eTips is a free, monthly electronic newsletter from Doug Lipman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or read a more detailed description of the newsletter at the eTips page. You can also read the other back issues.
1) NEWS TIDBITS
"How to Learn a Story" tape to ship soon; Telling Stories to Children workshop;
shorter line lengths in this newsletter.
* News tidbit #1: The third issue of the Storytelling
Workshop In a Box (TM), "How to Learn a Story," describes a
natural way to make your stories interesting and flexible.
It will ship in a week or so. Your membership can begin with
this issue or with issue number 1, "Secrets of Listening":
* Note: in response to readers' requests, I have shortened
the line lengths of this issue. Please let me know how this
looks on your computer!
2) HOW TO HARNESS A HIDDEN POWER
Just yesterday, I coached a storyteller who, before telling,
talked animatedly and convincingly about his new story. Once
he stood up to tell, however, his effectiveness plummeted.
What happened? I believed that his relatively poor telling
stemmed from a common storytelling misconception. If he
could just understand four points about the true nature of
storytelling and oral language, I was convinced, he could
restore the power that his storytelling was missing.
a. The Storyteller Stimulates Images
First, telling stories is not primarily a matter of
communicating words, but of sensory images: imagined or
remembered sights, sounds, smells, gut feelings, tactile
sensations, etc. The teller imagines the scenes of a story
and tells the story. Then the listeners imagine the scenes
in their own ways.
So the primary job of the teller is to stimulate the
listeners to imagine. How? With the tools of oral language,
including words, gestures, facial expression, tone of voice,
posture, pauses - and many more.
Words, of course, carry a vital part of the "message." But
other "channels," often overlooked, carry much of
b. Metamessages: The Power Behind The Words
Reliance on words alone limits your "tool box," leading you
to ignore additional ways to stimulate images. Worse,
focusing solely on words can actually sabotage other
powerful oral language channels.
Some channels of spoken language do not primarily carry
"message" at all. Rather, they carry "messages about the
message": metamessages. Thus, a sarcastic tone of voice
tells you to interpret a verbal statement to mean its
opposite. A sagging posture tells you to interpret a smile
as submissive, whereas an erect posture can lead you to
interpret the same smile as joyous or proud. Subtle pauses
and stammers may lead us to think of a speaker as sincere or
Here's what people forget at their peril: the metamessage
channels are *always* carrying meaning. Everyone listens to
tone as well as to words, in order to know how to interpret
This is why, for example, we often form opinions about
politicians which are not based on what they say, but on how
they say it. Knowing the candidate's temptation to tell us
what we want to hear, many of us value honesty and sincerity
above articulateness and fluency. And we judge things like
honesty primarily through what is communicated by the
Why is this crucial to the storyteller? If you are trying to
remember something you have read - that is, if you are
imagining words on a page - your audience will often
unconsciously perceive your attempt to imagine something
flat and white, as well as your intention of getting
something right. If you are imitating someone else's style,
your listeners will usually perceive your attempt to be
something you're not. You may be dressing yourself up in
words, but your intentions always show through!
d. Making the Story Work
To avoid these problems while telling, put your attention on
what you want to communicate. We have all learned how to use
metamessage channels unconsciously to convey our intentions.
If you are excited about something you are imagining, your
oral language will automatically tend to convey both your
attitude and your physical reactions to what you are
imagining. This, in turn, will stimulate your listeners to
imagine excitedly, too.
What happened to the teller I was coaching? After
appreciating his story, I asked him some questions about the
main character. When he began to talk effectively again, I
asked him, "What are you thinking about, right now?"
He said, "About how wonderful the old woman was, to do what
I said, "What you just told me was powerful and fascinating!
Can you tell me that scene in the story, while keeping in
mind how wonderful she was to do that?"
He told the scene again. I stopped him once or twice when he
fell back into his old habit of thinking about the words he
had written and his effort not to be boring. After a few
minutes, though, his telling was consistently more lively
and yet less affectedly "dramatic." He had shifted his
attention as he told, from the printed word to his feelings
about the old woman and what she did. This freed up much of
his natural use of metamessages.
Our communication when telling should be at least as
effective as our communication when telling a best friend
about an exciting day. With a few conceptual re-alignments -
and occasional assistance from a helping set of eyes and
ears - it can be.
In the last year, I've re-discovered a workshop format that
allows you to receive in-person coaching without giving up
an entire weekend for one of my coaching intensives.
The four-hour coaching mini-workshop gives you 40 minutes to
work on your most pressing story - or storytelling issue.
Even more, you'll watch three others receive help, too.
Often, the sessions of others - when you are "off-line" and
therefore free to reflect - are at least as helpful as being
If I'm already travelling in your area, workshops like these
can be easy and inexpensive to set up. In the coming months,
I'll probably have time to schedule a mini-workshop or two
in these parts of the country:
Providence, RI (July, before or after the National Storytelling Conference)
Atlanta, GA (July and August)
Northern IL or Chicago/Milwaukee area (August and September)
Jonesborough, TN (October, before or after the National Storytelling Festival)