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Tusitala Tom - Master Storyteller and Raconteur

Updated on May 24, 2013

Storytellers are a dying breed.

One of my earlier ventures into Storytelling in the early 1980s.
One of my earlier ventures into Storytelling in the early 1980s.

Telling stories orally - it's a dying art.

Welcome to Tusitala Tom - Master Storyteller and Raconteur.

It would be no exaggeration to say that I’ve told (presented orally) stories a great many times over the past thirty years. An estimate? Around 840 times. I was always a writer; started as a child and got serious about it in my early thirties. But telling stories orally is something else again. When people think of Storytellers they so often envisage little old men in colourful waistcoats, or matronly ladies telling fairy tales to children. Or perhaps of grizzled old cowboys yarning around a camp fire. Well, I haven’t yarned around a campfire, nor can I recall telling fairy stories to pre-schoolers or adolescents. My stories are for adults! And yes, there really is a demand.

A Prince of Storytellers.

About ten years ago a friend of mine, whose Probus Club I have attended as a speaker no fewer than fourteen times over the past sixteen years, began to refer to me as Tusitala Tom. Tusitala is the Polynesian word for Storyteller and it is said that the world famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson was honoured with this title. Later, another friend began to refer to me as The Prince of Storytellers. Then, even later still, I began to be referred to as a Master Storyteller - all very flattering.

Storytellers get better with age and experience.

Yours truly still at it in his early seventies.
Yours truly still at it in his early seventies.

Those 'over the top' introductions can create uneeded pressure.

At first I didn’t particularly relish being referred to in this way, for it did seem initially to put me under a certain amount of pressure. It’s a bit like when an M.C. gives one an absolutely ‘over-the-top’ introduction and the audience is almost expecting a ‘second coming.’ Which brings me to how a very esteemed medical man once responded to such an introduction. After being shaken by the hand by the M.C. and left to his own devices this speaker began as follows:

“You know, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been having dizzy spells...

I thought it might be my liver. But evidently it is not my’s my eminence....”

Telling Stories Orally - It's both an art and a craft.

To get back to my titles, The Prince of Storytellers and Tusitala Tom. I Googled the phrases and could find hardly a thing. Apparently there is a Prince of Storytellers in the Caribbean area of the world, and Tusitala is the name which comes up a bit in the South Pacific. Other than that, nothing. So I feel it’s not being too conceited to use the term.

There really are few greater satisfactions than being able to hold an audience.

One of my many audiences.
One of my many audiences.

Most professional speakers have a limited repetoire - including master storytellers.

Now, I don’t know whether you realize it, but most professional speakers – and I expect this extends to raconteurs – have only a limited number of speeches or stories. I’ve had it from ‘the horse’s mouth’ so to speak that many have no more than a few hours material, four or five. Some even less. I once attended a conference where the keynoter admitted to me that he couldn’t really come back again because the audience had already heard all his material – at the one, sixty-minute delivery. Well...

I love stories which 'catch at the heart-strings.'

This made me feel a lot better. For I have around twenty-five stories which would probably go for around eight hours en total. Moreover, I continue to add the odd one every now and again, providing it really appeals. Such a story is The Africa Boat, which I heard for the first time only a couple of months back. I love stories that ‘catch at the heart-strings,’ and with me this one certainly did.

A very enjoyable time for me as - The after dinner speaker.

Here's another with me as after dinner speaker.   This one's a dinner meeting at a golf club.
Here's another with me as after dinner speaker. This one's a dinner meeting at a golf club.

Master Storytellers are skilled tellers of anecdotes.

When I first heard the word raconteur I assumed that raconteurs were people who made audiences laugh. They’re comedians. This is not so. According to my dictionary, a raconteur is “a skilled teller of anecdotes.” The same dictionary describes an anecdote as “narrative of detached incident; unpublished details of history,” and certainly quite a number of my stories fall into this category. So laughter is not the defining quality. I don’t set out to amuse people, but to entrance them with their own imaginings and memories. I’ve had people both laugh and cry and, to me, this is a very real measurement of my success as a teller of tales.

Yours truly again.

An all male Probus Club.  Plenty of jocularity and comaraderie.  A good audience.
An all male Probus Club. Plenty of jocularity and comaraderie. A good audience.

Yarns from history - there's a crying need.

Some years ago I was a member of the Australian Storytellers’ Guild. I enjoyed my years with them. But what I did notice during those years is that there were very few tellers who told stories mainly for adults. Ninety percent were into either telling stories to children, or telling fables. The historic yarn (note raconteur and ‘unpublished details of history) and you can see that there is almost a crying need for people to tell such tales; bring them to life in the mind’s of the listener. When you get invited back time and time again as I have, you know you must be doing something right; something people enjoy.

We need gifted tellers of tales - Yes, even as after dinner speakers.

So what is being advocated here? In a few words: We need raconteurs, storytellers, yes, and master storytellers, real tellers of tales. Video did ‘ kill the radio star.’ The popular song wasn’t wrong The radio star, or more precisely, the radio serial or story did so much to promote our visual creativity. We heard the words, the sound effects, and we were carried away in that space in our minds where we see, and experience the emotions and feelings which come from those words and sounds. Television doesn’t do that. Films don’t do that. They are watched passively and we respond to the pictures automatically. We don’t have to create a thing!

A recent presentation.   The gestures come naturally when you're right 'in the moment.'
A recent presentation. The gestures come naturally when you're right 'in the moment.'

The Business World is discovering the Importance of Story.

At the present time there is a great deal of emphasis in the business world being placed on the use of story. Stories to make a point. Stories to motivate. Stories to engender a feeling of belonging or loyalty to a company or organisation. I’m not sure how successful these ventures into storytelling are. But I do know this. The tellers of those tales would probably be much better at it if they devoted more of their time to both learning and practising the art and craft for themselves in greater depth.

So how do you develop your own skills at storytelling?

So how do you develop those after dinner speaker skills regarding story? Well, you could try reading my book, The Raconteur - Speaking to Entertain. It's a free download. Yep, no strings. You can get it by going into the District 70 Toastmasters website here in Australia. Just go to Select Members Recources. Go to the bottom of page and check out Educational Material. You'll find the book there. No copyright, and you're welcome to it. The book will give you plenty of theory. But it'll be up to you to put in the practice.

Good luck. And I hope you enjoyed and got something out of Tusitala Tom - Master Storyteller and Raconteur.


Submit a Comment

  • Paradise7 profile image

    Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

    On a visit to Hawaii, some friends of mine found this wonderful entertainer; a storyteller in the Hawaian tradition. Keep up the good work, Tom. There's nothing like a good story told well.

  • chspublish profile image

    chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

    Sounds like you're a great storyteller indeed and you're right it's definitely a dying art. Here in this ol' country there are but a few 'real' storytellers left - called seanachai - who have yarns that go on for a while with a bit of an unexpected twist and punchline at the end. Love listening to story tellers.

  • Tusitala Tom profile image

    Tom Ware 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Hi,Moonvine. You do have to be at least 18 years of age to actually join Toastmasters. However, Toastmaster do run 'Youth Leadership' courses for people under that age.

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Great Hub Tom and I envy your oral storytelling talents. I can write a story, but tell it orally? Don't think so!

  • leni sands profile image

    Leni Sands 6 years ago from UK

    Robert Louis Stevenson was indeed Raconteur and you should be honored with the title Prince of Storytellers. Great hub

  • Docmo profile image

    Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

    I am big fan of storytelling tradition and use this approach to teaching and medicine also. We need more story tellers and raconteurs skilled at the oral tradition in all walks of life. Well done and thanks for sharing, Tusitala Tom. I am sure the Prince among story tellers is a well deserved title.