for the Audience at Hand
By Mary Hamilton
of the most difficult goals of a storyteller is to tell for the
audience at hand. While reaching this goal does sound simple, after
all what other audience is there except the one at hand, achieving
this goal can be challenging. Here are some tips for successfully
telling for the audience at hand.
your words to suit the audience. I'm not suggesting you talk
down to your listeners. Instead I am suggesting you pay attention
to your listeners so you will know what words to use to tell the
story to the audience at hand. Audiences have varying degrees of
knowledge. If you see a quizzical look pass over listeners' faces,
you might want to rephrase part of the story before moving on to
the next part. When you know the story, as opposed to memorizing
the words, you have the freedom to vary your words to suit the listeners.
your timing to suit the audience. Audiences have their own rhythms
and personalities. Few things make a storyteller look more foolish
than pausing for the laugh, gasp, or sigh that was there with the
last audience but doesn't exist with this one. You must love the
story enough to enjoy telling it even without your favorite responses.
If not, your mind could be occupied with thoughts of, "What's
wrong? They aren't acting anything like last week's audience - they
loved it," or "Why aren't they laughing?" or "On
no, they hate this story. Please God, just let me finish this program
and go home," all the while missing delightful twinkles in
the eyes of the audience at hand. Meanwhile, you prattle on telling
the story on automatic pilot, a storytelling sin if ever one existed.
Use space appropriately for the size of the audience. For
example, fifty people were expected, but only three showed up. Remember,
you are a storyteller, not an actor. There is no rule that says
you must remain in the "stage space" and project your
voice to the far corners of the room. Leave the performance space,
pull up a chair if possible, sit practically knee-to-knee with the
three people present and tell them stories. If the situation is
such that others may enter during the telling, don't worry. Use
eye contact to invite them to join the group. As the audience grows,
you may need to stand so all can still be included. If the audience
grows rapidly, you may even be in the performance space you abandoned
by then end of the story. That's fine. The key to making such changes
is to know the story well. Then you can tell the story with its
landscape no larger than your lap or with its landscape encompassing
an entire stage and beyond.
eye contact. If three, fifty, or a thousand people are present,
make eye contact with three, fifty, or a thousand. I've seen tellers
making eye contact with vast audiences which existed only in the
tellers' imaginations while I - present in the audience - was ignored
in favor of those who would have been there if all the seats were
filled. Storytelling exists between people, not between the teller
and the performance space.
your repertoire so you can abandon your plans when the audience
is not who you expected. For example, you were promised ages ten
and up, but of sixty people in the audience, fifty of them are clearly
under six and the other ten are the day care directors and chaperones
for this outing. Tell for the audience at hand, then learn to be
much more involved in the program planning - especially the publicity
- the next time you work for that client! Word of warning: When
your audience is a mix of the promised group and others, consult
with your client before assuming you will serve your client best
by switching stories.
So, why do I think achieving this goal is
difficult? It seems so simple. After all, "Who else could I
tell for? The audience at hand is the only one here." To achieve
this goal, I not only need a varied repertoire, but also whenever
I tell a story I must give my full attention to this moment in this
story with this audience. Such attention requires concentration,
awareness, and flexibility. Do I always succeed? No, but when I
catch my attention wandering, I send a gentle mental reminder, "Tell
for the audience at hand." Such reminders help me remember
Bio: Mary Hamilton has earned
her living telling stories and pondering how the art of storytelling
works since 1983. Learn more about her work at http://www.maryhamilton.info.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or 800-438-4390, or 65 Springhill Road, Frankfort, KY 40601-9211.