Thursday, May 15, 2014

Improve Your Impromptu Storytelling with the Three Cs

Impromptu Storytelling for GavinYou are surrounded by inspirations and life lessons and may not even know it. For example I recently learned three key concepts to improve my impromptu storytelling when Craig, my fiction-writing friend, told me about his Bluetooth bedtime stories.

Craig can be in his car or traveling afar when he calls his three and a half year old grandson Gavin for his nightly bedtime story (pictured above). These ten-minute tales are told over the cell phone and contain the three Cs: chapters, conflict, and cues.

Add More Chapters
Children’s books have a beginning, middle, and an end, but you can continue an existing story and add the next chapter or be creative and jump to the middle of the story and begin a new chapter. The setup can be super short, “Superhero Sam is vacationing in Spain when he hears a cry for help…” and shazam! you’re in the middle of your story.

Or you can pick a story, any story. In Craig’s case he asks, “What would you like to hear tonight Gavin?” The agenda ranges from "tell me about jellyfish" to "tell me about a little boy who got hurt and his Mommy saved him." Craig treats these as a Toastmaster's "Table Topics," in which the speaker is challenged to give an impromptu talk about a spontaneously assigned subject. With a little practice you’ll develop your ability to organize your thoughts quickly and respond to the request.

Add More Conflict
One of the best parts of a story is when something is wrong – also known as conflict. Why? Because you might know how you’d resolve the sticky situation, but you’ll be captivated by how and what the hero will do to be triumphant.

So pick a problem, any problem. Craig concurs. “If I fail to provide enough conflict for his taste Gavin will say, ‘...but then there was a problem...’, and he'll introduce a volcano, or a pillow monster, or a ghost or ‘a guy throwing socks.’" Then Craig must work these conflict elements into the tale, which keeps him on task telling high quality stories. “Gavin's assignments are unpredictable and sometimes tough, which challenges me to create a small work of fiction on the spot.”

Add More Cues
To keep everyone involved on their tall tale toes, asking for input is ideal. These cues incorporate a higher level of interactivity and satisfaction. Your listener(s) can contribute sound effects and descriptions, too!

• "What sound did the sawfish make when it called to you from the ocean?"
• "And what do you think he found behind that closed door?"
• "Tell me, Gavin--what did that monster look like?"

I send my thanks and gratitude to Craig for sharing a few personal tidbits and the three key C concepts: chapters, conflict and cues. It has improved my impromptu storytelling and I hope it helps you too.

Craig Strickland is a writer with more than 25 years experience who’s credits include two nationally distributed books (Scary Stories For Sleepovers #8 and Scary Stories From 1313 Wicked Way) and dozens of short stories in published in anthologies including, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Noir, Portents, Terminal Fright, Blood Review, Bronte Street, Air Fish, October Dreams acclaimed Canadian publication On Spec.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Once Upon a Skype

Once Upon a Skype by Michael VarmaA tornado of technology has turned storytelling, for business and pleasure, towards webinars, seminars, and Skype. Whether you’re training sales people in Pennsylvania or sharing a bedtime story with kids in California, you need to know how to best communicate and engage your audience across a computer or tablet screen. 

My wife’s cousin Matthew, for example, emailed us a picture of his two boys, Cory and Derek, completely captivated by his laptop, which displayed their grandmother 700 miles away reading to them from her vast collection of children’s books. 

Below are three tips on how you, too, can earn an audience’s rapt attention while broadcasting on the internet.

Once Upon a Skype by Michael VarmaAct it OutWhen you tell a story in person you’re animated and your expressions are full of emotion. Do the same thing during your face-to-face video call. 

You may miss a smile or a laugh on the receiving end due to camera, microphone, or speaker positions, but rest assured those normal visual and audio cues are still there. Continue on as if your audience was in the same room and you will come across professional and confident. 

Add AtmosphereShow an image to illustrate your point or play music in the background to add more atmosphere. If you’re telling a ghost story you can dim the lights, wear a cape with a hood, or even play spooky soundtracks while you talk. 

Try speaking in character voices, or use a cowboy hat and a Southern drawl to bring the Wild West to life. Subtle cues like these enhance the listening and viewing experience of a bedtime or adventure story. 

Ask for HelpSkype is essentially interactive TV so get your audience involved. Show the book and ask open-ended questions about the pictures on the page, take turns reading sentences or discuss the moral of the story.

A key question to ask is, “What did you like most about today’s story?” and you’ll have immediate intel on what worked well. In a short order you’ll master the art of portable vid screen storytelling. 

There are many benefits beyond family bonding time and beams of enthusiasm from your children when you call out, “It’s Skypetime!” 
  • Create positive memories for grandparents, parents, and children. 
  • Entertain children while parents do exciting things like washing the dishes.
  • Encourages early bedtime allowing guilt free adult conversations with parents.
Cousin Matthew sums it up nicely: “Just try and name an app that will answer your questions, move the picture in closer on demand, does characters voices, and will get a second book all upon request?! Skypetime gives our kids interaction on their terms in their way with a nice visual element and our grandparents give a gift that will last longer than any care package.” 

Bonus Recommendation: Record Your Calls*Imagine having bedtime stories being read to your kids by your parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents. You can create future family comfort and blessed keepsakes.

*Legally you’ll need to inform participants the call is being recorded.

What Skypetime storytelling tips can you share?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Kiss Me, I Think I'm Irish

Tasteful Toasts for Irish FolksLast year Ireland’s population was 6.4 million and 42 million United States residents claim Irish ancestry (thank you Wikipedia). In the big scheme of things, I suspect I’m about 2% Irish affording me a peck on the cheek and at least one green beer this St. Patrick’s Day.
While there are hundreds of Irish toasts to raise your mug to, my years of patrolling pubs revealed rainbows of tall tales and a pot leprechaun limericks, riddles and jokes. Below are some choice clean green comedy to share that might get you a free pint from Shamus:

Irish Toasts

May the roof above us never fall in,
and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

You’re my best friend and like a four leaf clover:
hard to find and lucky to have.

May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.

Leprechaun Limericks

There once was a young man named Sean,
 Whose wish came from a sly leprechaun,
 To be surrounded by dough,
 Was what he wanted, so,
 In six months he was born as a fawn.

There once was on leprechaun
Who lived in a stump on my lawn
He had hoarded much gold
Hidden safely, I’m told
For he feared that someday it’d be gone

Irish Proverbs

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.

Your feet will take you where you heart is

What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.

You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.

Irish Jokes

Reilly went to trial for armed robbery.
The jury foreman came out and announced, "Not guilty."
 "Oh my!" shouted Reilly. "Does that mean I get to keep the money?"

Two Irishmen were getting ready to go on a camping trip.
First one said, "I'm taking a gallon of whiskey just in case of rattlesnake bites. What are you taking?"

An Englishman walks into a pub and says, “I’ve got some great Irish jokes.”
“Before you start,” said the big bloke in the corner, “You need to know I’m Irish.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell them slowly.

An Irishman was flustered not being able to find a parking space in a large mall's parking lot, "Lord," he prayed," I can't stand this. If you open a space up for me, I swear I'll give up drinking me whiskey, and I promise to go to church every Sunday." Suddenly, the clouds parted and the sun shone on an empty parking spot. Without hesitation, the man said, "Never mind, I found one."

“How far is it to the next village?” asked the American tourist.
“It’s about seven miles,” guessed the leprechaun, “But it’s only five if you run!”

You can download and print this two-side sheet of Tomfoolery (pdf 691 kb) to aide your memory.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite Irish toast, leprechaun limerick, riddle or joke?  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Achieve more with a Magic Square

2014 Magic SquareI remember laughing in class after hearing the classic question: “What would you do if you could not fail?” I thought, That’s silly, at some point in time everyone fails. I can learn from my and other people’s mistakes, so failing can be transformed into a good thing. But I played the instructor’s game and quickly realized the exercise was designed to motivate me beyond my fear of failure and to act. While his challenging question jumpstarted my brain into action, I found more freedom and success from a difference workshop that featured the concept of the magic square.

When I imagine my life is like a magic square, then every direction I travel is in the right path. Whether I go up, down, left, right, diagonal, or fly to the four corners, I will reach the right destination. Try it. Add any four numbers from the magic square – up, down, left, right, diagonal or the four corners – and see what you get.

To me, this means I’m always in the right place at the right time with the right number to make magical things happen. If I work hard towards any of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions and give 501 percent then I have five different winning solutions.

I cannot fail.

True, sometimes it might take me longer to realize the right path. I might focus on the obvious left/right, up/down, and diagonal options and overlook the less obvious –like the four bottom right or four center squares. Success often comes from the most unlikely places.

The magic square method proves we are not alone. We are part of an intelligent solution –a piece of the puzzle within the bigger picture. In a word: teamwork. As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

To offer a real-world example, when we celebrate life’s events, (We Bid You Good Cheer) the recipient(s), the party, the audience and quite possibly a tasteful toast can be parts of your magic square. The words said in loving tribute, a.k.a. the toast, is your contribution to the winning combination and will help enhance the evening’s festivities moving us along the right path.

Your turn: How can the lesson of the magic square help you?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Three Writes and Makes You a Winner

Write Your GoalsBecoming a self-motivated dynamo is easy as one, two, three and generates three glorious benefits: clarity, confidence and charisma. We’ll do this together. Get a blank piece of paper and pen – I know, so “old school” – but this allows you to read and write as we go step by step.

1. Write down your goals.
Merchandising mogul J.C. Penny said, “Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal, and I will give you a stock clerk.” Let’s make your history. Get your goals out of your head and on paper so you can see and read what you want. This gives you immediate focus and clarity.

2. Write down specific goals.
Look at your list and edit each line to be specific. The more detailed you are the better. Here are a couple of examples of how to modify your list.

Good: I want to lose weight.
Better: I will lose 12 pounds.

Good: I want to save money.
Better: I will save $140.

Good: I want to give a tasteful toast.
Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.

E.B. White, American author best known for English language style guide, The Elements of Style, and Charlotte’s Web said, “I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.” With minor practice you’ll skip step two and get-it-all-done in step number one, which reinforces clarity and builds your confidence.

3. Write down due dates.
“Goals are dreams with deadlines,” is a quote from Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill. Adding a simple target due date feeds your instinctual need to achieve and succeed.

Better: I will lose 12 pounds.
Best: I will lose 12 pounds by March 15th (1 pound a week).

Better: I will save $140.
Best: I will save $140 a month ($5 a day).

Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.
Best: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday on July 20th.

Review your list and prioritize based upon the earliest due date. Look at item number one and write down the first three actions you need to take in order to complete this goal, then do items one, two and three.

Clarity and confidence are intangible feelings that grow out of achievement, which translate into charisma that will manifest in the way you walk and talk as you complete each step in reaching your ultimate goal.

Follow the above write steps and you’ll be in the right place at the right time and be a winner!

Related Articles:
Pick One and Get It Done
Find Your Focus and Win Your Game
New Year’s Nuptials

Your turn: What goal are you going to focus on and follow through to completion?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hearty Holiday Humor

Kermit the Frog as SantaI admire and follow the philosophy of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, which is, “There can be inspiration and fun in everything around us.” That’s why at every holiday party I’m prepared with a few family friendly riddles.

Between Santa, snowmen, and sugar cookies there’s a lot of good clean comedic material to launch a laugh-fest. If Kermit the Frog can avoid hazardous humor then you can too.

Yes, this type of humor might cause eyes to roll due to silly puns but I’ll bet a few candy canes you’ll repeat some of these lines at your office or home in the next few days.

Below are my hearty holiday humor lines that can be used in any presentation.

Why did the gingerbread man go to the doctor?
Because he was feeling crummy.

What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
Frosted snowflakes.

What nationality is Santa Claus?
North Polish.

What do you call someone who doesn’t believe in Father Christmas?
A rebel without a Claus.

What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?

How much did Santa pay for his sleigh?
Nothing, it was on the house.

What kind of music do elves like best?
“Wrap” music!

Why are elves so depressed?
Because they have low elf esteem.

What do you call Santa’s helpers?
Subordinate Clauses.

Why does Santa like to work in his garden?
Because he likes to hoe, hoe, hoe!

Remember the four stages of life:
1.  You believe in Santa Claus
2.  You don’t believe in Santa Claus
3.  You become Santa Claus
4.  You look like Santa Claus

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