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Have You Developed Your Unique STYLE as a Storyteller?
by Chris King

I know that in previous articles I have urged you to try some storytelling techniques that take you out of your comfort zone. I have even suggested being somewhat "outrageous." That is all well and good, but in this article I am going to examine the other side of the coin. What do I mean? I mean that we all have a STYLE that is ours - who we are uniquely. What I am suggesting is to continue to work on those storytelling skills that need improvement, but all the while being true to our own self as a teller and to our unique qualities.

Let me share the story that triggered this article. I was asked to teach a new fitness class, called "Pain in the Butt," a program that is being rolled out at the club where I teach aerobics. I was handed a video of the class as taught by the man who originated the workout. No one said that I had to do it exactly the way he presented it, but I chose to try. You would think that I have learned better by now that this just doesn't work for me. I have my own style of teaching which is completely different from his.

When I taught the first class, I was uncomfortable, which in turn made the students uncomfortable. The second day I taught it, I used my own style of teaching (still performing his great toning ideas without all of the fancy footwork). It worked like a charm - all of us worked hard, enjoyed ourselves and now have sore buns to show for it. And, I was reminded to use my unique STYLE. It is the same with presenting. When we try to be or act like someone else, everyone is uncomfortable.

Observe and learn from other storytellers, but never, never copy their STYLE. I attend a plethora of concerts, workshops and festivals, not only to listen to and enjoy the stories along with the information learned in the workshops, but to also evaluate what I especially liked and disliked about the storytelling techniques. The top storytellers who are asked back time after time all have their own style of telling - and it is often not "by the book" but it is highly effective. To help develop your own style, start by making note of what the teller did that made you sit up and take notice.

We generally like and relate well with people who are like us. How are you like that storyteller? If he or she is high energy and uses that energy to advantage, ask yourself how you could use your own level of energy to advantage - not the same way, but in your way. Possibly, that storyteller has such a passion for his or her story, it holds the audience spellbound. I have witnessed this often when listening to a teller who obviously enjoys and loves the story as much as we do. You can hear a pin drop. This is the unique STYLE that comes from being passionate about a story and telling. Are you? If not, pick another story.

It is honorable to want to please the audience, but never, never for the price of sacrificing your unique STYLE. As I have mentioned in previous articles, many people are confused about what we as storytellers do and how we do it. I get calls from potential bookers asking me to come in costume, read a particular book (they don't realize that ours is an oral art), tell a certain story and/or type of story and fit into their chosen theme. It is up to us to decide if the request fits with our unique STYLE - if it does and we will be comfortable complying, then great. Anytime I have tried to fulfill a request that I am uncomfortable with, I have been less than pleased with my performance. My suggestion is to take the time, before the phone call comes with an offbeat request, to make a list of what you won't do as a teller - those situations in which your unique STYLE won't shine through.

For example:

  • I won't come in costume
  • I don't read the story/stories
  • If a specific story and/or stories are requested, I will have to do some research before agreeing to tell it or them. If I don't love them or have a way to tell it them with my STYLE, I won't agree to tell it or them.
  • If I can't be myself, I shouldn't take the gig. It's not fair to anyone.

Expand your storytelling strengths to establish your own unique STYLE. It is odd how we as storytellers tend to focus on what we don't do well. If we focus on our strengths and work on exaggerating and enhancing them, we will no longer need to worry about weaknesses and will start becoming known for our own unique STYLE of telling. You may not even realize your strongest skills - the majority of us don't. We are too busy listening to our inner critic. Ask a friend or colleague you trust to tell you what your strengths are - both in storytelling and normal day-to-day communications. You will be amazed by how straightforward and easy it will be for him or her to answer. Take those strengths and work to make them even stronger and you will be on your way as a teller in demand.

Remember to be yourself. Everyone is unique and when we rely on our own STYLE, everyone will benefit - especially the audience, our listeners and us too!

Let me know what you think. I love your FEEDBACK!

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