Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for love

I’m participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge throughout April.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

I've posted this before, but I think it's one of the most important things I can say about storytelling. 

I've written before about the relationship between teller, audience and tale. I'd like to take this a step further and talk a little bit about how the storyteller becomes the vessel for story, that there is something sacred that happens when we let ourselves become that vessel and how loving the audience makes this easier. I'm not talking about loving each specific individual, though if you can that's great. I'm talking about the kind of love that allows you as performer to get out of your own way and give the audience what they need as an ingredient in the performance.

What follows is an article I wrote for a recent issue of Storytelling Magazine, published by the National Storytelling Network.

*          *          *

A few years ago my apprentice told to her largest audience yet. She was nervous. Shortly before the performance I asked her to look at the audience. “Really look,” I said, “What do you see?”
“People staring at me.”
“People with the same hopes and fears you have. Love them and you won’t have anything to be nervous about. Just love them.”

When we love our audiences and recognize that they are no different from us beyond the fact that we are on the stage talking and they are listening, we can’t help but want to do our best for them. We can’t help but want to invite them into the shared experience of storytelling. We can't help but make room for them and create a new experience together.

Something sacred and almost mystical happens when we love our audiences and include them in the creative moment. The story we tell, the one we have crafted, shaped, practiced, leaves our lips and bodies and becomes theirs. They absorb it and shape it with their own experiences, hopes and dreams. In so doing, the art we've made expands well beyond our original intent and can change a life for a moment or forever.

We must remember that our essential job as tellers is to leave the audience enthralled not only with us, but with the story and its meaning in their lives. We must be willing to get out of the way enough for this to happen, and the easiest way to do this it to love them enough to be willing to let them immerse themselves in the storytelling experience and perhaps experience something different from what we intended. Our goal is to be so good at what we do that the audience can understand the story as their own, regardless of whether it’s a personal story, a traditional tale, fiction or another kind of narrative, and give it their own meaning; we are the messenger as well as the message. We need to be willing to let the audience build their own world and that world may or may not have much to do with us. We need to be able to let the audience develop their own relationship with the story so they can be transforming.

This in no way takes the story from us. It makes it bigger. When we tell our stories well and love the audience enough that they can hold the story int heir hearts, they will return to us again and again, because they know we have room for them. It's not a one-way art.

I find it easier to leave this room for the audience when I remind myself of several things.
  1. We don’t know what’s going on inside the mind of a listener. All we can do is offer them something that we know has meaning and trust them to take what they need,
  2. This is easier to do when we approach our audience with love. We don’t punish babies for having needs, we recognize those needs and do our best to meet them. Likewise with the audience. We may not know what those needs are, but we can admit they exist and leave room for them in our narrative by not demanding that the audience see every detail the way we do, instead constructing their own version in their own minds.
  3. The act of storytelling becomes a gift that can leave an audience transformed when there is room in the narrative for not only the teller and the tale, but the listeners. In design this is called white space. It is the space in which images, form and narrative structure exist, but with enough room that the audience isn’t crowded out. It is the silence between notes in music. Without white space meaning can be lost in the crowd.  Don’t worry, your audience will remember that you are the one who gave them space and permission to live in the moment of the story.
Storytelling is composed of relationships between the teller, the tale and the audience. When the teller loves the audience enough to let them form their own relationship with the tale we can't help but transcend the moment. As listeners we are moved beyond our every day experiences into new worlds. As tellers we become the sacred vessel that the best art is: a vehicle for transformation and connection between artist, art, audience and the world.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. This is a very powerful article that would benefit Toastmasters speakers around the world. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about how to best interact with an audience.

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    Theme: The Fun in Writing #218

  2. J here, of the #atozchallenge Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    How has the challenge been going for you so far? Are you meeting your goals of posting and hopping to other blogs?
    My blog's giveaways are still going! I'm encouraging everyone to visit more stops.
    Good tip to love the audience, love the fans. "Write for just one person." - That's the quote/ tip I've heard along these lines.

    1. I'm enjoying it! I'm finding it to be a good stretch. thank you!

  3. Interesting take on readers... I like it :-) Good luck with the rest of the AtoZchallenge.

  4. Enjoyed your post! Visiting from atoz


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