top of page

The Gift Of The Unexpected: Three Ways To Keep Telling a Story When The Unforeseen Pops Up

Storytelling And The Unexpected

Storytelling carries with it an element of the unknown. When telling a story, there is no concrete object or visual cue to anchor the attention of the listener. It’s you, the listener, and the spoken words of the story.

This can feel intimidating at first…because what happens if something unexpected happens? An interruption, an unforeseen question, a listener who refuses to suspend disbelief to come along for the imaginary story journey. All of these things have happened to me, so I know from experience that these things can bring a little extra arm pit sweat.

Interruptions As A Gift

OK, so that’s the tricky part… but I wanna give you the good news!

These “pop-up” interruptions don’t always have to be a nerve wracking thing. They can actually be a gift! You just have to have a flexible mindset and few tools in your pocket to help you stay grounded.

While experience is a big help in moments of disruption, here are three mindset helps and tools for when you’re telling and something unexpected happens:

Trust your prep

You took the time to read, learn and prep the story. Trust the work that you put in, and know that that work will help you pick the story back up/bring it back on track.

If you are really struggling to jump back in after an interruption:

  • Remember the last thing that happened in the story. Take a breath. Your listeners will almost always be extremely forgiving if you need to take a breath and reset. Your listeners are cheering for you because they want to hear the rest of the story!

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your listeners. Asking, “Now, where were we?” Invites them into the story making process!

A storyteller at a microphone smiles to an audience of people
Telling "The Canary Prince" when the unexpected happened

Incorporate The Unexpected

When something sudden happens, don’t be afraid to incorporate that into the story. A child suddenly blurts out that the monster in the story is, in fact, named Herbert? Cool, now for the rest of the story, you can say “Herbert” instead of “the troll”

Here’s a quick example for you from my experiences. I was performing a story about a canary visiting a princess locked in a tower (see the picture above from this performance:). At just the moment in the story where the bird perched on the princess’s window sill, a very loud, pronounced bird call was heard at the window of the stage area. Hearing that and acknowledging it as something that was happening live in the room, I off-tracked the story a bit to say that “before speaking the canary sang out a loud and beautiful song for the princess”. It ended up being a magic moment!

Check in and regroup

After an interruption, take a beat. Look at your audience and asses how much the interruption disrupted their attention to the story. If it was minimal, maybe you just take your breath and then keep going. Maybe you take your breath and decide how to incorporate the surprise element.

Or, maybe you guide your listeners with a regrouping cue.

  • “Let’s all take a deep breath so we can jump back into the story”

  • “We were just talking about the wind. Can we all become the wind by waving our hands in the air?”

Or, if there’s a very large distracting behavior you can address it directly:

  • “I hear you have some ideas- we will talk about them at the end of the story because right now we want to hear what happens next so we’re just gonna focus on the story as I’m telling it right now”.

Growing The Skills

While each interruption situation will be different and require being present in the moment, you can practice skills that will help you flex to incorporate interruptions or stay grounded to be able to redirect your listeners back to the story.

Don’t know where to start with gaining this mastery? I would love to help you! I lead coaching sessions and professional development workshops that use storytelling and improv games to build confidence in being present and leading the way through the story. It’s one of my favorite things to do!

If you or your staff works to tell stories or present talks to listeners, just hit the “Get In Touch” button on my website!


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page