Always Have a Story Ready … You Don’t Know When You’ll Need It

I just completed three weeks of jury duty. So, what does that have to do with storytelling? Part of picking the jury members included a questionnaire that we each had to fill out for the judge and the lawyers. Under occupation, I included “storyteller” along with my other careers. When the lawyer for the prosecution questioned me in front of the court, he asked me quite a few questions about storytelling. I don’t know how many of you have ever served on a jury, but one quantity over which you don’t have any control is time – as the bailiff said, “Court time isn’t real time.” As we jurors spent many hours waiting in the jury room, I was, as a storyteller, asked to tell stories. Fortunately, knowing that other storytellers have come to the rescue in other situations, I was prepared – and they loved it!

As a storyteller, don’t be shy. Speak up! First and foremost, have a repertoire of short, punchy stories that work for all ages. You never know when you will have the opportunity to share your stories. It may be while you are waiting in a long line. It may be when a flight has been cancelled or delayed. It may be when you are attending a program and the speaker hasn’t shown up. It may be when you have been called to a meeting, but the leader has been detained. You may be involved at your child’s school and thrown into a situation where you have a room full of wiggly children waiting for a bus or some activity to begin. In any of these situations or others (possibly, something as scary as an elevator that is stuck between floors), tell the group that you are a storyteller, and would they like to hear a story while they are waiting. It would be a strange reaction if they said, “No,” because everyone loves a good story.

Start by telling your best and favorite story that is appropriate for the group. Oftentimes, when we are performing for a group, we save our best until last. In an impromptu situation, you may not have a chance to tell another story, so you want to leave them remembering the best of what you have to offer. I was pleased that I shared my signature story with the jurors at first, followed by some of my short, humorous stories, because as the days passed and the trial became more serious and unpleasant, the other jurors didn’t even want to hear stories and I didn’t want to tell them either. We were all too involved with the details of the case.

Realize that impromptu telling can become a great marketing tool. I am not suggesting that you become pushy, but I do suggest that you always have business cards handy. Once a new group finds out that you are a storyteller, and that storytelling is “alive and well,” there will be at least one person in the crowd who has a relative, a child, and/or an association that they think might like to hear your stories in the future. This impromptu telling can serve not only as an introduction to storytelling, but also as an introduction of you as a storyteller. Even if they don’t call you directly, at least they now realize that there are people who tell stories to groups.

Go one step further, and let local organizations know that you are ready. If you have ever worked on programming for a group or organization, you know that with Murphy’s Law in effect, there is always the chance that a program will fall through at the last minute – a speaker becomes ill, is stuck in an airport, has a car that breaks down, or suffers one of the many other unforeseeable mishaps. Let schools, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, the YMs amd YWs, associations that meet regularly, and anyone else who sets up programs know that you can come and tell stories at a moment’s notice – of course, only if that is true. Even if you need a couple of days’ notice, you will still get calls for last minute cancellations. This is one of the quickest routes to endearing yourself in your community. There is nothing more daunting to a meeting planner than having a room full of people waiting for a presenter that doesn’t show up.

So, get your stories ready and when an opportunity arises – and they will – get on your feet and start telling. You and your listeners will be glad you did!

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