"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tick Tock: Right-on-Time Telling and You

Father Time can be a wonderful friend to the storyteller. As with all friendships, time can be nurtured or abused. Being under-time or over-time for a storytelling program can be detrimental. To build trust with your sponsors and audience, make a goal this year to be a “right-on-time” teller.

There may be times when you wish that the sands would fall faster in Father Time’s capsule. You had promised a program to be so long and you have three minutes, five minutes, or even ten minutes left to fill.

Three Ways to Fill Time:

1. Prepare 1-3-minute Tales

2. Sing Songs

3. Invite Audience Participation/Impromptu Stories

Prepare 1-3-minute Tales
One resource of short stories would be Margaret Read MacDonald’s “Three Minute Tales” published by August House. She admitted to being a fast talker. Her 30-second tale may last five minutes for the slow-paced teller.

Sing Songs
I have used songs within stories as well as transitions in the program. Songs bring the audience together, especially if the teller invites people to sing a chorus or two. Length of songs can be as short as one word or as long as a ballad lasting several minutes. You could always create your own songs to familiar tunes. If your program focuses on a theme, you can search the Internet by typing theme keywords and “song”. Please consider if the songs are in the public domain or if you need to receive permission.

Invite Audience Participation/Impromptu Stories
My eyes dance with glee when I see the audience clap and say “POP” as fox’s tail comes off. It takes time to give directions to what the audience must do, then time to practice the action/sound, and finally to include the action/sound in the story. By using participation in every story, some people, especially adults, will think of it as “work.” If your first two stories involve participation, the audience may expect participation during the whole program, which is fine as long as that’s the expectation you want to build.

As for impromptu, this can be a short stand-up comedy bit or a story developed by the audience. You can call out for ideas from the audience in regards to the place, plot, and characters. Creating a story at the program’s end may show the audience that stories are inside them, too. Regardless if and when you use impromptu, expect the unexpected and you and your audience may be rolling with laughter.

Even when the performance is a hit, the audience has an internal clock that can gage when a performance is supposed to be done. Some storytellers ignore or forget this fact as they jump on stage and tell as many stories as they can before someone kicks them from the spotlight. We live in a polite society and oftentimes the audience fidgets while glancing at their watches, praying that the emcee would do something to take control.

Three Ways to Shave Time:

1. Buy a Clock

2. Time your Stories

3. Chat with Emcee/Other Storytellers

Buy a Clock
You may say that you have a watch and have no need for such a huge time-telling device. Do not be deceived. When all your energy is focused on that story, you will be looking at your audience, not your wrist. The emcee can hold the clock in their lap so that when you glance at the clock it will appear that you are looking at the audience. My clock has big numbers, thick hands, and a bright red outer facing. I cheer when I end with the hands in the right places.

Time your Stories
I do not expect you to know how long your story is to the millisecond. I would expect you to know the time range such as knowing if it is 6-8 minutes, 8-10 minutes, etc. Carol Esterreicher tells a Spoonerism story of Cinderella called “Rindercella”, which can be a 10-minute version to a 30-minute version. As long as Rindercella makes it to the ball by a certain time, Carol knows she will meet the requested program length.

Chat with Emcee/Other Storytellers
Before the lights are dimmed for the storytelling concert, have a meeting with the emcee and any other storytellers/performers who share the time slot.

Discuss important questions—

What if the program starts late? Does the emcee/audience expect to end at the agreed time or does the program countdown start as soon as you are on stage?

What if a storyteller/performer goes too short? Too long?

Many other items could be discussed, though what is most important is that everyone is aware of the expectations. You may agree on cues. Perhaps the emcee has the ability to lower the lights when someone goes too long. Perhaps the emcee will use hand signals. Reduce the emcee’s stress by being the right-on-time teller.


Ironically, a right-on-time teller should arrive early and stay late to best serve the sponsor and the audience for time goes beyond the length of the program. Reserve time to set-up, talk with the emcee, and welcome the audience as they find their seats. Afterwards, listen as audience members share the wonderful experiences you gave them. Scheduling a storytelling event too close to another event will lose spirit-strengthening moments.

Smile at the clock and know that Father Time is your friend.

You are welcome to share your ideas to be a right-on-time teller.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

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