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The WRONG Way to Tell Stories
by Dianne Hackworth

Students usually learn best by good example, but occasionally the lesson sticks better when they are shown the incorrect way to do something. Through this method, the student will see how distracting certain mannerisms are when presenting before a group. This is what I share with teachers and also use when doing storytelling residencies.

Begin by telling the students you are going to tell a story the wrong way. The story content itself is OK, but the things you will be doing while telling are distracting to the audience. Have them listen and watch and at the end, they may tell you the numerous things you did that were distracting. (Students love to have a chance to tell adults what they do wrong!) Seeing their teacher demonstrate in this humorous fashion helps students identify and remember nervous mannerisms.

Wrong Mannerisms to Include in Your Presentation:

  1. Begin telling before you have reached the front of the room.
  2. Lean on the board or desk behind you.
  3. Play with any items nearby - chalk, books, paper.
  4. Never look at the audience - just the floor, ceiling, walls, windows, etc.
  5. Put hands in pockets and rock back and forth.
  6. Swing arms back and forth and side to side.
  7. Wring hands.
  8. Smooth hair.
  9. Put hands in front of your mouth.
  10. Twist shirt in your hands and pick at your clothes.
  11. Sway from side to side.
  12. Pace back and forth.
  13. Talk too softly and/or too loudly.
  14. Talk too fast and/or too slowly.
  15. Get tickled and not be able to continue.
  16. Begin walking back to your seat while finishing the last words of your story.
  17. Use a “pleasant voice” for a story that is not pleasant.
  18. Go up in vocal inflection at the end of each sentence as if you are asking a question.
  19. Talk in a monotone.
  20. Don’t pause for laughter. Just keep on telling so that no-one hears what you are saying.
  21. As a matter of fact, don’t pause for anything - a huge outside disturbance or distraction, a fire drill, a chance for audience members to catch up, or to catch a breath.

Note: 17. and 18. were added thanks to storyteller Mary Hamilton ( 19., 20., and 21. were added thanks to storyteller Chris King.

This is a good chance for those teachers who have been hesitant to tell a story. The students will be concentrating on your mannerisms, not your storytelling abilities. In fact, if you mess up, just incorporate that into your “wrong way” presentation.

Dianne Hackworth, a storyteller from North Carolina, tours throughout the Southeast telling stories for all ages. Dianne brings to life Appalachian and Celtic folktales; stories of fantastic beings, dragons and jugglers; musical tales of cats, monsters, and toads; humorous stories, scary stories, and touching tales. To find out more about this delightful teller, visit her website at


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