Sunday, April 19, 2015

Storytelling Slams: Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope

Like me, a calliope is sometimes full of hot air.
A bit of personal reflection: "Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope" is the new way that I am understanding the ongoing evolution of the Story Slam.

There's been, in my little circles, some discussion by the oral storytelling community (both online and offline) about story slams. I've been reflecting, mostly for myself, on my evolving image of the story slam.

Story slams, henceforth just called "slams," vary in style, quality, rules and process but most are built around telling personal tales that are supposed to be true. The sharing of personal stories has probably already existed since people learned to speak. Really, aren't slams just the extension of gossiping with your neighbor over the backyard fence in olden times, like 1970 or some such date? Slams, if nothing else, create self-selected communities when we are too busy to know the people who actually live in the homes next to us.  If you need to know more about slams, I've written about them here and here and always-teaching here.

In the most popular cases, these storytelling events usually are almost always held with food and drink (hence, "cocktails and canapes") for the audience. It seems, from my experience, that the best-attended slam events have these two elements. I'm wondering if this is unique to this version of storytelling (as a performing art) as I can't imagine that most folks go the ballet with a table of highballs and mixed nuts.

New Words
Lately, I am seeing some positive shift in the quality of these events.  I know that "quality" is subjective and personal, as for some people every word uttered on the slam stage should be applauded while others shun the entire reality of slams. However, balance is important.

I used to describe slams as "karaoke storytelling".  "Karaoke" was once the cocktails-and-canapes version of "everybody's-a-performer" event before slams started to take over. For many of the events I saw at the beginning of the story-slam trend (1998?), "Karaoke storytelling" was the right description in my mind. People readily understood the model: get up and talk (usually in anecdotes and not really in stories) about one of the big-three subjects of sex, drinking or nakedness (with a smattering of  "how crazy my family is") and you could get an ovation. Much like karaoke singing an off key-version of "Midnight Train to Georgia," you would at least get applause for your efforts and (important) your telling would embolden others to share their voices.

However, in the last year or so, I am seeing a positive shift in the quality storytelling at some slams. I'm replacing my use of the word "karaoke" with "calliope/Calliope."

first, it's a calliope
Let's start with the calliope with the small-c. A calliope is a loud, offkey, hot-air driven musical device that is used at circuses and state fairs. It's blustery, attention-seeking and, for as few moments, can be fun to watch. They are a novelty for music; they are not something I want to  listen to all the time. Sadly, there is still some calliope-style storytelling going on at slams. While you can get a "ringer" who truly understands how to tell a story, there are still some storytellers who are new and loud. Worse yet is the storyteller who is not new, just lazy (untaught?) in story-crafting. This happens often in "draw the contestants' names from a hat" shows. These are the calliope storytellers. You will have some fun, but you will get tired of listening to these tellers after a while. There is much noise and distraction coming from these calliope tellers.  In fairness, we could say that there is some serious butchering of world-tale story in the traditional presentations, too.

Choose Your Muse.
Calliope drops knowledge on Orpheus
Choose Your Muse: Calliope
Importantly, we also have the capital-C Calliope. She is The Muse of Eloquence and Epic Poetry.  With the slams that insist on coaching or curating the presenters, there is often better personal storytelling going on as well as the sets of  inspired, touching, relevant and eloquent tales. Seemingly touched by Calliope herself, some of the storytellers in these slams create a wonder to hear and feel.  These Calliope[1] storytellers elicit a room-wide guttural sound of agreement or appropriate laughter from the audience immediately before they begin applauding. These good tellers are now the ones who inspire others to share their voices.

Take Some Action
Thinking that you want to be more on the Calliope side of things? Here are four actions you can take for improving your storytelling. First, get better coaching or (as a producer) offer coaching at your slams. Then, be more intentional about the stories you are telling. Also, be sure you have rehearsed your story with others who will actually give you authentic feedback.  Finally, explore some more options and educate yourself about how stories are actually crafted and created. My "Sea-Glass Storytelling" workshop on personal storytelling can help you do that.

While the forms of both traditional and slam storytelling have their mixes of calliope and Calliope, I am happy to say that I think that more slams are evolving to the Calliope stage.

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[1]Or...go ahead and blow my alliteration by using the name of  her son Orpheus should you need something more masculine.
Photo Cred:
calliope: By Neochichiri11 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Calliope: Alexandre-Auguste Hirsch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: What Does 'Show, Don't Tell' Mean?

Storytellers use too many words...sometimes.

In this next "Hard-Core Storytelling Practitioner" post, I am talking the concept of "Show, Don't Tell" (written as Show or Tell in this article) that is prevalent in the "sacred" texts (giggle) of many who practice oral storytelling.

Background
This is all Show. You would need some
Tell to understand this pic, huh?
I've been noticing lately in the audio recordings of our storytelling events that some of my stories might seem to be "missing" parts when listened to. However, I am not too concerned since the parts that are missing are the parts that I am "Showing" the audience the story rather than "Telling" the audience the story.

Adding to my reflection this week came Cassandra Cushing, who serendipitously asked on Twitter, "Storytellers, what does 'show, don't tell' mean to you? Do you like this phrase/concept?"

You can see most of the friendly conversation between Cassie, Tim Ereneta and me in this link here. In the debate for meaning and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. But, don't use too many words, Show some words instead. Use too many words and, like extra salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt.

So, for me, the question comes down to this: what does "Show" mean?

My Understanding
In the debate for meaning of "show, don't tell" and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy for me: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. They also need to do so in front of a live (present with them) audience. Because of that unique requirement of audience presence, the storyteller is free to Show the story through simple gesture and characterization.

I have a choice. I can Tell you a description of every character and how they are reacting to the world around them or I can Show how they are feeling and reacting in their story world.

Use too many words and, like excess salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt. Tell the story, give enough narrative, walk with the audience towards the full realization of the story you are Telling. Use Show much more liberally. Watch your audience as you are storytelling, trust them to "get it." If they don't, maybe they need more salt in their soup?

Let's look at one character in one story, as an example of Show. When I tell one of the original Grimm versions of "Cinderella," the step-mother is clearly unhappy with Cinderella's ability to outsmart her. As she speaks in my story, demanding even more dried peas be picked from the ashes, I see her in my mind's eye. I Show that to my audience: my body straightens, her speech becomes clipped and she does the "plastic smile" at Cinderella. Her gestures become staccato and she unconsciously picks at her fingers, rubbing thumb to side of finger as she holds one hand in front of her. I am Showing the character to the audience. Step-mom's persona lives in me in these subtle ways.

Each character has their own "way of being" that is Shown in my way of bringing the character to life. This is so much a part of my telling that, in order to write this for you, I had to briefly tell the story to myself, so that I could remember the nuances of the character. I had to figure out how to tell you all those words to describe Step-mom in this article. Whew! Thank goodness I don't do that for actually storytelling.

Some Ways to Show
As a storyteller, you have a full pallet of ways to Show a character. You will be using hand gestures, facial expressions, gaze, and body posture and body position. Your tone of voice might change between characters. You will be being giving attention to your pacing, pauses and your eye contact. Incorporate the character into your being, Show the characters to your audience.

Exceptions
I am aware that for some audiences that may be visually challenged you may need to add more words to your story, using Tell more liberally. Also, for audience members on the Autism spectrum or others who have trouble with interpreting social cues, a more direct approach to "The Step-mom was angry, trying to control her voice…she sounded like this," might be a better choice. As storytellers, we always put our audience first. What do they need?

 But what about oral recordings?
These concepts of Show and/or Tell have different rules in a recording, particularly in an audio recording such as a CD, mp3, radio or podcast. Storytelling performances recorded in audio (or video) are not storytelling. They are records of a storytelling event, no matter how entertaining they may be. For example, my current version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale is of a tiny man of few words, but with a very expressive face, head gestures and lingering eye contact. That Showing simply does not translate well to an audio recording. To record it formally, I would have to change the balance and techniques of Show and Tell.

A story designed for recordings (audio) is closer to "voiceover" than storytelling.

Tl;dr or My Conclusion
Here is what I am practicing and using these days: Showing and Telling are both important parts of oral storytelling. Showing in a story is the whole body, subtle and nuanced, expression of a character or place in live storytelling. Telling is where the narrative takes over the story or the characters speaking things that move the narrative forward. I prefer that storytellers; Show me nuances of the character.

Edit April 10: Cassie Cushing has posted more on this subject on her blog linked here

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Journeyman Storyteller: Ready for the Next Step?


Journeyman 1: The Oral Storytelling Realities

I've written a post that has a very specific audience: for those that are making some part of their livelihood as a working artist. Since it is more "insider" than other posts on this blog, I have published the entire article over at http://artistmarketingworkshop.com/storytelling-journeyman-ready/

Here is an excerpt from the long article. Please come take a look if it is of interest to you. Thanks. 

"There is a space in the arc of the careers of all performing artists where one transitions from wide-eyed beginner to being an effective, talented Master.  In between those two stages is the important step of Journeyman. . .


This article is very specific to the oral-storytelling journeyman. You have passed through those first apprentice-based stages, taken some of the good myths and standards of the art. Now you are stepping up into the day-to-day realities of making some of your income as an artist.


Here are a few of the myths (both implicitly and explicitly taught) that many next-level storytelling artists have found they have to work through:


1. Everyone is a storyteller!


2. Stories choose the storyteller.


3. Your storytelling should always make you feel good about yourself.


4. Do what you love and the money will follow.


5. If only X would happen, then I would be successful!


Finally. . .

As I write about these five very popular myths, I am more aware of one thing. . ."

I've also recorded this post as an audio file. Visit the page linked above to hear it. 


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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Ringmaster Not Roustabout: Those Basic Basics in the Storytelling Tent.

 circus clown ringmaster speaks with youWhy, hello there, storytelling newbie. I didn't see you standing there. I've been so busy lately over on other shows that I haven't had near enough time to speak to you.

Nonetheless- do you have a moment? Oh, very good.

Welcome to the show. And what a show it is. Storytelling is the mother of all art forms. An idea forms from the substance around us. That form then becomes narrative. That narrative becomes story. People share those narratives together and the story becomes storytelling. That storytelling inspires artists of all types.

Since you have walked into the Oral-Storytelling tent with the rest of us, let me welcome you inside with a few tips.

1. Use a microphone. If we can't hear you, your story has no value to us. Sitting with friends and entertaining them with your story is one thing but if you are going to stand up and speak to all of us: we need to hear you, no matter how confident or pumped you think you are.

2. Stay focused on the story. Some people will tell you that a storyteller is supposed to just be a vessel for the story, but that's pretty much metaphorical talk that is far away from where you are now in the art form. But here's a problem: that cool thing you do with the broad acrobatics and grunting (or guitaring or balancing plates on your head…whatever) isn't helping with the story. If at the end of an experience of oral storytelling we're talking more about your antics than the story you told, then something went wrong with your storytelling.

Let me clarify that I am not in the be-still-all-times storytelling camp. Your intentional movements that keep the story clear are just fine. Keep first in your mind your story and the connection it creates to and with your audience. Be ringmaster not roustabout.

3. Learn your story in parts. I see new storytellers try to recite stories they have memorized. They get lost and confused. So, do storytelling instead. See the story. Break it into parts. Tell us the parts you see rather than the words you have stored. Cool phrases and "crafting" (you are going to hear that word a lot) of the story will come later as you internalize the story. For now, go unplugged-style and just tell us the story you are seeing.

4. Get coached. If you are going to be serious in any art form, you need to take some classes and get some input. Tell me, how many sports stars are self-taught? None of course. You can be sure that every other artist in this tent (regardless of their skill level) has voices they seek out for guidance.  If you are telling jokes in the bar (not storytelling anyway), then you can go it alone. If you want to communicate, you need training and coaching.

So, I am glad you are here. We need new voices and new understandings of our very specific art form. Come grow with us who have been at this for a while. I love it when I get to say, "I learned something from this new voice today." That is so cool.


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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Getting the New Year in Focus

Heads up: this post is a bit more personal than what I normally post here. I'm writing more about the "artist" than the "art."

You might be tired of the New Year's posts, but I just wanted to share a thought that was new to me. It's not an idea that I thought up as I first heard it in a workshop from Trish Gillam at Gangplank Avondale. I've seen a mention or two since then in other places.

I'm not a fan of resolutions, even if I have written about them in the past. I find that people either "do" or "do not do" projects and ideas in their lives. However, I do like the idea of having a "theme word" for a year. As professional performing artists, I know it's easy for all artists to see grand possibilities about the future but forget that such possibilities need a firm foundation.

Now, my  2014 "theme word" is "organized." I let too much of 2013 get past me, for many legitimate reasons. At other times, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by ideas and goals and then, in that mess of possibilities, I ended up not making anything happen.

This is not to say that 2013 did not have some good projects and surprises. 2013 did indeed have some unexpected-yet-good events. However, in being honest, I found that I lost momentum by not keeping a better reign on the structures of my work and art. In that, this was a rare year for me.

So, in this year as an artist, coach and family man, I will ask myself a question about the projects I choose and the activities I do: "Will this help me be organized?" An organized (not compulsive) working artist can achieve many goals and get projects done. This is not solely about being "neat" or "housekeeping;" rather it's about being together in mind and purpose.

My word for 2014 is "organized." No lofty resolutions in that one word but rather a need to see the top of my desk again, the transcendent side of my work as an artist expanding, books and projects completed, my calendar better filled with bookings, and my family still moving forward. There is no order to that list as I see it as an overall way of being rather than a list of  resolutions.

I hope this makes sense for you as a fellow artist or entrepreneur. If you chose a word that would describe your goals for 2014 what would your word be?

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Story for Solstice: Calling Out a Rising Sun

Altered-Art Solstice by Michelle Buvala
Well, Winter is here in my part of the world. Happy Solstice to You. Here's a story I wrote some time back. It first appeared on my "Calling Out a Rising Sun: Stories for Teenage Guys" CD back in 2006. It was originally written for a multi-mode arts project on "addiction and recovery."

While that project never came to be, some of the stories remained. You can listen to "Calling Out a Rising Sun" now in .mp3 audio when you click on this link here.

Happy Winter to you all. And, Hot Happy Summer to my friends on the other 1/2 of the globe. Peace be upon you.

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The "Talking Turkeys" Story.


Happy Thanksgiving to all my USA friends and family.

For those who don't know, Thanksgiving is a traditional US holiday that focuses on gratitude, family and food. It is much like harvest festivals in other countries. Turkey has been the usual centerpiece dish.

So.....here is your Turkey Story of the Day, told by me to you.

Click here now to hear "The Talking Turkeys" in an .mp3 audio.


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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: How to Use Stories in a Short Presentation

On Friday I had a follow-up coaching session with a student from one of our Executive Speaking Training Workshops (EST). In these follow-up sessions, I often work with workshop students directly in creating their presentations. The private session is part of the package of the EST registration.

As part of my recent binge of hard-core storytelling-practitioner blog posts, I thought I might share a white-board illustration with you that I created while my client and I were working. She found it useful. I did not intend to use this drawing as a blog post, so you are getting a raw piece of my mind here. Be gentle with any comments about my scribbling drawing skills.



how to tell a story in a presentation illustration
The scribbles in the middle read "facts."


My student, who works in inventory control in a large international business, was trying to create a 10-15 minute presentation. I showed her a model that I sometimes use in my own public speaking. It uses either two or three stories to "bookend" or support factual content.

As you can see from the drawing, I suggest that stories serve two purposes in a short presentation. They are first high-points that bring the energy of a presentation back up. They also serve as frames (or hooks or nets- however you want to read it) for the presentation of facts during her discussion. There is a typical ebb/flow level of energy in presentations as you can see in this white-board picture.

There can be either 2 or 3 short stories in this presentation model. The first "bookend" flow (as drawn on the board) uses two stories and is seen as:

 Story A - Fact Set 1 - Story B- Fact Set 2 - Story A.

This second appearance of Story A is either the some type of additional illustration from Story A or a reminder from a lesson suggested in Story A. So, in a perfect white-board illustration I might have written A1 and A2.

Another way to do this presentation is to have a Story C at the end of the presentation that ties together the other stories and facts. I have noted that in the picture with some after-the-fact text added to the drawing.

Story A - Fact Set 1 - Story B- Fact Set 2- Story C

Of course, you will add your own introductory and closing comments, but for our meeting we didn't need to write these on the board.

Other thoughts: I assume that you already understand that the stories would be connected to the content presented in the facts, perhaps to illustrate the reward or consequences of paying attention to the facts in the two sets. Also, the stories could be a mix of "real life" stories and a world-tale. It is possible that one story, especially the Story B, might be more of an anecdote and not a full story. It depends on your skill and your situation.

This is a good model for a short 10-15 minutes speech. You would adjust the process based on the time you have to speak. I have written about some other presentation models in the past as well.

I hope this is helpful.


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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Written right out of our offices at Gangplank Avondale.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: How Does Pacing Work in Oral Storytelling?

I am spending some more time in the hard-core storytelling practitioner mode. My next thought: There are two ways to describe the pacing of your story.

First, pacing refers to how fast your story unfolds. Do you spend more time on some parts of the story and less time on other parts?  You may want to spend more time on one episode, piece or interaction in your story than another. Your audience will help you determine this. Although you may be telling the same story, the differences in your audience will help you to know when to focus more on part A or part B.

For example, when I tell my version of the "Fisherman and His Wife" to children, I will spend more time on the "funny" parts of the tale such as the fisherman and the fish speak to each other as well as the characteristics of how the wife reacts to each new change. When I tell the story to adult audiences, I will spend more time with the relationship between the fisherman and his wife. Since my stories are in episodes rather than a script, it is easy for me to change the pace at which each segment is revealed.

There is a second way to describe pacing in storytelling.  How fast you speak while telling the story? Mastering intentional pacing can help you create nuances in your story.

When you speak with a slower pace, you might be conveying the ideas of fear, anger, disbelief, astonishment, or awe.

When you speak very quickly you may also be sharing the emotions of fear, anger, excitement, energy, joy, surprise.

You will notice that I listed the words fear and anger for both slow and quick pacing.  Think about the following questions. What (or WHO) makes the difference in how those emotions are conveyed? Does it make a difference in who is being addressed? Does it make a difference in where the action is taking place?

Overall, most new tellers don't think about the ideas of pacing. They simply tell their story, with their pacing based on whether they are having trouble remembering the episodes (slow pacing) or just trying to get all the words out of their brain (fast pacing).

 Rather than just let your words fall randomly from your mouth, make intentional choices about how fast your characters speak


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Sean Buvala is a storytelling coach and practitioner. He's the creator of the Storytelling 101 Elearning kit.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Storytelling: The Original Social Media (Tshirt Edition)

Isn't this the truth? The first true way to gather community was (and is) storytelling. Social interactions, education, training, passing on values and more come from the "social media" of stories and storytelling. We are just having some fun with a few Tshirt designs. Here's the first in the series. You can pick up this version until September 9, 2013. After that, you can sign up for the update list when new shirts in the series get released.
Store link is:  http://storytip.net/storymediashirt



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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: Introducing Characters in Storytelling

Continuing my blog posts where I become your  hard-core oral-storytelling practitioner, let’s talk about introducing characters in storytelling. I am writing about how to bring a character (person, animal, being) into your oral storytelling.

To consistently illustrate the techniques, I’m using the image of Jack, of “And the Beanstalk” fame, for this article. This process applies for any and every setting where you are telling stories, from business to bassinet. 

1. Go with the literal “story” introduction.
Introducing Characters: Meet Jack
 Go old-school on your audience with the time-worn phrase. You know this one already.

“Once Upon a Time, there was a boy named Jack who lived with his mother in a very small house.”

Here you get right to the point, no need for the audience to catch up with you. Your audience does not need to guess what you are talking about as you lay out the scene. However, the “Once Upon a Time” lead-in will most likely cause your audience of business or teenage folks to mentally leave the room.

2. Use a situational introduction.

Start your story from anywhere but an expected beginning and put Jack in a situation that is from the depths of your story:

“From the middle of the tree-thick, reaching-to-the-heavens beanstalk, young Jack looked down upon his boyhood home that he still shared with his mother.”

Here the audience needs to work a bit harder as you give them something to process.

3. Share your character’s internal monologue.

We all have some type of self-talk. Share Jack’s in a manner like this:

“’What happens if I fall off this crazy plant? It was only a pile of beans yesterday. Mama is right: maybe I do need to think before I act.’ said the teenage Jack to himself, as he climbed the giant beanstalk growing outside the kitchen window of the cottage where he lived with his poor mother.”


Here you let us into the thinking patterns of your character, in most cases sharing with us their struggles. This type of intro is better for older audiences that have good abstract thinking skills.

4. Let another character talk to or about the character.

Let one character speak to another character about what they see, hear and feel.

“’Jack, in your whole 12 years of your life, you have never done something this foolish. When you come down, I am locking you in your room for the rest of your life!’ screamed Jack’s mother as she stood outside of their small cottage. She was concerned, after all, as it was not every day that a boy could climb a beanstalk that reached to the sky.”

5. Compare the character to the audience.

Think about how the audience can relate to some aspect of the character and use that to connect the story to their experiences. For an audience of kids,

“Twelve-year-old Jack, in my story, may be just like you. He wanted to experience fantastic things. When he looked out the window of the cottage he shared with his mother, he saw the bottom of a giant beanstalk, thick as a tree and reaching to the sky. It was time for this poor boy to have an amazing adventure.”

Business Example.

Okay, you have twisted my arm. Here is one business introduction tied to the examples above. Remember, this is a hypothetical situation and I am writing words intended to be spoken aloud, not read.

“My client, Jerry Johnson, was leaning over the intensive-care hospital bed of his 25-year-old wife thinking that this type of illness only happened to ‘old people.’ It was really hard to clear his head of the ambulance siren from two hours ago and the beeping medical devices now.”

Please note: Do Not get caught up in the formulas presented here, especially for business or corporate storytelling. They are guides. There is.no.storytelling.formula for everyone. Overall, your stories for business don't need to follow some "mythic journey." I will be writing more about that soon.

So, have we been introduced?

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This is the official blog of storyteller K. Sean Buvala. Learn more about his two-day workshop at http://www.executivespeakingtraining.com. Photo: Public Domain http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002723369/

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: Eye-Contact Basics Review

I remember seeing the "Helllo, Dolly!" musical in Phoenix presented by a Broadway touring company. Carol Channing, who was so closely associated with the role of Dolly, was the lead of that tour. During the applause at the end of one song, she looked up to my balcony seat and smiled at me. It seemed that she held that glance for several seconds and then moved on. It was such a striking moment for me that even twenty-five years later I can remember this look from Ms. Channing.

Learn to Use Eye Contact in Storytelling.
I know that, because of the lighting in the theater, she could not actually see me, but she knew someone was up there in the front row of the balcony, so she created a moment of eye contact wherein the person in that seat would feel like she was engaging them directly. It worked.

Storytelling is an art form and communication technique that requires the presence of an audience. If you cannot look your audience in the eye while you are speaking, you are not storytelling. You might be doing any of a dozen other good-and-wonderful art forms or communication methods but it isn’t storytelling. Storytelling requires a present audience.

Since your audience is right there with you, you will need to look at them. Here are six things you need to know about eye contact.

1. Remove your sunglasses from your face, hat from your head and hair from your eyes. Unless you have a medical reason for wearing any of those vision-blocking items, be sure your audience can see your face.

2. Meet and greet the group as people arrive for your presentation. However, in modern times and especially as a storyteller, be available to the audience as they arrive. Simple questions such as "How are you?" and "How did you find out about this event?" are good ways to break the ice with folks. Shaking some hands, introducing yourself and asking a simple question is a good way to establish rapport that you will want while you tell stories.

3. As you tell stories, look at your audience. Do not look over the heads of the audience or look at the back of the wall. Look into the eyes of your listeners. Linger a moment at each pair of eyes and then move on. You might want to seek out some of the folks from step two that you established a good rapport with. If an audience member reacts positively to your look, you might want to come back to them. If an audience member looks away or otherwise reacts uncomfortably, just move on. There are many reasons that people will and will not look at you. Do not make it your crusade to force people to look at you.

4. Sometimes holding the gaze of an audience member as you deliver an especially important line in your story can be very effective. As well, a long and non-threatening gaze can help settle an especially rambunctious child or teen.

5. When looking at your audience, try to avoid moving your head and eyes in any particular pattern.

6. If you are a parent telling stories to your children, know that looking them in the eye is a precious gift. This eye contact is probably the most important storytelling technique you will learn in these lessons.

Although my experience in the theater so many years ago was in a large crowd, I can think of other times when a speaker in our small group used the same eye-contact power. To improve your storytelling, looking at your audience members is a powerful tool to creating memorable presentations.

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Sean Buvala takes a no-nonsense approach to teaching storytelling and has done so since 1986. He's a big believer in less-theory and more action when it comes to business storytelling. Get his "Learn Storytelling" ebook and coaching kit to learn more. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Look Inside my "Learn Storytelling" Kit and Coaching

I created a "walk through" video to tell people more about my Storytelling 101 Ekit. Just gives folks a better understanding of what we cover in my essential "learn storytelling" kit that I've put together. The kit is at ****** The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wherein Hunky McSharing Learns When to Not Tell a Story

My thought this week: please think carefully before you speak the story in your head. With the current faddish approach to storytelling going on, I sometimes see people trying to “share their story” even if they really should not be sharing “that” story.

As I was watching the morning news on Thanksgiving Day (the U.S. holiday), the three jovial morning hosts had a few moments to kill. With that, the young man sitting at the desk, I think his name was Hunky McSharing, said, “Oh, okay, I guess I have a story.”

Now, right at that moment the problem was revealed. He said, “I guess.” I shuddered. Storytelling is always an intentional process. You plan to tell a story and you plan the story to tell. Anytime you start with “I guess” before telling means you are moving into gossip and not storytelling.

Hunky continues to “tell the story” of a Thanksgiving when he was a boy. He talked about how the family had an unexpected guest for dinner. He then mentioned that his mother was not prepared for guests, but it was the family “policy” to welcome anyone at their table.

Here, for just a moment, I thought, “Oh, Sean, always so crabby about the rules of storytelling. Young Mr. Hunky is telling a story about his mother’s kindness and not just gossiping. Shame on me.”

I thought this until McSharing said the next sentence of his story. He mentioned that the man was “kinda heavyset” and that the chair that the dinner guest sat collapsed beneath him. This chair disaster happened twice. Hilarious stuff, isn’t it? Mr. McSharing was clearly entertained by how the large house guest kept breaking chairs at Thanksgiving. You have so many warm and funny memories, Hunky. Just the type you might share at the Frat house.
 
The two female anchors sitting with Hunky knew better than to laugh at this story. While Hunky was laughing and giggling, his co-hosts sat stoned-face. One of them said, “I don’t think I can laugh at that.” The other host just stared at McSharing as he realized this story was one that should not have been spoken as hundreds of thousands of viewers now watched him mock fat people. A long-for-television silence took place between all three of them.
 
I know that you keep hearing, “Storytelling is everywhere.” “Everyone is a storyteller.” While everyone has a story to tell, learn what the professionals know: Not every story is to be shared in every situation. Learn to self-edit. The gossip shared among friends is not the storytelling you share in front of crowds. It is better not to tell a story at all than to speak a story that is offensive and damaging to your integrity or to the lives of others.
 
Please do not fall into the trap of thinking that communication is all about the story. It’s not enough to have a story. Storytelling requires a balance between story, audience and teller. We need to think before we speak. Gossip is not storytelling. Sometimes, we should stop storytelling before we start.
 
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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Photo courtesy of Fotolia.com.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Old-School Storytelling Is the Change Agent.

I am a big fan of all the stories, all the time. Personal or folktale, they’re all true for somebody.

 Every generation believes that they invent things like life, sex, spirituality, farting, and relationships. Part of the survival of our species, I think, is to say, "Well, our (fill in the blank) is better than what they used to do. We're changing (fill in the blank) for the better."

There is a fascinating print interview over at  “Arts in a Changing America” blog that talks about the development of the Story Slam (all personal tales) model over the last few years. Shannon Turner interviews Randy Osborne, the founder of the Carapace storytelling event. It’s a good article and, while I have something to add, I think it is a good read for anyone who does any type of oral storytelling. Go on, read it. Then come back. I’m waiting……

My thoughts are below. Buckle up, this is a long one.
Back to “every generation invents…” So it is in storytelling. I enjoy personal storytelling events such as Carapace and The Moth. However, the power in storytelling to generate community, to promote change or development, to talk about the tough subjects (how about a knocked-up Rapunzel?) is not new and has always been in the realm of storytelling. Yes, the film studios have cleaned it all up to sell movies and toys, but those of us deep in the roots of oral storytelling know better. My (respectful and kind) advice to Randy is to get out more to some world-tale storytelling in the real world. There are plenty of us taking the old tales out for visceral-and-cringey spins and never setting foot in a children's library or elementary school as we present unvarnished tales to adults. The schools would get mad at me when, in my fairytales unvarnished, the children cut off their fingers or are forced to have sex with their fathers.   
So, a student had a transcendent moment in anatomy class? Good!  Learning from the dead is not new, no matter how much a modern audience wants to believe it. Dig into an Irish folktale such as "Tieg O'Kane and Corpse" (treat a woman like trash, boy, and you'll have hell to pay) to see that folks have been learning (metaphorically) from the dead for hundreds of years, too. There are plenty of others out there.  There is nothing new and everything new about this discovery that the dead can "speak.” See the homework below if you want another story of the dead speaking.
The role of world-tale storytelling is to put context to the present, grounding it on the path of the past and sending it toddling into the future. Your human experiences have already been experienced in some form (take comfort) and you will add your experience to the mix (take challenge). Your experience then is fodder for your children or maybe even the guy sitting next to your at the Story Slam, slamming too many Captain Morgans. “Resistance is futile.” (Yeah, baby, an old pop reference right there.)
Here's the real challenge- a storyteller who is willing to do the work can interweave a traditional story into a personal tale and put both modern experience and generational wisdom together. Like the older woman in the post, I often leave a modern personal storytelling event with, frankly, nothing other than the shell of the experience. We get to be familiar with people we will never know. Yeah, I laughed or maybe felt misty while a personal story was told but then I have nothing. For example, why is it important to know a single storyteller's mother was a terror? Outside of empathy for the teller, their story alone does little for the listener, but if it is put it in context of how the world has viewed horrible parents then the audience has something to hang on to and chew on. Or, put it in the context of your horrible mother and a world-tale where the mother is more nurturing and now the audience can have some confidence that their singular situation may not hold true for everyone...and in that there is hope. And, full of expectation, that the dialogue in the audience member's head becomes real conversation with trusted friends (or therapist) who can help.
Gossip is temporary. Storytelling is catalyst.
Comfort in things unchanging is only for the old? There is a Sacred Success Trilogy in these personal telling events like this. For best success, be sure to mention Sex, Drinking or Bad Relationships...just like the young people of every culture before you. Just because the Grimm Brothers couldn’t, in their culture, say that Rapunzel wanted some “booty calls” does not mean they didn’t use the cultural language for “booty call” in their stories. None of this is new as you find all these things in fairytales and folktales across cultures. None of our generations invented any of these things. I find great comfort in that we generations keep reinventing the same wheel. We are part of a whole that, paradoxically, does not change even when we’re changing it.  Cool.
As a side note, when The Moth was first emerging from the cocoon, they did make contact with us at Storyteller.net. (Yeah, we're old.) I am sorry to say that at that time the “traditional storytelling” community wasn’t ready to hear what they had to say and the slam community wasn’t ready to hear what was being said to them. We all missed the boat (or at least paddling together) on this whole “new” concept. I find myself now delighted in the success of The Moth and slams like it. These events, fun on their own, are a good way to introduce people to the greater concepts of what story and storytelling can do…just as people have known for centuries before us.  
Oh, and those stories about farting? Dig into the Arabian Nights. It's not about magic carpet rides alone.
P.S. Here's your homework: listen to Hawaiin storyteller Jeff Gere do his adult storytelling thing and take you to school. The dead speak (another story) in track #2. Find it at http://storyteller.net/amphitheater/38 There's no pretense or formality in his work, only skill and a deep love for the truth of world-tales.

(7/12/2012 update: The author of the original piece (Shannon): "I do want to point out, though, that Carapace is very intentionally not a story slam. Randy speaks to that in the interview, and why Atlanta has chosen not to do our event in story slam-style." So, way cool that Shannon answered and I am happy to add this clarification.)
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About the  Author:  Sean Buvala is a professional storyteller and author (and slam judge) who rarely tells cute stories with morals to children. He’s much better in business situations helping people connect their stories to the business or nonprofit organization at hand.  He’s also the creator of StoryRise that brings solid “traditional” storytelling to adult audiences, clearing up the myth that fairytales are all about helpless princesses. His Storytelling 101 manual is a great place to learn the “how” of storytelling if you are done being overloaded with storytelling theory.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sean Buvala, Storyteller with Extra Searchiness.

Yes, here it is, the Sean Buvala, Storyteller, Google search video. Now, I know you have been thinking, "How can I best make a my life just that much easier?' when along comes this silly Google project. Much fun to be had by all, as they say. (giggle)

Now, see don't you feel more pep in your step? Toe-tapping music, no? Okay, back to your regular blog surfing now.
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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

No, I Don't Want You Drunk On Emotion. (Response to Fast Company Article)

Yikes. A "master storyteller" does not want an audience "drunk on emotion."

Over at the "Fast Company" website (major business magazine), there's a poetic but off-base article about business storytelling: "Why Storytelling is the Ultimate Weapon." Take a read of the article if you'd like. Here's my reaction. I posted it on the FC website but the formatting went wonky. Here is a clearer picture, adapted from my comments I posted on the FC site:


To put my response in context: I’ve been thinking about this article from the perspective of a storytelling professional. That’s biz coaching, story performance and authoring books for some 26 years. I’ve been working with online discussions of storytelling since before Google even existed.

It's a good article on the science of storytelling overall. After that, I am not sure what to think. I don't know what this article adds to the "business storytelling" discussion specifically, except more theory. And, as I experience it, there is more than enough business storytelling theory floating around. Let’s be much more practical and put out some serious how-to versus more emotional-focused poetry.

If I am reading this correctly, the article is filed under this site's category of "Industry POV." I don't see an exclusive business POV here. Substitute "education,” “health care” or “babysitting" whenever the word "business" is mentioned and the article still works. Maybe use the words "teachers,” “doctors” or “low-paid teenagers" for the word "professionals," too. This could easily have been about “storytelling in education” in the NEA magazine instead of business in the Fast Company magazine. Maybe it was just poor placement by Fast Company that leaves me so underwhelmed.

I do struggle with the author's well-intentioned closing. Discounting the use of logic/facts in trade for (insert soft music here) narrative really damages the truth of what story can do. The purpose of story (real-life, world tale or fairy tale) is to carry logic and reason, not to replace it. I mentioned this earlier in a response to another poster: my goal as a storyteller (in any situation) is rarely just an emotional response. Oh, sure, I can achieve that when it’s desired. However, what I want is to go beyond the emotional with a longer-lasting (but slower in forming) lesson, meaning or message. Emotional response is more a feature of good theater or acting techniques. However, storytelling is not acting, including when used in business settings.

This takes me back to: "master storyteller" does not want an audience "drunk on emotion." I actually think this is rather comical.

Insisting (as I think I see in the article) that we *must* begin with "once upon a time" for every audience all the time discounts the very nature and work of a storyteller in the boardroom or on stage. As a storyteller, my experience teaches me to know both when to lead with a story and when not to. Being mindful of story placement is a real skill.

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Monday, April 30, 2012

New Project "How to Write an About Me"

Here's my posting of a couple of videos for my newest project "How to Write an About Me." I've created a multi-media training kit with a .pdf ebook, four webinar-style videos of about 10 minutes each and the audio-only mp3 files from the videos.

If the kit generates enough interest and sales, I will have transcripts made for the videos as they have an idea or two not listed in the book. When I get talking, ideas pour out. I get requests for "I need to write a bio" rather frequently and thought this story-infused approach would be helpful for my guests and clients. It's rather straight-forward in my No-Nonsense approach.

At the moment of this writing, the kit is a download for just $7.00. That price will change soon. Get yours at this launch price if you are interested. Details at http://www.howtowriteanaboutme.com .

Here is a sample clip from one of the videos.


Here is the promotional video we put together to post on Youtube.


I'd enjoy helping you create your next About Me bio for your projects and websites. Come grab your copy of this affordable resource.

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The New "No Nonsense Storytelling" Webinar. Freebie.

I'm doing a freebie webinar next week. Isn't it time you shook up your storytelling skills? Visit http://nononsensestorytelling.com/. Allow our video to bring you your pipe and slippers...




****** The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Friday, October 28, 2011

10 Habits of Good Public Speakers

(Note: I wrote this for another website that wanted a quick article with this title. I'm sharing it with you, too. Maybe there is a tidbit or two within it for you?)

Public speakers can motivate, educate, challenge and entertain audiences. The best public speakers can do all four at the same time. A good public speaker is flexible and enjoys the diversity that each audience presents. It is an honor to speak with an audience and the best public speakers never forget that.

Always strive for excellence when you are speaking in public. In no particular order, here are 10 behaviors that public speakers should incorporate into their professional conduct.

A great public speaker. . .

1. . . .meets the audience.
When I speak at an event with other presenters on the schedule, I am always amazed that the speakers congregate backstage and away from the audience. While some prep time is always needed before an event, make it a point to go out and casually mingle with the audience, doing more listening than talking. You will meet some great people and more of the audience will feel like they already know you when it is your turn to speak on stage.

2. . . .knows their subject matter.
Speak about what you know and subjects that capture your energy and focus. You should know your subject well enough that you could spontaneously speak without notes in any situation. Be devoted to the subjects you speak about.

3. . . .uses sound equipment.
While it may seem more casual to ditch the microphone, I am seeing and hearing many speakers in my coaching work that insist they do not need a microphone. Making your audience strain to hear your words is not respectful. Any group gathering that cannot fit around a conference table will require a microphone.

4. . . .dresses comfortably for the audience.
Keep your clothing choices just a step above the casual or formal dress of the group. For example, if you are expecting an audience filled with blue-jeans casual, you might choose a business-casual attire.

5. . .listens to other speakers.
Just as you want to meet an audience before events, it is important that speakers participate in those events. In particular, make it a point to hear the speakers that are before you on the schedule so that you will be able to make good tie-ins with the group's experience.

6. . . .incorporates learning styles.
Not everyone in your audience can learn from a singular presentation stytle. Mix your presentation with audience activities, slides, stories and your direct input.

7. . .uses good speaking mechanics.
Are you using first-rate nonverbal techniques? Vary your pacing, tone, eye contact, gestures and movement as your presentation progresses. Be interesting to watch.

8. . .customizes presentations.
It was popular advice a few years ago that you should be a speaker who developed a single presentation and presented that to every audience. In addition to being arrogant, it is rude to your audience and is a way to guarantee you will not be rehired. Tweak your presentations for each audience.

9. . .uses appropriate humor.
While the days of the "start with a joke" are well behind us, it is still good to use your own natural humor- staying away from traditionally sensitive topics such as religion or politics. Rather than try to be funny, simply share things that are funny to you and let the audience decide what they will laugh at.

10. . .shares good stories.
Good stories, used to illustrate your points, can help an audience remember your presentation. Be on the lookout for good stories from your own life and literature that can be used for future presentations. Learn good storytelling techniques to adjust each story for your audience. In my "Storytelling 101" Eworkbook, you can learn how to develop and present stories in a step-by-step manner. You can learn more at http://www.storytelling101.com.

Use this list as a place to start, but I encourage you to develop your own list of habits that will make you an excellent speaker.

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Sean Buvala is a "hard-core how-to-do-storytelling coach" working and teaching internationally since 1986. He has served variety of clients with big names down to the smallest one-person business. An award winning storyteller, he's able to help you develop and fine-tune your business speech. To set up your coaching session with Sean, fill out his contact form on his website at http://www.seantells.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Frosted by Storytelling: False Storytelling Sighting

Slightly tongue in cheek, but not much. . .

In a rare moment of casual TV watching, I stumbled upon one of these ubiquitous cooking challenge shows. The contestants were making cakes and trying to prove them to a line of random judges.


As the judges came to one table, the cook chef, said something like, "I have here for you today a chocolate cake that has three kinds of chocolate bits in both the cake and the icing. Enjoy."

The judges tasted. The judges pondered something highbrow to say.

And then, further proof-that-storytelling-is-now-a-fad fell from the judge's lips, "This is delicious and the chocolate pieces really tell a story." Without further comment other than everyone nodding their heads, the judges walked away.

It is a good thing that the TV universal remote controls are just $5 at Walmart. I keep breaking them throwing them at my television as I hear awful uses of the word "storytelling." I have no doubt that the producers of the TV program were in over-the-top joy over as someone placed into the show's dialogue the latest business catchphrase, "storytelling."

Sorry. Storytelling was taking place in the chocolate bits? A story was not even present in the chocolate as expressed during this program. The flavor wasn't storytelling. Here are four reasons why:

1. Storytelling requires words.

Chocolate bits cannot speak. Chocolate bits could represent something in a story, but the bits themselves are not storytelling. Only people, using words, do storytelling.

2. Storytelling is a spoken art form and business communication tool that needs the audience and the storyteller together, live and in person.

Chocolate bits do not speak. If the chef had said, "These rare chocolate bits in the cake are the last remains of hand-made chocolate my immigrant grandfather brought over from Germany. My family insisted that you, worshipful judges, be the last ones to savor them," we might have had the anecdotal start of a story. If I had heard something like this on the cooking show, then I could somehow forgive the judge for his error in the misuse of "storytelling."

3. Stories have arcs.

Taste alone is not the beginning, middle and end of a narrative. I do understand that flavors can remind the taster of a story. However, that is not what the judge said. He grabbed the word-of-the day and stated that these three flavors "really told a story."

A singular moment cannot be a story. The moment needs to be placed within the story arc in order to be called story. "My mother used to make a cake with three kinds of chocolate in it and…" That would be the start of a story.

4. Not every idea is (yet) a story.

Sadly, we no longer pay attention to our words. Every breath, uttered word, idea and fleeting thought is now called "story." There is only one answer to this: the power presence of "story" and "storytelling" has been completely diluted in the modern world. Flavors, utterances, insights, conversations are now all labeled "story" or worse "storytelling."

So, how do we fix these issues?

1. Develop some discipline in how you approach language
.

Say what you mean. Know that words have meaning. Walking is not Running even if both are ways to move. Eating is not Storytelling even if both, are, well they aren't the same thing. Definition and understanding empowers us to do great things with them.

2. Stop cheating with the story tool.

Storytelling cannot be done on film alone. It cannot be done by paint itself. It cannot be done alone by chocolate. It can only be done with people. If a client says to me, "We want storytelling in our company but can't commit any training time to it," I will tell them then that they can't have storytelling in their business. They will need another way to communicate their story, even if it is not as buzz-worthy as "storytelling." Recapping: People are for storytelling and chocolate is for eating.

3. Spend the time to learn how to tell a story.

In the least, learn how to make a true story from your great ideas. I know, your communications consultant may have told you that storytelling is easy and cost-free. You have been misled. Maybe you are assured that everyone in your organization is a storyteller. They are not, no more than every cook is a chef. I do have some hope for you: it is easier to become a good storyteller than it is to become a good chef. Both becomings take work and focus.

4. People count.

There may have been a great story to go with this chocolate-bitsy cake. To find the storytelling within, I would have to peer over the top of the cake, crumbs trailing on my lips, look into the eyes of the chef and say, "So, how did you become expert enough to make this cake I'm eating? How did you come across these fine chocolate bits?"

In that response, I would probably find the real story behind the chocolate. I might even find a storyteller within the chef.

That (you knew this pun was coming) would be the real icing on the cake.

P.S. The cake in the picture was one my 12-year-old made for the 24th wedding anniversary for my wife and I. It had one type of chocolate. It was delicious.

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Sean Buvala has been storytelling for 25 years and is the author of the book, "Measures of Story: How to Create a Story from Floats and Anecdotes." Get your copy at Amazon.com or come by http://www.howtocreateastory.com to learn more.