From: Dr Eric Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(PhD in Folklore, MSc in Psychology)
Director, World Storytelling Institute,
Date: March 2021
We are one year into the pandemic, and into "storytelling via videoconferencing" in earnest. There has been a great deal of improvement by Storytellers regarding their storytelling, and their teaching of storytelling, via videoconferencing. Let's keep up the great work!
Storytelling via Videoconferencing
Tips and Suggestions
1) Ways Storytelling is different from Speech-making.
A difference between speech-making and storytelling is:
A speech is made to give a message.
A story is told to activate the listener's imagination -- and to stimulate the listener's thinking process.
Especially in the case of "Storytelling by and for adults," story listeners are expected to "make sense of the story" on their own. Listeners could figure out messages for themselves (and share them in post-telling discussions).
There is an emphatic style of speaking that suits a large stage, in a large room or hall. But with videoconferencing, the listener may be just inches away from one's image on a screen. The listener may be sitting at a table, or lying in bed.
In this context, one might tone down one's emphatic-ness. This emphatic-ness may be too forceful for videoconferencing. It may not be gentle and personal enough.
Storytelling in this context means: One does not explain the story to the listeners. One does not advise the listeners what to do. Rather, one just presents the events of the story, and lets the story speak for itself. One invites the listeners to join one in the story's imaginary world.
By the way -- I do not refer to storytelling as a performance. Storytelling is too "real" to be a performance. The person I learned storytelling from, Laura Simms, often speaks of storytelling as a ritual -- a process that can put one in touch with deep parts of oneself and others, as well as with energies of the cosmos.
2) One might tell in a relaxed, personal, and
In CSF 2021 and in the SBFA series, almost all of the listeners would be adults. For storytellers who are accustomed to telling to children, this would be a different experience.
I suggest: resist any temptation to speak in a lecturing, instructing, declaring, or announcing tone of voice. Just talk like you are just sitting around with some friends -- using a relaxed, informal, intimate tone. I call this the "candid" style of storytelling. Notes on this style are here.
Take your time. Do not rush. Once in a while, pause and let things sink in.
Few things in life are worse than rushed storytelling. Because when storytelling is rushed, the storyteller cannot enact -- and listeners cannot see and hear -- each character's unique ways of speaking and moving. We cannot get into the emotions of characters, or consider the thinking processes behind characters' behaviors, each step of the way.
"Variety is the spice of life." Alternate between speaking: A) Loud / soft. B) High pitch / low pitch. C) Fast / slow.
3) Please do not recite memorised words, or read words aloud from page or screen.
Please do not memorize and recite all of the words of a story, and do not read the words of a story aloud from page or screen. (Ideally, please do not even look at notes.)
1) Memorise the events of the story.
2) Visualise the story events as you are telling.
3) Improvise the spoken words you use, to assist the listeners to also visualise the story events.
4) Interact with listeners as much as possible.
There is a special feeling of wholeness and connectedness (within a teller, and between a teller and listeners) when the words of a story are improvised (or semi-improvised) -- that is, when a story is told without the words being memorised, and without the words being read aloud.
Before and during your storytelling: visualise and feel the various story situations, and let your words -- along with your tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, etc -- arise on their own, in improvised (or semi-improvised) ways, to help your listeners also visualise and feel these situations.
4) The eye contact dilemma: Whether to look into the camera, or at the image of the person one is talking with?
Alternate between looking at viewers' images, and looking into the camera (which gives your viewers the impression of eye contact with you).
You might set your Zoom window to "Gallery view" as you tell, or you might "pin" one listener's image (magnifying it), so you could tell especially to this person.
The listeners-viewers would be conducting their parts of the conversations largely via their facial expressions.
In a videoconference: if the camera is above the screen -- when one looks at the image of a person one is talking to, that person (and all of the other participants in the videoconference) sees one looking downward.
To give videoconference listeners-viewers the sense that one is looking at them (that is, the sense of eye-contact) -- one needs to look at the camera (not at the images of the listeners-viewers).
One thing one could do is:
Recent versions of Zoom allow one to drag participants' rectangles around the window, and place these rectangles where one wishes. When telling -- if one is looking at others in the Gallery View (with numerous equal-size rectangles in the Zoom window) -- one could drag the rectangle showing the image of a person one really wants to tell to (that is, to talk with) to the top row, in the center.
Then it is as if that person is in the front row, center, of a physical audience. Then, even if one looks at the camera as one tells, one could occasionally and/or peripherally look down slightly, to the top row center, to see the image of one's selected primary listener.
It might also be a good idea to drag the rectangle showing one's own image to the bottom row (the equivalent of the back row of a physical audience).
5) Let characters speak for themselves, as much as possible.
Alternate between speaking as the narrator, and speaking as characters.
Please avoid summarising, and reporting about, what characters said. Rather, please seek to act-out characters, to speak and move as characters.
That is, as much as possible, let the characters speak for themselves. Use unique ways of speaking and moving for each character, at each moment of the story.
Listeners tend to be much more interested to witness characters' behaviours directly, to "meet" and (psychologically) interact with characters -- rather than to have the characters and their behaviours be summarised, and be reported about, by you.
Having characters speak for themselves is an excellent way to generate feelings about story events -- in tellers and in listeners-viewers.
Consider the emotions that arise as you tell the story. What emotions do the characters feel? If you feel these emotions, your listeners would also.
Characters may speak to other characters -- or they may speak to themselves.
6) Addressing listeners as if they were story characters.
A secret of storytelling is that when one plays a character who is addressing another character, one puts one's listeners into the psychological (emotional and intellectual) position of the character who is being addressed.
If a teller is aware of this phenomena, the teller can use it to truly enthrall and entrance listeners.
7) Finding -- or creating -- a story.
For CSF 2021 (Chennai Storytelling Festival 2021, in Feb 2021) the requested story theme is Healing, Growing, and/or Maturing. Some of my notes on "Healing stories" are here.
For the SBFA (Storytelling by and for Adults) series through August 2021 -- a suggested story theme is, "An Interesting Conversation."
In both cases --
Any kind of story could be told (including Personal-experience stories, Historical stories, Folktales including Fairytales, Original creative stories, etc).
You might consider telling about a theme-related incident,
1) In your own life.
2) In the life of someone you know, or have heard about.
3) In the life of a character from a fairytale, history, epic, legend, or myth.
You might start with a personal-experience story, and change aspects of it to create a semi-fictional story.
I coach people to create and develop stories.
Three contexts in which story composition could be done are,
1) Counselling/Therapy ("Healing stories"),
2) Life Coaching ("Transforming stories") and
3) Making Art (writing novels, screenplays, etc).
Regarding the theme of Healing, Growing, and/or Maturing:
If you might like to read some fairytales -- or stories that are fairytale-ish -- I would recommend the 12 stories that could be accessed here.
Any of these stories -- and fairytales in general -- could be considered to be relating to Healing, Growing, and/or Maturing.
8) Preparing to tell a story.
There is no substitute for being very familiar with the story one is going to tell, for knowing the story inside and out. In addition to practicing telling the story to friends and family members, you could:
A) Draw the events of the story, in the format of your choice. One could draw a map of the story events.
B) Write out the story. (You would not be doing this to create a perfect, final text that would be memorised or read aloud. You would be doing it just to get everything out, and down on paper, so you could observe the whole in a cool, detached manner -- and plan your improvised telling accordingly. You might note when the narrator would be speaking, and when characters would be speaking.)
Editing a storytelling (reducing its duration)
One way to edit a storytelling is:
1) Become very clear regarding the series of events in a story.
2) Consider what the story is especially "about" to you.
3) Spend most of the telling time at places in the story where things are "really coming out," where decisions are being debated and made, etc. Please do justice to these places in the story by giving the step-by-step dialogue, and by communicating the step-by-step thinking processes of characters, in these places.
4) Spend less time in the places building up to these transitional and transformative places.
What sets the story into motion? What disturbs a situation that had been stationary? Tell this part of the story especially clearly and crisply.
What are key "meanings," "points," and "turning points" of the story for you? Build your performance around these elements.
9) Discussion and role-play after storytellings.
In both the Chennai Storytelling Festival and the SBFA (Storytelling by and for Adults) series:
One is requested to tell one's story in approximately 10 minutes. Immediately after this, there would be approximately 10 minutes of (appreciative) discussion about the story and the way one had told it, and possibly some role-playing with story characters
The role-playing may involve me, you, and/or others (imaginatively, and very respectfully) speaking to and as characters in the story that has just been told. We do this to further immerse ourselves in the stories. This activity often leads to interesting discoveries about the stories and our reactions to them.
10) The need for lighting from in-front-of one.
For photography/film/video/videoconferencing, a light source in front of one -- shining on one from in-front-of one -- is needed.
A practical way to do this may be: get a desk lamp and place it in front of you, directed towards you.
Or, use a lamp to bounce the light against the wall that is in front of you.
Also -- please do your best to eliminate or reduce light that is coming from behind you (such as windows with no curtains). Light coming from behind you tends to make the image of you darker.
11) If possible, please use a computer, not a phone or tablet.
With the larger screen of a computer -- one could see the faces of listeners much better, and one could choose between more options for screen configuration.
If one must use a phone, please do not hold the phone as you tell.
If one is holding the phone,
1) That hand and arm cannot be used to help tell the story.
2) The camera moves with every move one makes. This can be highly distracting.
So if using a phone, please seek to stablise it on a table or desk, perhaps using a stack of books or boxes to bring the phone's camera to one's eye level.
12) Email etiquette request: Please address me by my first name, and please sign with your first name.
If one addresses a person by the person's first name, and signs with both of one's names, one is showing more respect and formality to oneself than one is showing to the person to whom one is writing.
When one addresses someone by the person's first name, it seems to me that it is optimally polite to also sign one's email with one's first name -- followed, if one might like, by one's first and second name (and optionally, one's title), a line or two below. Such as,
> Best regards,
> - Eric
> Dr. Eric Miller
The Healing Power of Story, Storytelling, and Story-enacting,"
108 hours of (FREE) Zoom Storytelling Performances and Workshops,
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