A story could survive without an introduction.
Though often a storyteller receives an introduction by an emcee to further excitement from the audience. It seems fair that a story receive an introduction so as to experience similar results.
What to Remember About Introductions:
1. Dedicate Time To Have Intro & Of Appropriate Length
2. Ponder What The Story Means To You
3. Strengthen Lead-ins Without Revealing Plot
Dedicate Time To Have Intro & Of Appropriate Length
Some storytellers tell stories as if careening down a mountainside or as if a “ready, set, go” button was pushed.
I have acted in such a rapid way. When competing in a Liar’s Contest, I had five minutes. One sentence was all I spared to recognize the audience. I would have preferred a few more moments to reach out to the audience.
Any storyteller could make a conscious decision to include an introduction whether it lasts thirty seconds to over a minute.
Ellouise Schoettler, one of the Exchange Place Tellers at the 2009 National Storytelling Festival, was given twelve minutes. At this event, it is taboo to go over time. She considered telling one of her fourteen-minute signature stories. Then, rather than condensing the story and forgoing the introduction, Ellouise chose to tell a seven-minute story with a few minutes of breathing room. After the festival, Ellouise was glad she gave the time to solidify a connection with the audience.
Her wise decision to give time for a story introduction led to a happy memory.
Balance the length of the introduction with the story. I have heard introductions longer than the story! Any introduction over a couple minutes will need strong rationalizations. There are exceptions to any rule. Sometimes a mini story is needed to make way for the longer story.
Ponder What The Story Means To You
Another name for an introduction is a “mindset”. It implies that one must look within first.
All of the reasons that you chose a certain story may not surface as introduction material. However, your tone at the beginning may be influenced by these feelings.
Sometimes we rush to tell a story before understanding why we were drawn to tell it. A perfect answer is not necessary. You may find the answer being “I don’t know” but that would at least proved that you asked yourself the question.
As you gain life experiences, an introduction you used in the past may not be how you feel about the story now. Feel free to change stories as you change.
The current events may convince you to take another route with the introduction. In fact, reminding the audience that you are aware of what they are aware . . .could that be another approach to “mindset”?
Strengthen Lead-ins Without Revealing Plot
I have always appreciated learning trivia before someone tells a story. Perhaps that is why I sometimes love to reveal important symbolism before a tale is told.
If the symbol is not a key part of the plot, however, then it may be better suited for commentary and not an introduction. Though, if it gives away how the plot may resolve, then you may want to rethink your need to share that bit of information.
The title itself could give away the ending. If so, then you either may want to change the title to something less revealing or save to share it at the end as a kind of “by the way” after the applause.
Whenever I tell the Iraqi folktale “The Sparrow and His Wife”, I begin by sharing some facts about the Evil Eye. There is an action done at the end of the story that becomes more meaningful if the audience knows this ahead of time. Could the story be fine without the introduction? Yes. But I have already determined my favorite part of the story and would like the Evil Eye explanation at the start so to magnify the possible reactions from the audience at the end.
So the next time you are ready to tell a story, consider the first words that will come out of your mouth.
Your audience—and story—will appreciate it.
Until we tell again,
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