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Try this three step approach to improving your storytelling:

  1. Read and learn about storytelling. (see below)
  2. Listen to others who are good storytellers.
  3. Learn good stories and tell them to others.

Preparing the Story

  1. Read the main story out loud. If it is a Bible story, read it in several Bible translations and also read the passages before and after the story for context. Look up an unfamiliar words, places, or people. A good background for the story will make it easier to tell and remember.
  2. Visualize the story. Rather than memorize, visualize. The better you are able to picture the story in your mind, the better you can relate that picture to the others. Create story boards in your mind of the sequence of the events. Divide the stories into episodes and learn them episode by episode. Episodes change when the action, scene or speaker changes. Use key, repeated words as your guide in “re-experiencing” the story. If you have to look back at the printed copy, you have not spent enough time preparing to tell the story. The story must become your story. Keep it vivid. Use words that paint mental pictures.
  3. Adapt the story. The story length should be about one minute for every year of a child’s age. This holds true for youth, but you can stretch it a little more with an interesting story. For adults, the art of story telling applies to your illustrations and testimonies of real life applications. Also consider the background, vocabulary level, and characteristics and interests of your intended listener.
  4. Practice. Practice stories in the dead spaces of time–while trying to fall asleep, driving the car, waiting for an appointment, taking a bath or shower. Practice telling the story in front of a mirror. Record the story so you can listen to it. By listening, you are able to learn and refine the story, making it your own. The more you practice, the easier the story will flow.

Telling the Story

  1. Use a natural and relaxed manner and an expressive tone of voice. Hold the attention of the listeners with your voice. Speed up, slow down. Lower your voice or raise it. Express delight and surprise. Create suspense.
  2. Make eye contact with each person or scan the audience. With children, remember to sit on their level.
  3. Open the Bible to the correct reference and hold the Bible in your lap.
  4. Grab the listener’s attention with the first sentence. Get the action going.
  5. Alter the timing or pace of the story. Think about how boring music or life would be if everything existed at the same speed.
  6. Portray characters and events with your voice and your gestures, keeping in mind that gestures should be genuine, but not exaggerated.
  7. Beware of tangents. tangents tend to confuse. Avoid too many details. Excessive detail also tends to confuse.
  8. Don’t forget to link the story to your lesson. In a simple sentence or two, tell them why you are going to tell them this story or why you told them the story. Keep it brief. Let the story simmer in your listeners’ minds. Let the story speak for itself. Don’t make it a sermon. Stories enhance sermons; sermons do not enhance stories.

Tools for Storytelling

  1. Voice. Your voice is your most important tool in telling Bible stories. The tone and mood of your voice should interpret the Bible story. The feelings of fear, sadness, anger, frustration, or even sleepiness should be evident in your voice to the same degree that they are evident in the story. The speed and direction of your voice will communicate. Example: “Jeremiah was put into a hole in the ground. He went down, down, deep, deep down in the hole.” Your voice can drop with the words “down” and “deep.” Also, using action words and sound words (“Slap,” “Crash,” “Smack”) can add interest, movement, and meaning to the Bible story. The pitch and inflection of the voice should be used from time to time to indicate different characters in a story. Be careful. Too much character can distract from the story. Don’t panic in the pauses. Pauses actualy can be used to great dramatic effect. In pauses, listeners feel the presence, not the absence of God.
  2. Facial Expression. Your face is the movie screen of the story. It can be blank with sound only or filled with the action of the story. A smile or a frown can help project the image of the place and people. As you portray different people in the story, think about what their faces would look like.
  3. Gestures and Movements. It’s been said that if you tie the hands of a storyteller, he or she will forget the story. Use your hands and body to tell and live the story. The best rule for using gestures is to use only meaningful gestures and to use them on a limited basis. Storytellers who use gestures and movements for every event or person in the story risk losing the preschoolers or making gestures and movement less significant by overuse.

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