Storytelling purists preach that stories should be told ‘heart to heart. But it isn’t always possible, or practical for this to take pace. While it is more satisfying to ‘tell’ stories to an audience, don’t allow these outdated attitudes to stop you reading stories to your audiences if you haven’t the time to learn them

Librarians, teachers, writers, and others (such as working parents), who work to stringent time constraints, may not have the luxury of time to build up a repertoire of stories. So it is Important that the act of story reading is practised effectively.

The story must excite and grab the audience’s attention but, more importantly, the teller must be enthusiastic, even passionate, about the chosen story.

Be aware that when you read a written version of a story, you have to compensate for losing approximately two-thirds of your storytelling instrument: the unhindered gestures of your body face and hands; the natural pace; vocal variety and timing. As well, you have to complete all of the pictures for the listeners.

When telling a story, you are freer to tune into the signals you receive from the audience’s body language and can infer ‘message received’ and so continue to the next point.

The story reader whose eyes are at times on the page is less able to receive those silent cues from the audience. Therefore the skills of audience involvement are even more important to the story reader than they are to a storyteller.

Song visual bonding is necessary to enable a connection of minds) engagement) between reader and audience. Only then will you and your audience be likely to create a similar picture from the words you used. Take a little time to connect with your audience before you start to read.

Always be aware of what text lies ahead (as the newsreaders are on television) and look up at the audience’s faces to establish strong eye contact. You want your listeners to be co-creating mental pictures with you throughout the reading. Changes of pace and the use of pause are also vital in the story reading to allow the audience time to interpret the text.

Whilst you can change and update the words ― leaving out unnecessary or outdated language ― you should also vary the speed at which the story is read, to suit each audience. (The exception to this occurs in more formal, literary readings, in which every word must be read as published).

To help breathe life and colour into the text of a dramatic reading depends on vocal variety and good intonation. A flat monotone will only switch off your listeners and they’ll become bored and restless. Where you are able, have several different readers present a portion of the story, so no one becomes tired. This gives variety to a long piece of prose.

So the audience can join in the chorus, print the words on a card or a board, which a child or other helper can hold up for you. Helen often writes them on the whiteboard so the audience can see them easily.

Helen McKay