3 Things to Remember When Telling a Biblical Story

07.13.15 | Communications | by Tracy Radosevic

    By Tracy Radosevic

    1. You’re Creating an Experience.
    The advantage of hearing and seeing a story told, as opposed to reading it in silence, is the plethora of non-verbal communication tools at your disposal: facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, movement, placement, tone of voice, tempo, pitch, volume, pauses, etc. Too often, our involvement with the Bible is a flat, one-dimensional, boring and hard-to-understand event. These performance options, however, create a lively, clearer, multi-dimensional experience that almost can’t help but draw the audience in, making them feel like they are there. If they feel like they’re there, picturing themselves as a character (or even a bystander) in the story, making personal connections with the biblical situation, then you’ve given them a gift, a deeper understanding of the Bible that will continue to “work on” them (with the help of the Holy Spirit!). It’s an experience they won’t soon forget.

    2. Make Eye Contact.
    Unlike (traditional) theatre, eye contact is essential in storytelling because in this art form the audience helps to co-create the narrative experience. A single storyteller doesn’t have other actors/tellers inhabiting the story’s various characters with which to interact. So the tension and “electricity” normally created by multiple people (on stage) communicating and interfacing with each other must somehow in storytelling be accomplished by one person. Solution? The audience members become the other characters and you interact with them. The best way to do this is by making eye contact with them, not just when you’re the narrator but also when you’re engaged in the story’s dialogue. Incidentally, making eye contact also goes a long way in creating the hard-to-forget/feels-like-they’re-there experience mentioned above. [NOTE: Making eye contact is a very intimate engagement – which is part of what allows it to contribute to the powerfully unforgettable experience of storytelling. But that also means it can feel awkward at first. Practice makes perfect!]

    3. The Most Important Thing.
    As Doug Lipman states at the beginning of Chapter 7 in Improving Your Storytelling: "If you remain unfocused about the story’s primary meaning, the resulting lack of clarity will make your listeners less able to attach their own diverse meanings to the story. When a story is told with clear intention, many meanings can flow out of your one meaning. Because this idea of a “main meaning” is so important to storytelling, I give it a name (and an abbreviation): the Most Important Thing (MIT)." You can masterfully employ every non-verbal communication tool and make eye contact multiple times with every member of your audience but if you haven’t spent enough time making your own personal connections with the story and acknowledging what the main meaning of the story is for you at this particular time, then any subsequent sharing of that story will be deficient, perhaps even to the point of being a waste of time. This step isn’t called the Most Important Thing for nothing!

    If you’re interested in learning many more helpful tips firsthand, consider attending the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers (NBS).

    Dr. Tracy Radosevic is a longtime member of NBS who has been performing, and teaching others how to perform, biblical passages since 1990. She is dean of the Academy for Biblical Storytelling (ABS), a one-year certification program, as well as adjunct professor at Wesley Theological Seminary and the Ecumenical Institute of Theology where, among other courses, she teaches biblical storytelling.