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 to 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 the 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.”

Do not get caught up in the formulas presented here, especially for business or corporate storytelling. They are guides. There 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?

This is the official blog of storyteller K. Sean Buvala. Learn more about his latest workshop at Photo: Public Domain

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.

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.