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How to Create a Storytelling Program that Flows
by Chris King

Whether you are preparing a storytelling program for preschoolers; elementary, junior high or high schoolers; families or adults; or groups at museums, festivals or fairs; it is important to plan a program that flows easily, yet also holds together. Here are some ideas that should help achieve those purposes.

Start with interaction. This can be a light and humorous story that gets your audience to interact with laughter, or it can be a “call and response” story where the audience repeats an easy phrase when you say another or give them a prompt. Or, with younger children, I have a silly song we sing together with animal names and sounds that they volunteer. And, I have another story where we use our hands and fingers to learn an easy story together for them to take home to their families. I also suggest interaction throughout the program, especially with the younger children. Everyone, including adults, enjoys being involved in the telling.

Pick a theme. There are stories that fit any theme you might choose. And choosing a theme will give the marketing of your program coherence. For stories told near April 1st, I found great “trickster” tales from all over the world and stories that related to all ages. Of course, ghost stories fit in perfectly around the time of Halloween — just be sure to check ahead to find out the policy for scary stories and ghost stories. Most children from the age of eight and above love scary stories, but I am cautious about telling them to younger children.

Another fun theme is love and marriage. There are many husband and wife stories. For Earth Day celebrations, there are more animal and earth related stories than you can imagine. And, of course, there are stories about magic, health, courage, creativity, and overcoming fear and obstacles.

Develop a repertoire of stories of various lengths. I love having short, light stories to intersperse between the longer, more serious stories. They can serve as a bridge and a transition, especially for younger audiences. There are tellers, like Donald Davis, who fill a program with only one or two longer stories, but often those longer stories are actually a series of short stories (humorous and serious) that hold together and finally all join in resolution at the end of his program. The shorter stories are also handy if you start running short of time, or if you are telling in a situation where people are coming and going — for example at a museum event or in a tent at a fair or festival.

Try storyteller Elizabeth Ellis’ formula for the shape of a program. Elizabeth states there are four kinds of stories determined by the response given to each by the audience. The first type is the Ha Ha — the funny story, all the way from slapstick to the literary story, humorous due to clever plotting. The next is the Ah Ha — a story with an element of surprise, a story that explains, a ghost story, or a story that makes you say, “Oh, I get it!”

The third type is the Ah! — a story, possibly an experience, a Bible story, a wide variety of stories that all take a deeper level of concentration than the first two types, but always get the reaction “Aaah!” upon their completion. And the final type is the Amen — the story that literally means, “So be it.” This is the way life should be lived, and is often a good way to end the program. Elizabeth suggests starting with the lighter stories and moving into those that take more concentration, always going back to the lighter ones if you feel you are losing the audience.

Develop your own style of plan for making your program a success. Remember that there are as many different approaches to planning a program as there are storytellers. Some start with humor, some with a song, and others give a quick sampling of what is to come. The whole idea is to snag the audience early. When I am telling to a group of teenagers who have the attitude, “Show me,” I will often start with an Urban Legend, like the Vanishing Hitchhiker, which I locate as having happened to me in their area. I soon have their wide-eyed attention for the rest of the program.

Keep in touch with your audience. It is important to have a program planned, but if for some reason your plan isn’t working, be prepared to change direction. And always make sure that when you finish, the audience still wants more. In other words, know when to get off that stage!


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