Law #1: Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.
This is crucial in the first few moments of storytelling. Before you begin your story, take a moment. Look at your audience and smile at them. Only after you have got their attention do you begin to even introduce yourself and your topic. You will be able to observe many things about your audience in these few moments.
Law #2: Begin your story with a question.
Have you ever noticed how everyone perks up when the speaker begins by asking something like, “Is everyone feeling good today?” or “How many people want to hear a good story?”
This technique of asking a question first, engages the audience even further and helps you connect with your audience.
Law #3: This is your first meeting with your audience.
Show that you are curious about them. Make them excited about themselves first. When you learn who your audience is and what they are interested in you will be able to tailor your story to them and, therefore, keep them interested throughout your talk.
Law #4: Speak to your audience just as you speak to your family or friends.
This is perhaps easier to say than to do – remember that they are only human. They are not menacing and really, they only want to learn from you and your story. Even in a professional presentation, the purpose of the presentation is to show others in your ‘audience’ what it is you can offer them. Speak normally and politely as you would to your friends.
Law #5: What is your audience not saying.
Are members of your audience fidgeting and fussing? If you notice this, then perhaps it might be in your interest to take a moment, and say something like, “You know, if this is not a good time for you, then maybe we could do this another day. I will be telling this again on Wednesday, so you’re welcome to join us then.”
Most of the time, those who are really pressed for time will be so grateful that they will appreciate this concern you show them and return for more.
Law #6: If someone asks you a question then answer it briefly or …
When someone in the audience asks you a question when you are in the middle of your story, answer them but limit your answer to no more than 1 minute. If you exceed this, then others in your audience will think that rather than you telling your story, you are more interested in debating the issue with this one person. An easy way to get back to your story is to say, “I will answer all questions at the end of this talk.”
Law #7: Who are you talking to?
Do you know your audience?
I once listened to a storyteller who so enjoyed the sound of his own voice and debated the issues in Cinderella with himself that it was only about twenty minutes later when he heard a loud snore from the back of the room did he realise that his audience, a group of six to ten year olds, had absolutely no idea what he was saying. He was stuck in his ‘auto-pilot’ mode that he did not realise that his audience would never understand what he was saying. You must know who is in your audience before you even begin to tell your story.
Law #8: When telling your story verbally, always be brief.
Notice how lectures/seminars/storytelling sessions are always no more than one hour sessions. This is because that is the normal attention span of most people. Now when you have a story that spans over many, many hours, break them up into sections and leave a little for another day.
Law #9: Always remember to take a break when storytelling.
This is very important because you need to know if your audience understands the story so far. If they don’t here’s your chance to clear the air. It is also a chance to re-connect with the audience. When to take a break or have a pause? Usually in a one hour speech, it is wise to take a break every 20 minutes or so.
Law #10: Invite your audience to participate in the storytelling.
One of my fondest memories is that of watching a play called ‘Son of Man’, many years ago. It was the story of Jesus Christ and really one that I had seen played out in different ways before. This one stands out in my memory simply because there was, at the end of the whole play, ‘audience participation’. The ‘disciples’ of Christ, began to invite people from the audience onto the stage. I was one of them. I am no actor and said nothing but formed the crowd that was to listen to Christ speak. That was all; but being involved in this story, made it all the more special and that experience was wonderful.
In conclusion, as a storyteller, if you can get your audience to understand the story, become a part of it and thereafter connect with the characters, you’re well on your way to becoming an outstanding storyteller.