How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I Learned from Storytelling

Are you one of those people whose top fear, even over death, is public speaking? I used to think so for myself … but since high school, that has gradually changed. The prospect still stirs unpleasant butterflies in my stomach (the only butterflies I’m not fond of), but once I’m up and talking, I actually enjoy myself (for the most part, though I do feel quite relieved when I’m no longer the center of attention!). I’ve spoken mostly in a teacher-classroom setting, so being prepared is a big part of being comfortable. Perhaps what also makes me enjoy it is the fact that it’s a fear I’ve overcome with God’s help. God calls people out of their comfort zones, and I try to pursue things that will stretch me because it’s all a part of growing into a person God can use. (I wouldn’t get very far without Him!)

Storytelling has intrigued me lately. I’ve been watching a DVD lecture series from the Great Courses about storytelling, and it makes me eager to try my hand—er, voice—at it. Standing up in front of an audience and sharing a story you’ve crafted yourself is something definitely out of my comfort zone, but what did I just say about that? Besides, it does seem like fun, once the butterflies don’t flutter so hard, leaving you room to breathe. (Interestingly, performance anxiety is a good thing, because it gives you energy and focus to do your best.) The main way storytelling seems to differ from a written story and from acting is that the words are not set in stone. You’re required to be kind of spontaneous, or else you’ll sound stiff. 

Storytelling goes back deeply into history
The thought of not having set words to say was off-putting to me at first … but then I learned more about how storytelling works. It’s all about being natural and creating an atmosphere for your audience. Unless you’re an actor (which I’m decidedly not), a memorized speech just doesn’t draw in the listeners. Interacting with your audience is key. This really helped me with a teaching opportunity at a music day camp I’m volunteering at this week. I was doing lots of research on Native American tribes in Texas earlier this summer (my job was to give the kids an overview of Native American history, because the music they were learning was “Pioneer” and “Indian” themed) and I had thought I would be trying to memorize words I wrote. But my storytelling course informed me that was a bad idea. So instead I jotted incomplete notes, became very familiar with my material, and more or less winged it. I had much less time to speak than I’d anticipated, so I kept to only the most interesting facts, and I interacted with the kids via questions and props. I had more fun than I expected!

Learning storytelling techniques isn’t just for the actual art of storytelling, though I hope to try that one day. It makes you a better conversationalist, public speaker, and teacher … basically, better at talking of any kind!

Have you ever listened to a live storyteller? Have you done it yourself, or any other form of public speaking?


  1. I really enjoy storytelling. At the summer camp I worked at this summer, it was really encouraged, so I had many opportunities to tell stories. I never made up my own though. Mostly just retold Bible stories using modern vernacular and comparisons and a few Aesop fables in my own words.

    The camp director loved to tell Jack Tales...not sure if you're familiar with them or not? They are more stories about Jack from the story "Jack and the Beanstalk." They are common folktales told in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. I love the humor and lessons in the stories.

    1. That is so neat, Sonja! Storytelling sounds like it helped create a really wholesome atmosphere at that camp. I'd love to hear more storytellers in person, like that camp director. Folk tales are fun! Of the Jack Tales, I only knew about "Jack and the Beanstalk." :)
      Storytelling reminds me of the Hebrew culture of the Bible and how people learned and remembered things in times when reading and writing was scarce. Being able to remember things, such as stories and traditions, without having to write them down is important. We don't always have access to books, paper, and computers. Learning about storytelling made me give the spoken word its credit. :)
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Good for you, Kelsey! Sounds like you learned a great new skill!
    ;-) I come from a family of storytellers, so I try to channel my elders when I'm recounting something... and I definitely think that telling stories even of our personal lives is one of the best ways to establish rapport and create quick bonds of friendship with new people.
    We feel we know someone better if we "see" them react to situations, even when it's only second hand. Also, the type and tone of story people share about themselves says a lot about who they are, so that's important to keep in mind as we craft our own public persona. :-)
    We should try to be genuine, approachable, bringing across a mix of both competence and humility! :-)

    Talk about an easy target, hm? ;-)

    Take care!!!

    1. Wow, Elizabeth, that's great about your family! And you have some very good, helpful tips. My storytelling course taught about personal stories in conversation, too, as well as the staged type of storytelling, and I feel more comfortable at the idea of telling personal stories now. :) I used to think I'm not a very interesting person but enough has happened to me to make, or start, good conversation...and the best kinds of conversations are where two or more people are all contributing their stories to make one huge impacting story. :)
      Thanks for your comment! You take care, too!

  3. This sounds amazing and something you'd be great at, actually! I've often noticed that people end up doing things that are the opposite of what they'd have expected. Activities that seem incompatible with our personalities are often given us--not only so we can learn to balance ourselves, but because we bring qualities that the activity sorely needs. :D

    1. Thank you! :)
      I've noticed,too, that people often surprise themselves!
      And that's an interesting observation on how the activity benefits from our opposite perspectives! Hmm ... I can see that in my leadership method. In many ways I'm the opposite of a leader but because I am opposite I have more empathy with followers. Perhaps that makes me a better leader than I would be otherwise?
      Thank you for your comment!

    2. Yes, I think especially in a context working with kids and doing an activity of spontaneous expression, it's helpful to seem unintimidating. They will respond better if they feel you are one of them and are also nervous than if you come across as dictatorial, as a more natural leader might. :)