Yesterday I had the great pleasure of giving one of my personal storytelling Divas a ride to a gig…Gay Ducey. She was off to do an assembly program at Jamestown School here in my home county. Her hubby was along, too. And he brought up that word: “Connect.” He commented on how his wife amazes him because she is so able to bond quickly with kids, with an audience. Mr. Ducey said, “Gay always says you have to connect. Somehow. Anyhow.”
So, how does that happen? What can new tellers learn from Ms. Ducey, this “sage of modern storytelling”? It is the personal touch, the moment when you and your listener, or about-to-be listener, make genuine contact. That’s the moment of connection.
As tellers it is OUR JOB to find and make the connection. From a 3-year old who is very nervous at his/her first library storytime to the octogenarian at the Senior Center: How can we create the spark that makes the contact?
Today I’ll be telling St. Patty’s Day stories for our local Adult Day Health Care Center. When I arrive, everything will begin with making those connections. I’m sure that many of these folks will not remember my last visit on Valentine’s Day. My approach will be to come in quietly; get the lay of the land to see what’s been going on lately, and then to watch for cues and clues. Is someone wearing a special outfit? Does someone recognize me and is he/she awaiting mutual recognition? I can approach folks to give a compliment, to offer a gentle touch on the arm. Usually with elderly clients a bit of physical connection is warmly received. With the touch of a hand, the eyes come up to meet. Then, just smile. This begins to break isolation and separateness. The connection is made.
With kids, it’s pretty much the complete opposite. I usually stand back and help make a triadic connection between the child, the parent and me. That way the child knows that Mom or Dad has invited me in to say, “Hello,” as a safe new friend.
As tellers, we need to watch and listen for ways to ease someone into our story embrace. And we must never set up our own barriers! Once I heard of a library staffer who put tape down at baby storytime. These very young children were not suppose to “cross the line.” Bad idea. This is NOT welcoming. It tells the child that YOU are not safe. In the child’s mind YOU are shut out. They’re “not allowed” to get near you. Now that is a mixed message! Come to storytime, but don’t get too close! As Gay recently said, “Pick those babies up and tell with them on your lap!”
When I was just kicking in as a teller, I always observed what kids were wearing. A T-shirt with a cool graphic design, a fun pair of shoes–anything that would let me ask a question, open a door to one-on-one conversation. If parents were on hand, I’d always start by talking to them. Then they would let their child know if I was “safe.”
Storytelling is a heart-to-heart connection. We tellers are only vessels for a good tale. Our job is to make it easy for folks to meet the story through us. Library tellers want people to come back. Day care center tellers want to help kids feel safe and secure. Senior Center tellers want to help clients feel engaged.
It’s the storyteller’s job to help the audience relax, feel “at home” and CONNECT!