Sunday, October 25, 2009

Using the Art of Storytelling to Enhance Your Public Speaking

Using the Art of Storytelling to Enhance Your Public Speaking

What was the first story you remember hearing as a child? Little Red Riding Hood? Sleeping Beauty? Snow White? Hansel and Gretel? Johnny Appleseed? Maybe something from the Bible ... like the story of Noah and the Great Flood or Moses leading the Pharaoh's chariots across the Red Sea? Regardless of what your first story was, chances are you have a cherished memory of a parent or older loved one reading or telling you a story.

Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture, across every land as a way to entertain, educate, preserve culture, and impart moral values. Through stories, we use words, images, and sounds to convey the details of events, both real and imagined.

Storytelling differs from reading in that the oral tradition - the habit of handing down a story, whether it was an anecdote or a tall tale - required committing the stories to memory, and then passing them down, generation to generation. Once we developed written language, though, we largely lost the art of telling storeries. And it is an art.

I had the privelege of attending the final evening of the Mesa Storytelling Festival this weekend. Now these weren't campfire ghost stories or the jokes you hear at the start of a Toastmasters meeting. These were storytellers who have honed their craft to weave word pictures that leave you laughing till you cannot breathe. Each of the tellers, as the MC referred to them, was diverse in their ethnicity, skill, and style. One wove a tale of her granddaughter's first outing to the library, where she proceeded to strip naked and run through the stacks, a literary pixie gone mad. Another told the folktale of a Japanese woman's awesome "skill" at breaking wind. We heard one man's tale of the weeks of insecurity, research, practice, and nerves involved in the preparation for his first kiss. We heard a story of Baby Hawk's efforts to learn to fly.

However, my boyfriend and I both agreed that we preferred the Native American woman teller, Dovie Thomason, who told an epic folktale of how death came to the world because First Woman needed to have the last word in her every conversation with First Man. It was funny and wise and insulting and breathtaking and tragic - and her telling of the story was nothing short of magical.

Although I'd taken a storytelling class a few years back from my good friends Steve and Resa Ferreira, I was completely unaware until this weekend that there is a Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College. Enchanted by my experience this weekend, I am intrigued enough to want to investigate the program further ... and perhaps sign up for a class or two.

I find storytelling fascinating because it seems to me to be the perfect marriage between the art and spectacle of a poetry slam and the professional presentation involved in public speaking. Ever since seeing a poetry slam competition in the spring, the winners of which were headed to D.C. to represent Arizona in a national contest, I've begun approaching public speaking from a new perspective. There are so many different methods - and so many ways to improve. Some professional speakers take standup comedy classes. Some focus on technicalities like vocal variety and perfecting their stage movements and gestures. Others are adept at developing audience rapport, while still others master the INSPIRATIONAL PERSONA.

But what I am starting to see is how these art forms of poetry and storytelling - generally held in strict abeyance from anything as boring as professional speaking (and vice-versa, no doubt) - can truly enhance our ability to connect with an audience. If you're a professional - or aspiring professional - speaker, I highly advise getting yourself to a high-caliber poetry slam or a storytelling festival. Open your eyes, ears, mind, and heart - and I promise you will not only learn a lot, but you will be delighted and awestruck in the process.

For answers to your questions about writing, editing, marketing, or design e-mail Laura or visit Write | Market | Design where we specialize in teaching our writers to think like marketers!

No comments:

Post a Comment