Great storytellers

5 ways to connect with your audience

Last weekend I attended a storytelling workshop run by storyteller Jamie Crawford. The focus was on telling ‘true stories live’. We’ll be telling our ‘true stories’ at the South London Storytelling festival ‘Tales of the Pied Piper’ on Saturday 9th May, organised by Artistic Director Alison Royce.

I’m going to share a few of the things about what makes great storytellers, which I took away from the workshops.

Finding the story

You might have a great manner, presence and voice but a storyteller still needs to have a good story.  My mind immediately raced to ‘interesting’ or ‘funny’ things that might have happened to me. Anecdotes.  But that’s not enough.  Jamie explained that as a storyteller, we should find ‘the gift’ within our story which we’re giving to listeners.

I interpreted that as something personal and real that I’m prepared to share and use to connect with whoever is listening. Guided by Jamie we brainstormed a few themes which would help us to select a story from our past to shape and retell: journeys friendship SUCCESS failure love  family..

Hannah's storymap of her childhood family holidays
Hannah’s storymap of her childhood family holidays

For some reason my mind was BLANK.  I couldn’t think of one single story from my life.   That’s not to say that I don’t have memories, but I wasn’t ready to call them ‘stories’ and there certainly didn’t seem to be ‘a gift’ in any of them.  Everyone else was beavering away, drawing and writing creative story maps and I had a BLANK page and a very BLANK face.

I confessed to Jamie that “I can’t find a story”.  He smiled knowingly, clearly having heard this lots of times.  My problem wasn’t that I didn’t have a story.  I just needed to shape and structure one of my memories into a story so that it would make sense to a stranger and connect in some way with them.


Once you’ve found your story, how are you going to start it?  Once upon a time doesn’t quite fit with ‘true stories’.  Jamie introduced us to leading storyteller Hugh Lupton.  We listened to an audio recording of a true story he told.  He began with a question to listeners and then skilfully told a story within a story.

Beginning with a rhetorical question is a good way to connect with an audience.  Everyone can picture the question being posed and relate to it in some way. I thought about telling a story about my time on the island of Phuket during the Tsunami.

I usually get asked ‘what were you doing when the Tsunami hit?’  Which is another story… I didn’t want to start with that question because it reveals too much up front and so I thought about beginning with ‘Can you remember what you were doing on Boxing Day, 2004?’


If you’re telling a true story, how can you make a ‘good ending?’  That’s what was going around in my head during the workshop.  We practised layering our stories.   Gradually revealing certain threads throughout which can neatly be tied up at the end.

Part of the magic of storytelling is that the listener is partly in the world of the story and partly right there with the storyteller, watching and listening to them perform in-front of their eyes.

Great storytellers can hold your attention and keep you in the moment of the story and bring you full circle back to the room where they started.

Eye contact

When it comes to speaking or storytelling with children, I naturally make eye contact and try to be physically on their level.  When speaking or storytelling with adults, it doesn’t come quite so easily with me.  Now I sound shifty!

Jamie did an exercise with us where we told our story whilst taking time to look everybody in the eye.  I tried it but then my words didn’t come across with conviction.  It’s important to hold the gaze of your audience but also to sound genuine otherwise the connection is lost.

Great storytellers will make you feel as though they are talking directly to you. Which leads me on to how we use our voices when telling true stories.

Storytellers attending Jamie Crawford's workshop
From left: Alison, Andrew, Rebecca, Hannah, Jamie & Wendy – Storytellers attending Jamie Crawford’s workshop

Breakfast voice

There are many ways you can make use of your voice when storytelling – accents, dialogue, sound effects etc.  But there’s one thing that’s really key for telling true stories.  Jamie called it our ‘breakfast voice’.  This is our everyday, normal, conversation voice.

Rather than start with a very grand or over-enthusiastic tone, he asked us to try out telling our tale in our breakfast voice.  A great storyteller can tell you a story as if only the two of you are having a friendly conversation.

It’s quite a challenging thing to do because when you are storytelling, you are performing in some way and yet to make that connection with the audience, your performance needs to be genuine and free from pretense.

So those are my top 5 things that I took away from the storytelling workshop this weekend.  It was also fantastic to spend lots of time with other storytellers and hear their tales.  If you’ve got any other ideas about great storytellers then please share them with me.  I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like to hear my true story from the workshop then come and join us at the Pied Piper festival on the 9th May on Tooting Bec Common.  It will be a fun day of parades, magic, circus entertainers, steel pans and of course storytelling.  Take a look at the promo video for more details.