Tips for a Successful Storytelling Speech (by Samantha Togno)Sep 18, 2022
While Storytelling is one of the less common speech events to be available at tournaments, it’s definitely worth competing in. Why? Well, not only is it a fun event where you can read from your favorite childhood storybook, it’s also very easy to get ranked in the top three if you play your cards right. Here are three tips to guarantee your Storytelling speech is a winner.
#1: Choosing a story.
It’s important to choose a story you like and are passionate about. Judges can tell when you like your speech; it shines through in your performance and will get you a better score. Just keep in mind that your speech can’t be longer than five minutes, so you may have to cut some things. Make sure you leave out things that aren’t essential to the story and won’t cause confusion later on if omitted.
Whichever strategy you use for memorizing your speech, repetition is key.
My go-to strategy when memorizing is this: Say one line over and over until you know it, then say the next line over and over, then go back to the beginning and say both lines. Keep doing this for each new line until you have an entire passage memorized.
You can also record yourself reading your speech and listen to the recording whenever you have an opportunity. After you’ve become familiar with the words, start saying them in time with the recording to test your knowledge.
If you’d like to make it easier on yourself, choose a book that rhymes. If you blank on one word, just think of the one that rhymes with it and you’ll easily remember the word you were looking for! A list of children’s books that rhyme can be found here.
And remember: when running through your speech in full, make sure to time yourself!
#3: Have distinct characters.
It’s all well and good to narrate your story, but where’s the fun if you don’t give all the characters their own voices? This is where you can really show off your acting skills. Make sure each character has their own unique voice or accent such that audiences will easily be able to tell who’s who. When I performed How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I had three characters: the narrator, the Grinch, and Cindy Lou Who. The narrator was an old man with a slight British accent combined with a slight “old person” creaky voice. The Grinch’s voice was more or less lifted from the original cartoon. Cindy Lou Who had a high-pitched “little girl” voice with a lisp.
Each character also needs a unique pose. If you’ve competed in Humorous Interpretation (HI) before, those skills will be put to good use here. If you’ve never done HI, it’s imperative you learn the art of “popping”quickly and seamlessly switching between characters. The trick to having distinct poses is to create contrast while wordlessly communicating details about your character. Are they shy? Have them slightly bent over with your knees bent and feet turned inward towards each other. Is your character confident and/or powerful? Have them standing up straight with your legs together and feet turned outward. Little nonverbal signals like this will speak volumes about who your character is and will make it that much easier for the audience to tell the characters apart.
To improve your popping speed, here’s what one of my former speech coaches used to do for me: We had gone over all of my characters and the poses for each of them. Then, my coach would call out the names of the different characters, and I would have to get into the correct pose for each character as fast as I could. We would do this over and over until I could switch quickly and effortlessly between my characters. This increases your speed and fluidity and helps maintain your story’s momentum.
Also, be careful with the number of characters. If you’re just starting out, try to keep to three or fewer characters. As you gain more experience and become more skilled at creating distinct characters, you can increase the number.
If you follow these tips when crafting your Storytelling speech, you’re guaranteed to blow your competitors out of the water!
This article was written by Samantha Togno, a former speech competitor with the Tri County Forensic League (TCFL) for four years in Humorous Interpretation and Storytelling.