Note: this post originally appeared on the Vibrant Self Healing blog.
A round of applause and hugs all round. That was our very rewarding response at the end of a week’s PIE training in Manchester. I was co-training with Janice Russell, who I took the opportunity to model and observe in her storytelling as a trainer, and these are my preliminary observations:
This was what really struck me from first position, and not until I was in first position. Jan’s presence is confident. It was a weird feeling, again, standing at the back of the room mimicking Jan as she trained, and I personally am not sure how far I was able to get into her skin whilst still being present as her co-trainer. However I did notice the presence and confidence, it was not my own, so it must have been Jan’s!
There were several elements which made up this presence and confidence. One thing I did notice, from the way Jan moved around, with extended arm gestures and sometimes big strides across the room, was a willingness to take up space. The word that came to mind was ‘grounded’ and on three occasions I noticed Jan stand still with her feet close together, and once again as I mirrored her, the feeling was ‘grounded’. It was from this grounded space – both still and moving – that she was able to engage successfully with her audience and tell her story.
Embodying the Story
Jan told stories with several characters, and she brought the characters into the room not by portraying them as an actor would, but by assigning them different spaces in the room. So, for example, when talking about one character she would take a step to the left of her starting point, anchoring the space to that character, stepping away when she began to talk about something or someone else, and stepping back in when she returned to that character.
At one point, as a story reached its climax, Jan talked about it being ‘as if the world had gone into slow motion’. At this point she mimed a slow-motion gesture as she continued to illustrate the story, using rich sensory language in several modalities, and synaesthetic description to make her image brighter, building audience expectation before coming back to normal speed and delivering a ‘punchline’.
Engaging with the Audience
I notice that Jan, much like Graham, looks around the room at different people when she speaks to the group. I noticed that when referring back to an idea that had already been mentioned, in that session or a previous one within the group, Jan would gesture in the direction of the person who had talked about the idea, whether they were someone who brought it up or responded to a question on the subject. This gave me the impression that she had spatially anchored some ideas by attaching them to a person, and this is something I would like to ask her about when I interview her.
Choosing the Right Story
I noticed that Jan would bring out several stories in a row to illustrate her point, all of which I have heard her tell before, suggesting that she has a mental ‘bank’ of stories to draw from, and may have certain stories associated with certain theories.
I’ll be interviewing Jan soon; meanwhile, you should also be aware that she writes great fiction and listen to her brilliant reading of her short story Garden Bench Marks.
Next steps for the project: I visited Adam the Storyteller in Haworth recently, and will be sharing some material from that trip soon. Already I’m starting to notice themes developing; commonalities between my storytellers despite the different contexts. More of which when I present the model in October!