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Use Time and Timing Wisely for Powerful Storytelling
by Chris King

Anyone who has told stories often knows the importance of time and timing. Used with planning, time can be a storyteller’s best friend. Used without thought, however, time can ruin a performance and rob a teller of credibility, reputation, and the joy of experiencing eager listeners. In this article, I will highlight the ins and outs of time management for storytellers – and I am not referring to the Day Planner kind of time management!

First and foremost, pay attention to the times set for your performance. It should go without saying that a professional is always on time – or even early – for a performance. Even if your stories are perfect for the age group to whom you will be telling, when you will be telling and for how long should be considered. For example, if you will be telling at a birthday party, try not to be scheduled at the beginning. You will be interrupted by the continual disruption caused by latecomers. When planning the length of programs, pay attention to the following tips. Preschool up to six and seven year olds will usually love listening for about 30 minutes, especially if you add interactive rhymes, rhythm and singing. I also suggest that mornings work better for this group when they are still fresh and eager. From eight to 11 years of age, youngsters will easily remained entranced for 45 minutes, and I think any time of the day is fine, unless there is a special party or recess looming.

If you will be performing at a Junior High School and/or High School, be aware that you will not have the time flexibility afforded in the lower grades. When a bell rings, the students must go to their next class, no matter how gripping the story you are in the middle of is. Be sure to know what time those bells will ring, so that you can pace yourself. This takes us into the following topic.

Time your stories beforehand and plan stories of all lengths. No matter where you will be telling stories, you must be prepared to tell stories that fit the time limit given to you. Often, your performance will not start on schedule, so know how to shorten the stories you have decided to tell, or have shorter ones ready. I even practice with a kitchen timer handy, or while driving so that I can glance at the car’s clock. Never, never go over the time allotted to you when performing in a concert with other tellers – it is rude and thoughtless. And, if a teller and/or tellers preceding you go over their time, you will endear yourself to the whole group – and especially the planning committee – if you shorten your time on stage and get the concert back on schedule. A short, punchy story or a well-sung ballad can make as much of an impression on the audience as a long, drawn out tale.

Attention to the timing, pacing and rhythm of your storytelling program will guarantee a successful outcome. I mentioned this previously in my article on creating a program that flows, but want to remind you of the advantage of interspersing short stories between the longer ones. If you have told a longer, gripping story, a short, snappy story will offer a break in the rhythm and even give your listeners a little rest. It helps if the shorter stories are humorous and/or involve the audience. And the timing and pacing within each story should also be practiced with diligence. If we don’t vary our speed and use pauses, we will lose the audience to drowsiness. Let them have time to laugh, to ooh and ah, and to wonder what is going to happen next. In other words, don’t race through your stories as so many beginning tellers do. Also, at the end of each story, and at the end of your program, give the audience a chance to show their appreciation by staying up front or on the stage long enough for them to give you a rousing round of applause. I have even been guilty of rushing back to my seat after sharing a story.

Take a time-out every week to increase your intellectual play – better known as creativity. Julia Cameron in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way at Work, suggests the following: “Once a week for at least one hour, take yourself – the part of yourself you think of as your Inner Explorer – on some small festive adventure. Surely there’s some place or activity you’ve always wondered about. Your time-out is your chance to go there or to try your hand at something new, to explore your wonder. .. Think mystery, not mastery. Time-outs are about awakening our sense of wonder. They are not about self-improvement.” I know that this will add an extra dimension to your storytelling – it has to mine.

Remember that old cliché, “Time is of the essence.” It really is. So, plan yours with care!


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