How does one learn to tell a story effectively? My apprenticeship took place in the time-honored School of Hard Knocks. I fell in love with the power of stories through reading books, but basic story skills were built through teaching children.
Children are honest. If they aren’t getting it, if I am not connecting, I will know right away. First comes the fidgeting, and then the faces. Those expressions can be priceless, right? The listeners in this picture are dialed in. Hats of to the storyteller!
I teach middle and high school, and the feedback there is top-notch. For years teens have helped hone my comic timing. Nowadays I can be a terror when crossed, for my students never quite know what I will say.
To illustrate, one hapless 7th grader was talking to a girl at the scoring table recently. Over the top of my reading glasses I gave him the Death Ray Look. “Mr. Smith,” I said, and the rest of the class rustled to attention. They know that tone of voice and waited to see what would happen next. “I realize that you are irresistible to women,” I said crisply. “But you must resist them. Go sit down.” Amid laughter the poor boy went slinking back to his seat, but smiling too, because my rebuke had included a compliment. Well, kind of.
The most challenging audience–and I taught this age group for 12 summer quarters–is the 3-4-5 year-old crowd. I was the one to present the junior church Bible lessons, and I learned to keep 30-40 of them (plus parents and student helpers) in the palm of my hand through dramatic storytelling.
Unexpected special effects helped. I came up with all kinds of illustrations, raiding the church kitchen and janitor’s closet and my classroom (our Christian school is on the campus) for supplies. Fortunately, when I burned the prophet Jeremiah’s scroll (like King Jehoiakim did), there was not quite enough smoke to cause a problem.
Learning by doing–sink or swim–do or die. When you’re in front of a live audience, you have no choice but to deliver!
So what skills have you learned in the School of Hard Knocks? What new skills are you trying out now?