Come on in, pull up a chair, and sit for a spell, June is a time to spin a yarn in Tennessee during the Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales Festival in Gatlinburg. It’s a time when storytellers and musicians invade the town and infect the population with joyful sounds and dramatic tales entertaining young, old, and every age in between. The costumed performers portray characters from as far back as the 1800’s and provide free performances to spark interest in the art of stories and storytelling. Their goal is to share the intense joy of story telling. While many people are intimidated at the prospect of sharing a story with an audience, it can be an exhilarating and empowering experience. When people feel they have a good story to tell, they are much less anxious to share.
The most important thing to understand is that good story telling incites emotion and gets the listener emotionally involved. It can be a favorite campfire story intended to illicit chill bumps on the arms of listeners or an heirloom bedtime story shared with a niece or nephew. The story can even be an impromptu adaptation of favorite book shared from memory during story time at your local library or school. Whichever story you choose to share, the keys to a good story remain the same.
Keys to good story telling:
- Have a good story. Don’t expect to get your audience emotionally invested in the story of taking your dog to the groomer for a bath unless your dog got loose and ran through the pet store streaming soapy water and being chased by the groomer and two cashiers. You get bonus points if your Aunt Tilly climbed onto a tower of dog food to avoid being soaked.
- Set it locally to get your audience involved. Good stories mention local establishments or families. It gives the impression of a personal connection and allows the audience to feel like part of the story.
- Start with the right bait on your line. Never begin a story with a mundane beginning. Make it exciting.
- Reduce distractions and add ambiance. Remember telling scary stories around the campfire while illuminating your face with a flashlight? The same story was not as frightening when told in a fluorescently lit camper while sitting around the television.
- Down play irrelevant details. While details are important to add realism to your story some details are just not necessary. Add the most interesting details but leave out mundane information. If you have a great story about running into a famous actress at the local coffee shop, we don’t need to know that you prefer your venti, iced caramel macchiato, upside down, light on the ice, and with extra caramel unless you both ordered the same exact drink.
- Add emphasis as needed. Slow down and add theatrical pauses to build drama or suspense. ‘The car sped down the hill and … Did. Not. Stop.’ is much more dramatic than ‘the car sped down the hill and did not stop.’
- Know your audience. Sharing the story of a failed attempt to make ‘trashcan turkey’ on a camping trip is much funnier when it is shared with fellow scout leaders. Other listeners would probably not understand why a turkey would be in a trashcan in the first place causing the story to lose its punch before it is even told.
- Not all stories need to teach – sometimes they are just for fun. One of my favorite stories to tell is about a flock of starlings on an overhead wire with a personal vendetta and my ensuing mad dash for the safety of my home.
- Relax and Breathe. Be sure to practice mindful breathing during your story. This will ensure that you don’t rush along too quickly leaving your audience wondering what you said. In addition, it will reduce the stress and anxiety associated with public speaking.
Most importantly, remember to have fun. Let your self exaggerate a little and add some flair to the story. Pull your audience in and drag them along for the ride. After all, stories are meant to entertain.