Tips for Tellers

Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. 

 I recently came across this quote and cannot express how true it is in the world of storytelling. There are many times that I have come up with a wonderful idea for a story program, but rather than getting to work on it, I put it off. Why? Because I’m afraid that I won’t be able to tell it perfectly. And if I feel this way as a working storyteller, I can only imagine how someone who is trying to learn a story for the first time must feel!

Well, this past week I attended a seminar conducted by John Walsh. John is the founder of BibleTelling, and while his emphasis is on learning Bible stories, his helpful tips can be applied to learning just about any type of story.

Today I’d like to share a few of his tips in the hope that they will encourage you to stop procrastinating and start telling!


1. Be willing to tell the story poorly

I know this may sound funny. But John is right. The primary reason we procrastinate is fear of failure. Fear of doing a bad job. But when we begin anything new, chances are we will do a bad job. And that’s okay. It’s a starting point. Being willing to tell the story poorly at first gives us the freedom to set aside the text and get the words in our mouths. And the sooner we take this step, the sooner we can work on improving our telling.

2. Find story listeners

You are much more likely to practice your story if you have a dedicated listener. As a professional teller, there are plenty of times when I work on stories when no one is around, but nothing motivates me to practice more than the knowledge that I’m going to have an audience. Even if that audience is only one person! Oftentimes when working on a new program I will ask my husband before he leaves for work if he can help me that evening by being a listener. I will spend more time practicing that day than all the other days combined.

Sometimes, I engage my listeners in a less formal way. For instance, I have a good friend, Jeff, who is my running partner. We run anywhere from six to twelve miles together. I take advantage of those miles to tell him as many of my new stories as I can. It makes the miles go by much faster for both of us and gives me lots of practice.

Not only does having listeners help you to practice, it also helps you learn how to improve your telling. If you see your listeners eyes glazing over at a certain point of the story, perhaps you need to spare some details and move more quickly to the plot. If a look of confusion passes over your listener’s face, perhaps you have left out an important detail. Conversely, if you see their eyes light up, you know that this is a particularly enjoyable part of the story.

While storytelling is a performance art, it is not static. It is a fluid conversation between the teller and the listener. The listener gives feedback (most often silently) and the teller responds accordingly. This connection with the audience is one of my favorite parts of being a storyteller. And while this level of give and take may sound daunting to a new teller, I assure you, it becomes easier with practice.

John recommends having five dedicated story listeners. These are the people that you can go to with each new story that you learn. If you can identify these people and begin to work with them, it will keep you motivated to practice telling and to learn new stories. In fact, there is a good chance that your dedicated listeners will hold you accountable, asking you for new stories!

These are just two simple tips to start with. In the coming days, I’ll share a few more.

In the meantime, what strategies have you used to avoid procrastination?


If you’d like to learn more about John and his work, you can visit his website at 


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