I’m going to start by saying that my stories are pretty good and I prefer to tell an improv story, in other words, I’m making it up as I tell it. I feel confident in telling my stories, but hey I’m only telling to my two young children and sometimes a group of children. Nonetheless, I went to ol’ Google and typed in “How to tell a story.” The results weren’t what I expected to see. I saw articles on how to tell a story to improve your leadership skills, an article from wikiHow that included pictures on how to tell a story, even an article posted from Harvard Business Review and how we tell stories to our co-workers to help with our projects. Um…. yeah not what I was hoping for. So back to my own brain-storming, How exactly does one tell a story?
Well the short answer is YOU are already a storyteller. Every time you meet with a friend or talk with your spouse at night about your day, you are telling a story. Every time you pull out old pictures and reminisce about that day or event, you are telling a story. When you sit around a campfire and share stories of younger days, you are telling a story. We are ALL storytellers, it really is just our nature. However if you, like me sometimes, want to actually put together a story for an educational purpose or a simple bedtime story you really don’t need to do what google says- brainstorm, memorize, practice again and again. Here’s some tips on just how to tell a simple story and make it amazing. Keep in mind the following tips are more for the audience who is young, young at heart, or just prefers a story to listen to. These tips may not be tailored for any business event or persuasive co-worker project 🙂
- Tell a story with sequence in mind: One way is to use story lines from your child’s favorite story or show. Whether it’s Curious George, Bubble Guppies, or Paw Patrol, the story line is usually the same. Most stories follow a beginning, middle, and end sequence and there is usually always a problem to solve, something to discover, a new place to go. Example: My son, who sleep-plays was convinced that a monster came in his room and took apart his LEGO castle. Of course, this is right before bedtime and my 4 year old daughter’s eyes are the size of grapefruits and I see she is quite terrified of this monster her brother speaks of. This is a great time to tell a story as a way to help deal with those big emotions. So…lots of ideas come rushing to my head as my kids and husband find their seat on the bed. Long story short, the monster my son named Took-Apart Monster and I rolled with it, would come into his room every night to play with the toys because he came from a land where monsters are supposed to be scary and mean and are not allowed to have toys. But he longed for some toys and friends to play with. So when it was time to go back to his monster world, he would forget to pick up the toys. He would come back each night (I would include the names of the days of the week as the educational tidbit) and the same would happen. Every morning, the little boy would find his toys all messed up. Finally, the little boy had enough and left the monster a note telling the monster to stop playing with his toys. The monster replied that he was ever so sorry to ruin the toys and why he played with them in the first place. The little boy was relieved and also sad for the monster who had no toys to play with. The little boy would leave out a special toy for the monster to play with and the monster would make sure to put it back. So real life here again- the kids were literally relieved, my daughter was breathing normally again, and you know what? Not one kid interrupted, their bodies were still, and they had a focus that is almost only see when stories are told. So point here is that stories really are captivating when there is a repetitive sequence and then a surprise or twist in the story, it does wonders.
- Make stories relatable. Make your stories meaningful to your children but maybe in a conspicuous way. Change the characters or names, but leave the meaning, event, or emotion the same. By making it close to the heart of your child, they will be able to connect to it and see it from an outside perspective which helps them reflect, evaluate, and comprehend.
- Add surprise or suspense in your stories- this is why I love improv stories. Maybe I’m telling it, it’s going good but then I’m out of ideas- great time to add that twist or turn. Kids love it and it’s very captivating. Just try and keep it in the same realm of your story line. Though I do love when my kids tell a story and their surprises have absolutely nothing to do with what they were telling, and that’s a-okay!
- Stories usually have a enemy and hero, however they DON’T have to. My sometimes do and sometimes not. My daughter enjoys her stories where it’s just about friends having a tea party and no bad guy involved. She’d rather prefers it that way and it doesn’t take anything away from the story. My son, on the other hand, is not quite captivated unless there is some bad guy involved. So know your audience.
- Make it fun! I’m not very good at changing my voice to be a tiger, and then a fairy, and then the evil dragon- I struggle here. However, I do change my tone and pitch and it does do the trick. Change from speaking louder and quickly to more soft and slower. Then back loud. It helps me grab their attention when I can’t seem to provide 8 different voices like my husband can. Add silly words, visual vocabulary, action and fun. If we are telling to our children then yeah make it fun!
- Throw in educational lessons! Sometimes my stories aren’t for bedtime. I tell stories to help my children with their rhyming words or maybe a specific letter or sound I want them to learn. Maybe you tell a story with lots of objects or names with letter B. I like to add some geography to my stories. If my characters are traveling I will name where they are going. For instance, I told a story once about a family of pronghorn (we see those a lot driving) and how they traveled through the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains for a race to see who would be the fastest pronghorn. Later, find it on a map with your child. I’ve told stories about a butterfly garden and I include the names of different butterflies. This brings your story alive and adds in much needed imagery to take your story from eh to wow!
So these are just a few of the things I try to do with my stories. Again, nothing really researched just tried and true practices for when telling to our youngest listeners, whose bodies and brains are going miles in minutes. Stories are great at slowing that pace down, bringing focus, and igniting imagination.
Go tell your story! I believe in it!