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The Storytelling Toastmasters

Updated on March 14, 2013

The writer...considered a Master Storyteller for some years now

An Australian Storyteller Toastmaster Member

Up until quite recently the Australian Storytelling Toastmaster was an anachronism. Certainly they were rare. It must have been a rarity - otherwise why would two well known professional speakers from the United States travel all the way to Australia to run storytelling workshops? They guessed right. Their showcasing of their workshop drew a large Toastmaster audiences, quite a few of whom took the opportunity to learn some skills in this oldest of verbal art forms. Both of these professional speakers now run workshops worldwide on ‘How to tell a story well using their websites as their marketing platform. Obviously there was a demand and still is.

To bring back the art of storytelling

Yes, it was good to see World Champion Toastmaster members, Craig Valentine and Darren la Croix arrive here a while back and to bring the art of storytelling to this country. Since their arrival there has been far more importance placed on the use of story in my own Toastmaster District, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory – District 70.

To hold an audience for an hour with a story...

As a Master Storyteller, I can tell you that in Toastmasters International there was, until recently, only very limited use of the story as standalone medium, even though one of TMI’s advanced manuals is called the ‘Storytelling Manual.’ Unlike the Australian Storytellers’ Guild, which uses story as its means of both entertaining and conveying a message, Toastmasters International advocated the use story in very limited way. Often no more than two or three sentences are generously referred to by Toastmaster evaluators as a story. The shortest of anecdotes can fall into this category, whereas a real master storyteller is expected to hold an audience for an hour or more by simply presenting one story after another. The stories are not necessarily part of a speech.

Speakers are speakers so why the theatrics?

However, in some aspects, the increasing popularity of story has created a phenomenon which I don’t support. Speakers are speakers. In Toastmasters we’re encouraged to get away from presenting from a lectern if we can. I support that. However, many presenters in the public arena such as business leaders and politicians still prefer the lectern, so why this sudden emphasis on ‘working the stage’ as if one were an actor in a play?

Are histrionics taking over from presentation skills?

What has happened of late to the typical Toastmaster presentation? To me it seems to have taken a turn from public speaking proper to histrionics. Acting has taken over. We have Toastmasters kneeling, doing pushups, and indeed, even deliberately falling down. Moreover, people are winning public speaking prizes for doing this! We have time-lines and feet placement. We’re told that audiences get confused if the speaker walks in the wrong direction. Well, maybe…

Sounds effects and dialogue yes: deliberately falling over, no.

I am not disparaging the concept of time-lines. Neither am I saying we should not move with purpose. With an experienced speaker or storyteller body language and movement around the podium comes automatically. What I am knocking is the deliberate ‘ look at me’ action because the content of my presentation might not be enough.’

In thirty years of presenting to around 850 different audiences outside of the Toastmaster environment I have never had anyone come up to me and say, “Oh, you made a mess of that. You walked to the right when you were going back in time. You should have moved to the left.”

On the other hand, I have had them say how much they liked the ‘sound effects,’ and the ‘dialogue between the characters.’ This is storytelling. It is not a ‘look at me’ act.

Evoking pictures in the mind of the listener is the aim

The concept I adhere to is that in public speaking we are an individual having a one-on-one conversation – except there a lot of people to ‘one-on-one’ with. Can you imagine how the person you were conversing with on a one-to-one would feel if you suddenly fell to your knees? Worse, if you fell forward flat on your face!

Certainly the storytelling Toastmaster who is writing this does do some of the things advocated by the acting fraternity. But not many. He holds the audience with words, words that evoke images and pictures in the mind of his listeners. His idea is to ‘disappear’ from view; for all that should to be noticed is the story that unfolds in the audience’s mind. They see the pictures. They feel the emotion.

The storyteller touches the heartstrings

The Storyteller touches the heartstrings not by moving to the right or left or doing a little dance, or falling down. He doesn’t rehearse his bodily movements. He’s not in a live play. He is the medium through which the story is communicated from one heart and mind to another. The accomplished storyteller disregards the mechanics and immerses himself completely in the story. If you can do that, then you’re on your way to becoming a Master Storyteller yourself.


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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Very interesting hub, indeed. My dad was a great storyteller, but did not belong to any organizations; he simply told his stories for and to the family. I loved them, asked to hear them over and over, and ultimately, I desktop-published a book of poems re-telling his stories in first-person voice. (I only regret that never thought to get out the tape recorder, and capture HIM telling the stories before he passed away.)

    Some of the things you describe seem to me to cross the line from storytelling into stand-up comedy--a little of which I have done in my adventures with an amateur improv-comedy troupe...I still have a few routines I could do if called upon...LOL

    Voted up, interesting and shared.

  • brakel2 profile image

    Audrey Selig 5 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    Great article. You must excel in storytelling, and I wish I could hear you. Your ideas are fantastic, and I like it that you can talk for hours. I am a Boomer Storyteller member of Toastmasters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma US. We have about 18 members and try to incorporate stories in our speeches, or just tell stories. We follow the manuals but often go off and tell a plain old story. I know about pictures in stories, and I try to paint pictures in my writing. You talked about familiar things like walking wrong and getting down on the floor. Similar events happened in our club occasionally. I can connect to so many points in your article. I want to read it again and your other hubs. Keep up the good work.!