Stand out with these tips when you stand up to speak

November 10, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

I've always loved stories - reading them, writing them, telling them.

My favorite thing about teaching is the privilege of telling stories every day. The anticipation on my students' faces while they're listening to a good story is priceless.

This is truly fun, but it doesn't just happen.

Telling a story in a way that holds an audience's attention takes some preparation.

We've all attended classes or programs where the speaker kept his nose to his notes, standing as though he was a part of the podium. Information is covered, but the method is oh-so-boring.

On the flip side of that are the teachers who are animated, energetic and imaginative, only occasionally referring to their curriculum guides.


Whether you're a school teacher, club leader, coach, Sunday school teacher or serve in another area where you are telling stories, you can be a good storyteller with a little effort. Don't think that these principles apply just to those who tell stories to children. Adults will appreciate your efforts on the following, as well.

1. Study, study, study.

About a week before telling a story, read it through once just for enjoyment and to get an overview of the topic. A few days before, write notes in the margin to highlight the areas you want to emphasize. Decide what your goal is and why it is important for your audience to hear this story. The night before, read it just before you go to sleep. This will help you remember it the next day. Try to memorize the story so you can move as you are telling it. You don't have to tell it word-for-word like it is in the book, just let it unfold as you remember it.

2. Use visuals.

Try a map, poster, photograph, toy, model or anything that can help a listener remember something about the story you are telling. Visuals won't happen if you wait until the day before to read the story. What if you have to pick up something from a store? You won't have an opportunity unless you prepare.

3. Be enthusiastic.

It might be difficult for you to stand in front of any audience, but if you try to forget about yourself and concentrate on the message you have to deliver, perhaps your nervousness will decrease. Concentrating on the story also will help you to become caught up in the telling of it.

4. Use your voice as a tool.

If you are building to an exciting part in the story, speak loudly at first and then speak softly and slowly. You'll be surprised at how quiet the audience will become. They will want to hear what you have to say next.

5. Move.

Don't stay behind a podium. Come out to the side, walk down the aisle, lean down so you can talk eye-to-eye with someone. If the story is about being on a ship, sway slightly from side to side so your audience feels like they are experiencing the story.

6. Encourage audience participation.

Ask certain audience members to come up and pretend that they are the people in the story. Give them a specific task to perform so they are not a distraction. Ask questions throughout your story so the audience will stay focused.

7. Practice, practice, practice.

It's not easy to be a good storyteller, but if you keep working on it, you will get better. Like anything else in life, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. There is a real joy in hearing, "Are you going to tell us a story today?"

For some more ideas, look for Ed Dunlop's book, "How Do I Get These Kids to Listen? Practical Ways to Gain and Hold Attention in the Classroom."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

The Herald-Mail Articles