Stories Require an Audience
Each summer, I visited my Grandma Shirley’s farm for a week. We’d hunt for rocks, tend her garden, bake pies, and tell stories. Together, in our pajamas, we’d snuggle in her orange velvet chair and act out Mr. Grabbit, a story about a greedy rabbit who had too many hats, too many coats, too much of everything. I loved how my grandma would push her glasses to the bottom of her nose and change her voice for each character, but what I remember most—the talks following reading of the book. My grandma reminded me the importance of being kind, to share, and not be greedy.
Just this week, Upward Bound high school students reinforced an important concept. I started teaching storytelling, explaining the importance of sharing stories, engaging students in my personal story, asking this question: What does a story need? I expected the answers to range from characters, plot, conflict, to setting. Surprisingly, a student spoke up and said, “Don’t all stories need an audience?”
Why yes! If you’re sharing a story or presenting a speech and an audience isn’t present or choosing to listen to you, then did the presentation really happen?
John Maxwell, renowned speaker and writer says that in order to connect with an audience you must show that you care and have a willingness to help them in order to gain their trust. As communicators, we can show we care by asking the following questions to guide our presentations and stories:
What do you want your audience to know?
What do you want your audience to feel?
What do you want your audience to do?
I cared for these students by sharing common ground, asking them what stories they remembered as children. We acted out The Three Little Pigs with our voices and bodies, and finally, I empowered them, noting they are all storytellers and have stories to tell. This sentiment encouraged three students to present their personal stories to the entire class.
One young man shared how he failed to make the basketball team his freshmen year and instead of giving up, he focused on a positive mindset and trained more, which resulted in making the team his sophomore year. He learned the importance of resilience.
One young woman shared the pain of moving frequently and going through her parents’ divorce. Her beautiful vulnerability and emotions connected us.
While another student explained her how art has the power to help artists move forward, even when they experience poverty.