audiences at the time were primarily high school students, that is, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. There wasn’t then much in my style that was subtle.

However, over the years I have learned that my skills need to include the ability to adapt my style to needs of the listeners. My "job" is to help the story come alive. If my audiences need a more reflective style, but I can only tell with boisterous energy, I do a disservice to the audience, the story and myself.

So, "could you do that?" Yes, I could. For this sponsor, then, I told to the larger group while standing, using broader gestures and more movement. I also encouraged the audience to share their energy with me, using a more "call and response" style. The audience in these kinds of tellings develops its own personality.

In the evening with the smaller group, the audience saw me sitting on a stool for most of the telling, using slower, calculated gestures. I sustained longer eye contact with individual audience members, making an effort to see individuals in the audience instead of a crowd.

How the audiences and I enjoyed each other and the stories! The tales took on their own nuances for each group, as I noticed with new insights although I was using the same words, the same story.

Try this experiment. Tell one of your favorite stories in your most comfortable style. Video or audio tape yourself. Then, tell the same story again using an opposite style. For example, speak slower or faster than you might normally do. Play the tape back and feel the difference in words and meaning as well as the difference in energy and pace..

Developing different styles is an important skill for tellers. Plan ahead and surprise yourself the next time you’re with an audience by varying your styles. Enjoy!

Author Information:
Name: K. Sean Buvala
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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