Storytelling moments – what can go wrong

Storytelling moments - Wendy Shearer

Storytelling Moments - Wendy Shearer - Professional StorytellerStorytelling involves telling a story live to an audience.  Your performance is not memorised word by word, but you’ve worked out or practiced the direction and main plot of the story. When I can picture it in my mind, the words follow on like stepping stones and a detailed image is created for everyone listening.

At best it’s magical, but that does not mean every performance goes to plan.  I’m sometimes asked what do you do if…? These are usually questions about how to respond when things go wrong or not how you envisaged.  So here’s a few storytelling moments I’ve encountered and how I’ve dealt with them.


Sometimes you might have people coming and going where you’re storytelling and this can be a bit off-putting or someone may come in with a message for someone.  Once I had someone try to pass me a microphone that they’d forgotten to give me.   I had to break out of the story and accept it.  Not a great moment.  Another time, someone took a call inside a small Yurt.  She was really quiet but it was very distracting. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was storytelling at The Royal Festival Hall and the room I was in had a speaker positioned in the ceiling. In the middle of a moment of suspense, an announcement bellowed out of the speaker to advertise the next show.  If I lose my thread, I take a breath, a short pause to get back into the moment.

Word loss

I’ve never forgotten a story but I’ve definitely said the wrong name or mixed something up.  The awkward thing is that everyone has heard you.  And Children can be brutal!  They may laugh or even correct you but the best thing to do is to correct yourself and swiftly move on. Bring it right back to the moment.

I think of it like having a conversation with every single person in the room.  That’s what Jamie Crawford taught me in one of his storytelling workshops. “Try and use your breakfast voice Wendy”.  It’s natural.

It’s also good to have a a few ways to say the same thing.  This gives me time to think of what’s coming next and adds layers to the image.  That’s what Jan Blake taught me in one of her storytelling workshops.  “All storytellers need to have a wide vocabulary”

Storytelling moments - Wendy Shearer


Sometimes I’m storytelling in a public place without any closed doors.  Or there may be other activities going on quietly in the same room.  This is a challenge but I just zone out and take everyone with me on the same journey.  I’ve had loud noises coming from another room or an interactive whiteboard suddenly going on behind me.  Once, in a school, a fight broke out in the corridor between two pupils.  The door was kicked in! I can still see all the eyes drifting away from me…  In those situations you can either carry on until the distraction has gone, or change your tone or style to bring the attention right back to you.

Audience reactions

This has taken me quite a while to get used to.  At first I used to absorb everyone’s expressions and get quite nervous if someone looked very serious, annoyed or even unhappy.  I’d think ‘what’s wrong? Are you not enjoying it?’ The answer to that question could be yes, but sometimes people just aren’t aware of their expressions when they are watching you.  It’s best to have confidence in what you are performing and carry that positive energy right through to till the end.  I’ve had people come and say wonderful compliments to me afterwards even though they may have looked very serious during the tale.


I often get asked about this.  I do get a few nerves before I begin performing.  I think it’s a healthy fear of the unexpected!  Once I start, I take ownership of the space.  It’s my job to create a spellbinding moment.  That’s the excitement.  I have to enjoy what I’m doing and then I forget about being nervous.  Of course, if any of the above happens during your storytelling then the nerves might kick in so I find that good breathing and pacing of delivery is really helpful.

If you’ve got some other ideas or questions about what goes wrong when you’re storytelling, please do let me know.  It’s good to share!