The Art of Storytelling
Having been trained as a journalist, I’ve always been able to interview people and tell their story. But rarely was I able to tell a good story orally - until now. I find that as my mom’s mental status ebbs and flows, I have to be prepared to carry the weight of any conversation. I’ve been trained as a listener, not a talker, so this transition isn’t the easiest for me. However, I find that I am getting better and better at telling stories that are entertaining for my mom and for the other residents where she lives. So how do you become a storyteller when that isn’t a normal element of your personality?
Wikipedia describes oral storytelling as telling about real or imagined events using words, images, and sounds. I try to stay pretty close to real events and people that Mom will remember, although at times I do embellish the story (just a little) to make it entertaining.
On the website “Effective Storytelling: A Beginner’s Manual,” Barry McWilliams encourages storytellers to adapt to their audience. He says, “The audience has a very important role in storytelling - for their minds are the canvas on which the teller paints his tale. Oral storytelling involves much interaction between teller and hearer. I have observed that our audiences have lost some of the skills to follow a narrated story and see things in their minds. Storytelling has become more difficult. Attention spans are shorter and more demanding, more sophisticated, yet less able to independently imagine or visualize. People seem to need more visual stimulation.” Although he wrote these suggestions for those who were going to tell stories to younger audiences, the same advice holds for entertaining an audience with dementia.
Mr. McWilliams suggests the following method to develop the story:
• Take the story as close to them as you can.
• Keep it brief and simple - pare down to the heart of the story.
• Stimulate their senses so they feel, smell, touch and listen and see vivid pictures.
• Describe the characters and settings, and help them sympathize with the characters' feelings.
In telling the story, McWilliams suggests incorporating the following delivery elements:
• Sincerity and whole-heartedness
• Animation in gestures, voice, facial expressions.
He also describes some strategies for keeping the listener’s attention. These strategies, all of which work for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease, include the following:
• Sensitivity to the audience. A storyteller must be prepared to regain the audience's attention before continuing.
• A distinct change in your pace, voice, or mood.
• An unusual or unexpected twist in the narration.
Telling stories has become a valuable part of my repertoire when I visit my mom. These stories seem to relieve some of the pressure she feels about carrying on a conversation. And seeing the smile on her face at the end of a story helps make the journey through this difficult period of her life just a little bit easier.
What new skills have you learned as a caregiver? Tell us in the message boards.
Published On: June 21, 2006