Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Aaargh!

Funny, isn’t it? Storytelling can give such great satisfaction yet is often so full of terrors. 


This last Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing a workshop with a lovely group of people taking a module in Storytelling for their Foundation Degree.  (Hello to anyone who was there. It was so good to meet you. I thought you said some amazing things.) One topic that came up in discussion was the fears we can all feel about our storytelling. It made me think that, in this week’s blog, I’d take a look at some of these and try and lay a few ghosts. I thought Edward Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, would make a suitable accompaniment.

The fears:

1. Other adults 

Especially when you’re working with children and those other adults are somewhere on the sidelines, they can feel most alarming. What are they thinking of you? Are they laughing behind your back, whispering that you’re rubbish and they could do much better? Are they thinking you’re childish or boring or silly or, god forbid, that your nose is too big?

Well actually, they’re probably thinking, ‘I wish I could do that!’ Or maybe even, ‘That’s a very nice thing to do!’ or even, ‘She/he is brilliant!’

But our fear of other people’s criticism can still be extremely intense.

Does it help you to recognise that the fear is very, very common? We’ve probably all felt it sometime or other and possibly quite often. I certainly have. It’s part of the business of performing and the only real way to deal with it is to concentrate your attention on your listeners and the story and what you are doing and also to know for sure that storytelling is one of the best things you can offer.

2. Ourselves

Storytelling can give those little critics on our own shoulders plenty of chances to mock us. ‘I don’t think they really liked me,’ we end up moaning to ourselves or, worse, we berate ourselves: ‘I made a right muck-up of that situation! They’re never ever going to listen to me again.’

Again, this is very, very normal. We tend to fixate ourselves on those things that went less well – the one adult who was yawning, the one child who was fidgeting – and under-rate the contentment of the rest of the group and our own achievement in what we did.

The only way to deal with those nasty critics is to come back at them with what you have observed to have gone OK and what you think you have learned from the situation. This time was fine! Next time may be better!

Besides, if you actually talk to other people about what you were trying to do, you might discover that you were the only person who was criticising yourself. You might eventually have to accept that what you were doing was fine.

3. The Audience

It’s entirely possible for those critics on your shoulders to dominate the situation so much that you end up feeling the audience did not enjoy your storytelling because they haven’t actually told you they did.

We can misread our audiences. Children sometimes do not seem to respond. They can be amazed or over-awed or end up very keen to get on to the next thing. Sometimes they get over-excited and we feel cross with ourselves that we wasted our opportunity to get our story across.

Adults likewise can look impassive. They might even spend their listening time looking anywhere else except at you and sometimes they’ll all leave at the end without a word when you’d have been pleased to have some comeback from them.

Well, it happens. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the storytelling did not go well. Often if you do have a chance to talk to your listeners at the end, it can be much more productive to ask ‘What did you like?’ rather than ‘Did you enjoy that?’ And sometimes you won’t find out till later that people really did appreciate what you were doing.

When things really do go wrong:

So you chose the wrong story.

You can feel it’s the wrong choice even as you are telling it. What are you going to do? Probably change your tone and attitude (sometimes that is the key to helping things feel more natural and getting them back on track). Or maybe you can bring the story to a very quick end and follow it with another. (It’s amazing how quickly a story can be summarised when there’s nothing else for it.)

Or you forgot the story in the middle.

Well, it’s entirely possible to divert attention from your mistake by shrugging your shoulders and bringing your audience into the story and asking their opinion on what happens next. Or perhaps you can sing a song or do a dance or actually say, ‘Where were we now?’ – anything to give yourself time to think. Or maybe you just have to stop and laugh and say you’ll finish the story tomorrow.

Or, goodness me, it really didn’t go well.

Well, then you just have to swallow very hard and try and forgive yourself. None of us is perfect. Things don’t always work. And after you’ve forgiven yourself, you’ll have to spend a bit of time thinking about what went wrong and how to avoid it next time.

A long and beautiful road

As all storytellers know, storytelling is a long road but a good one because there are so many wonderful people to meet on the way and so many wonderful stories to share.

(And thanks again to all you Warwick students. You’re very lucky to have Mrs Hilary Minns as your teacher and I hope you all go from strength to strength.)

Next Week:  Telling/Writing


You can also read occasional blogs by me on the Early Learning HQ website.  Early Learning HQ offers hundreds of free downloadable foundation stage and key stage one teaching resources. It also has an extensive blog section with contributions from a wide range of early years professionals, consultants and storytellers. For details of the Society for Storytelling, click here.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Aaargh!”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    – and thank you, Mary, for your sensitive and thoughtful session at Warwick University, which we all enjoyed and learned from. You addressed our concerns about stage fright (being observed by other adults, and the fear of relying for the first time on our memories when we finally build up the courage to tell our story without a book in sight.) At the same time, you gave us a host of practical ideas and told us some wonderful stories. Though you’ve been doing this for years, your message was simple: ‘You can do this too’ and ‘This is how to go about it.’ Your personal presence and your amazing blog have been an inspiration this term. Thank you again.
    Hilary Minns

Leave a Reply