by Doug Stevenson 2000

Story Theater Tip of the Month: TWINKLE

The mood of the storyteller is essential to the effectiveness of the story. Prior to beginning a story, there is a moment when you can shift from whatever came prior to the story, to the story itself. I make a shift for my funny stories to a mood of mischievousness. I twinkle. You can sense it in my smiling expression, in my voice and in my body language. It’s almost as if I tickle myself. I revel in the joy of storytelling. Yes, I even do this for an all male corporate audience. Why? I’m about to invite them into a world of wonder, of fantasy, of story. Stories stimulate the imagination. What better way to introduce them to this world than with your energy, your smile and sense of fun? Do you twinkle when you perform your funny stories?

The shift that I’m talking about happens in an instant. It is not a ten second thing; it’s a two second thing. In a breath, in the blink of an eye, I shift from whatever content went before, to “once upon a time” energy. It’s a calculated shift, a technique. It is very tangible and communicates a subtle shift for your audience. If done specifically and deliberately, your audience will shift with you. They’ll follow your lead. The deliberateness of this shift however is most profound for you, the storyteller. It helps you to remember that the performance of the story is different than the presentation of intellectual concepts and data. It is different. It looks, sounds and feels different and that is its value as a communication tool. The mood of your presentation is part of that shift from left-brain to right brain. On another level, it’s a shift from thinking to feeling, from working to playing. Stories are fun. Never forget that. That’s why they work. People like to learn but they love to listen to stories. The difference between like and love is the difference between communicating concepts and data, and sharing and performing stories. So before the first words of your story come out of your mouth, take a moment to TWINKLE.


Time. It’s the one thing that there is never enough of for most speakers. You return phone calls, create marketing pieces, return e-mails and travel back and forth to bookings. You attend chapter meetings, mastermind groups and networking functions all with the sole purpose of getting more booked dates on your calendar so you’ll have time to catch your breath and perhaps, write your book. At the end of the day, working on your stories, even though it is vitally important to your career advancement, seldom gets done.

One of the reasons it seldom gets done is because the busy stuff is easier to accomplish than the creative stuff. In many cases it requires a shorter attention span and feels more tangible – you get something accomplished. There are immediate results. It’s also more pressing: It has to get done everyday. Working on your stories and making them amazing feels like a luxury. After all, you’re doing fine with the stories you have. Audiences respond well to them. You’re getting enough bookings to make ends meet. Life is good.

And then you go to the National Speakers Association annual convention or your local chapter meeting and you see someone on the platform who absolutely blows you away. Their storytelling ability is sublime. It’s like listening to Celine Dion sing a ballad, like watching Michael Jordan drive to the net, like watching Meryl Streep disappear into a character. As an audience member you are simultaneously aware of two things. The performer is very talented and they have worked very hard to be that good. Michael Jordan has taken a million shots with a basketball. Celine Dion has been singing every day of her life and Meryl Streep has studied and practiced acting for many years. But the beauty of their talent is that it seems effortless. The technique is invisible.

At the most recent National Speakers Association in Washington, D.C. a tall southern belle took the stage. She proceeded to do what she does best, tell stories. At least that’s what we call it when a speaker spins a yarn, tells a tale or shares a personal story. We call it, “telling a story.” But to say that Jeanne Robertson tells stories would be a disservice to her skill and talent. She is a master of timing, inflection, body and voice. She understands structure and delivery. In short, she is an actress, a comedienne and a speaker all rolled into one. She doesn’t just tell a story, she re-lives a story. You don’t just hear it, you see it, participate in it and feel it. Jeanne is so good at what she does that she makes it seem effortless. Jeanne has a reputation as someone who prepares like the dickens. Yup. She rehearses her moves and memorizes her lines. Jeanne is one of the most successful speakers in the nation. Why? Because she takes the time to work very hard on her craft. She is not just another speaker, she is an artist.

After Jeannie spoke in Washington, D.C., at least ten of my Story Theater Retreat graduates came up to me in the halls brimming with excitement. What made them excited was that they now understood exactly what Jeannie had just done. It was no longer a mystery. Jeannie had created a masterful combination of all of the elements that they had learned in the Story Theater Retreat. My graduates were inspired to go home and get to work because they knew exactly how to do the work. What Jeannie had done was no longer unattainable for them. They felt that it was within their reach.

In the speaking business, the big bucks go to the speakers who do the most with what they’ve got. In this business, talent is a given. What separates those in the middle of the pack from those who rise to the top is more than talent, it’s dedication and focus. Those who move up, work their way up. They study, learn and apply. They dedicate TIME to improvement. Jeannie spent over two years writing, developing and rehearsing her 40 minutes of fame. How much time are you dedicating to excellence?

Here are three things that you can do to improve your stories, your business and your confidence on the platform:

1. Schedule at least three hours in your planner to start working on your story

2. Write your story, word for word, and rehearse it out loud over and over again.

3. Create a new habit of rehearsing at home, not in front of your audience.

Excellence does not come without a price. That price is dedicating TIME to perfecting your skills and craft. In order to find the time to do this work, you have to subtract time from something else. It’s called prioritization and it’s not going to happen unless you make it happen. Something’s gotta go.

The proof is on the platform. When you have created a masterpiece signature story that you can replicate every time at the same level of brilliance, your business will grow. It’s just that simple.

“I now really get how the great entertainers do it – Carson, Leno, it’s with calculated detail, not just a genetic disposition or luck. I learned that I really can be funny. Thanks so much for helping me break out of my box. I think it will help me skyrocket.”

Sue Artt – Story Theater Retreat graduate


Copyright 2005 by Doug Stevenson. Reprinted with permission. Doug Stevenson is the creator of the Story Theater Method. He is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. Reach Doug at or 800.573.6196