Storytelling is a very specific communication method.
The art of storytelling involves sharing a story with one or more people in a live experience. If the audience isn’t with you in the same space, you aren’t storytelling. You may be doing any number of very fine story experiences, but storytelling is always live. As oil painting varies from water-color painting, so does storytelling vary from every other expression of story.
There are three core tools for oral storytelling: the story, your voice and your gestures.
1. Your relationship to the story.
To tell a story well, you need to like the story or, at the very least, you must understand the story you are telling and how it fits into your program or presentation. In business or performance, a storyteller is cocreating the story experience with the audience. Think of this as a story matrix combining the story, the audience and the storyteller into one complete experience. If any portion of the combination is not fully a part of the experience, then the storytelling will suffer.
With all the stories that are available to you, find a story that most appeals to you for any topic or situation. Some professional storytellers often say that the “story chooses me.” While you may or may not agree with that more transcendent idea of story selection, I have found that there is a “right” story for every occasion for every storyteller.
2. Your use of your voice.
For oral storytelling, your voice is a tool just as a chisel is a tool of the sculptor. Your story requires good use of your voice to express emotions and energy. An important storytelling technique is to learn to develop that “third ear” to listen to yourself as you tell the story. As you tell, think about what your voice is doing in that very moment. Does your tone, inflection, emotion and pacing match the events in your story?
In even the most subtle on-stage or corporate-boardroom storytelling, voice techniques are important. Focus on the power of your voice and all its aspects. This is true even if you don’t consider yourself dramatic or theatrical. I’m aware of a number of good storytellers who use only American Sign Language rather than their voice. The same rules apply to manual communication as they do to the spoken word.
3. Your choice of gestures.
A storyteller’s body also helps to tell the story. Choosing to use big gestures, subtle gestures or remain perfectly still helps your audiences to understand how you feel about the story you are telling. Try to vary the types of gestures you use. If you are normally more reserved in your presentations, tell one story with big and broad gestures of your hands, face and body. If audiences have come to think of you as “very animated” try using the simplest of gestures when you are telling a story intended to express a more serious point. In either case, the change-up in gestures will catch the attention of your listeners in a fresh new way.
There are more ancillary personal tools for oral storytelling but most of them are based in these three essentials.
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Sean Buvala is the director of Storyteller.net and a professional business storyteller and coach since 1986. To learn more storytelling skills, pick up his training kit at storytelling101.com