Tag Archives: Body Language

Tools of the Tale – getting to grips with how to speak with our body

Tools of the Tale – getting to grips with how to speak with our body

Your entire body tells the story with you which is why learning about body language is so important

Body language is generally mostly an unconscious process, but with some simple understanding you can quickly create huge changes in your story telling by consciously bringing in some key gestures.

The discipline of controlling our gestures can be quite challenging. Most of our movements are reflexive in nature, automatically matching up to what our minds are thinking at any given moment.

“We speak with our vocal organs, but we converse with our entire bodies; conversation consists of much more than a simple interchange of spoken words.”

Elements of General Phonetics. David Abercrombie

There are three different ways that we use body language to communicate with others

  • As a direct replacement for words.
  • As a reinforcement of our words – we gesture to emphasize speech.
  • As a mirror of our inner emotions and attitudes – people read our faces, body angles, distance etc.

In the art of storytelling, you can use all three of these ways to communicate effectively with your audience, be they your dearest offspring or a class of sullen teenagers.

By now, you are aware that you are always communicating with your children through body language.

Think about what you’re communicating to a child when you give them a big smile, crouch to their level and open your arms wide.

  • You are pleased to see them.
  • You are going to give them some of your time.
  • You are offering a place of safety, warmth and comfort in your embrace.
  • You are going to give them a dose of love and affection.
  • You are telling them that they are good, appreciated and a joy to know.
  • You consider them an equal.

I’m sure you can think of more, and you’ve not even said a word!

There are lots of subtleties to the language of the body.

If for example, you’d bent at the waist instead of crouching, you’d be telling them that you don’t consider them an equal, you’re not going to give them much time and the incoming hug will be brief and a little distant.

You’ve probably seen such hugs in action.

Thinking about it, what do you read from that sort of hug?

You don’t need to verbalise the invitation for your child to understand.

By focusing on your voice and facial expression, you’ll probably find that you naturally start to gesticulate and use your body more, so why not put even more focus on dramatizing the story?

By adding in this element you quite literally bring movement into the story.

Your story moves into a new realm of expression, similar to acting where everything you are communicating to your audience is congruent and their young minds can absorb the story and let any lessons sink in.

Think what an open and fluid kind or person they’ll think you are and what an amazing role model you’ll be for them.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Storytelling homework

  • Observe. Now that we’ve introduced body language in storytelling, the first piece of homework is to keep an eye open in your everyday encounters with people (adults and children alike) and notice what kinds of body language gestures accompany different situations. Pay particular attention to the body language of people sharing stories of events or things they’ve done.
  • Think. Consider the gestures you use with your kids. What do you notice about them? What do you think your kids will get from your gesture?

Head back to the start of this chapter on using body language in storytelling and keep an eye on your inbox for the next section on how to use your head as a prop in your stories.

Reach out to your kids – Using your arms and legs in storytelling

Reach out to your kids – Using your arms and legs in storytelling

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In the last section, we talked about using your head in storytelling. Now we’re going to bring some of your other appendages into it.

Have you ever punched the air with delight for winning a race or beating your competition?

Have you ever patted your child on the back in pride?

Have you ever stood angrily with your hands on your hips?

Have you found yourself holding your hand in front of your mouth in nervous reservation?

You are already armed with the best body language tools in the business of storytelling and you unconsciously use them all the time in your life to exhibit your emotion, even just gesturing normally during a chat with your friend.

Your arms and hands can be very versatile tools for communicating your emotions during a story. Exploit these tools during storytelling and you avail of a huge opportunity to elevate your story into real entertainment.

Use your arms more in the stories you tell. You hands and arms convey a huge array of messages

You can use your arms and hands to invite, reject, persuade, control, comfort, approve, ask or accuse and to show fear, anxiety, aggression, domination, submission, boredom, pride, joy and love. They’re pretty handy for playing animal characters too!

Imagine how you might use your hands and arms to convey any of the meanings listed?

A nervous criminal is wringing his hands, while having a finger pointed at him accusing him of the crime.

A demanding princess might be crossing her arms and stamping her foot when she doesn’t get her own way.

The football legend might clench his fists and punch the air in satisfaction as he scores another winning goal.

The forgiving mother might open her arms wide, inviting her child into her close embrace.

The scared little piglet might be shaking and trembling, afraid that the farmer is coming to take him away.

The exasperated teacher might throw her hands up in the air, palms up, while glowering at the mischievous child.

  • The big brother might put his hands on his hips and berate his little sister for telling lies about a snow covered land she found in the back of the wardrobe.
  • The happy child might clap excitedly, delighted at the magician’s trick.
  • The angry tiger might whip out his claws to scare the little mouse away.
  • The baby bird might flap its wings madly as it plummets out of the nest for the first time.

You can effectively embody almost every emotion conceivable using your hands and your arms.

Your audience will love your physical expressions, not only are you the teller of the tale but you transform into each and every character effectively.

You’ll also make the story unforgettable so they can share it with their friends.

A step in the right direction

A rarely considered facet of body language in storytelling, your legs and feet are just as capable of expressing emotion, albeit perhaps through a more limited set of movements.

You may wonder how you could possibly incorporate any leg gestures into your stories but here a few suggestions.

stamp your feet, cross your legs, hop on one foot. There are a million things you can communicate through your legs and feet when telling a story
  • Tapping your foot off the floor is a great way to convey impatience.
  • Sitting with your knees tightly together indicates anxiousness.
  • Give your peg leg pirate a limp and increase his authenticity.
  • Shifting your weight from leg to leg will show how nervous or confused your character is.
  • Stretching your legs out in front of you when sitting shows your character is relaxed and care-free
  • Your Wild West cowboy may slap his leg in satisfaction when he finally figures out a problem.
  • Stamping your foot shows frustration or stubbornness.
  • Kicking the ground can show frustrated defeat.
  • If your character is dragging his feet, it shows his unwillingness to do something.

By involving your legs in your body language you can create some pretty convincing or hilarious effects for your child.

You are become an actor, not just a storyteller.

Storytelling homework

  • Practice. As for the section on using your head as a prop when telling a story, practice the ideas above and keep an eye open for opportunities to use your arms, hands, legs and feet to make the story you’re sharing with your kids that much better.

Oh, and remember to have fun!

Now head back to the chapter summary or wait for the final part of this storytelling course to arrive in your inbox.

The use of Body Language in telling a story

Put your best foot forward – Using body language in storytelling

“It was THIS big!!”

I think that everyone is pretty familiar with that stereotypical fisherman’s story complete with hands-wider-than-physically-possible-to-reach gesture.

While our response is undoubtedly a “oh yeah…” accompanied by a roll of the eyes and sideways smirk at our companion listener or a chummy dig in the ribs of the boastful fisherman, there is also no denying that the gesticulation and vehemence of the way the story is told is certainly a contributing factor of how much we believe the person and regardless: It absolutely makes the fisherman’s tale more fun and engaging to listen to.

Telling a story with the addition of body language is a very powerful storytelling technique

Dramatisation is the secret ingredient that boosts good storytelling into great storytelling.

When something is important to us, we want to make sure that our tale and accompanying point is understood, believed and incorporated.

Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, deep down, we know the lasting impact those gesticulations have on how people understand us, even if we’ve hardly said a thing!

Actions (can) speak louder than words in the right story setting

We don’t want to lose any opportunity to convey our desired meaning, and we deliberately adjust our own body language and actions in order to do so.

Equally, we too read people’s body language and gestures to help us understand the real meaning of what they’re communicating to us.

Body language encompasses the movement of arms and legs, body posture, the manner in which you sit, walk, your facial expressions, eye movements and regular gestures such as stroking your hair, touching your nose, etc.

Over 50% (yes, fifty) of any communication between humans is done through gesture and body language

The precise figure tends to vary depending on which study you read, but they all agree that more than half of the meaning and substance of a human to human interaction is done through the language of our body.

Interestingly, these studies also generally agree that less than 10% of the meaning of a conversation is conveyed through the words that we use.

That means that around 40% of the meaning of any conversation is down to how we use our voice: Its tone, volume and pitch.

With body language we capture attention, create atmosphere, emotion, and draw in our audience.

The grimace on a storyteller’s face and their recoil from the floor in front of them tell you exactly how unpleasant stepping into the pig sty was!

The inflating chest and wide arms tell you just how deep and thunderous the breaths of the big bad wolf are as he huffs and puffs!

It is the dainty way you hold out your hands and the standing-on-tip-toes and hunching over that tells you just how quietly the town mouse and country mouse crept into the kitchen.

It’s the nonverbal part of storytelling that ensnares the imagination and engages the senses.

It also happens to be a lot of fun to do!

In this chapter we are going to discuss the following techniques:

“I speak two languages, Body and English.”

Mae West

Facial Expressions and Masks in Storytelling

The story is written all over your face

Making faces while telling stories is an absolutely essential skill to master as a storytelling technique.

Let’s set the scene…

A great storytelling technique to master: facial gestures and masks

It’s holiday time and the family are camping in the forest, enjoying nature, the outdoors and the fresh air.

As night draws in, the kids wrap themselves in their coats and gather round, closer to the snapping and crackling camp fire; marshmallows speared on the ends of freshly cut sticks from the afternoon’s walk.

Your children gather close, feeling the camaraderie of each other’s presence as they huddle together in anticipation for that timeless camping classic: the ghost story.

As the breeze makes the trees around them shush gently, a hush falls over them and your eyes twinkle as you gaze intently at each of them in turn, setting the mood for the tale.

Your face is a picture of danger, drama and suspense.

You draw a breath, and begin…

 In this chapter on facial expression in storytelling

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions, gestures and masks are important for our children regardless of them being included in story time.
  • Watching and learning – The importance of facial expression as a way of teaching emotional intelligence.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – How ours and our children’s faces show precisely the emotion behind it and how you can master this to bring a story to life.
  • Toning it down – A cautionary reminder that while we’re aiming to bring our stories to life, sometimes not being real is the just as important. Also a side note on storytelling with children with autism
  • Eye Contact – As a storytelling technique to engage and draw in your audience, eye contact is essential and surprisingly easy to master.


Paul Ekman's books are seminary in learning about facial expressions

Paul Ekman’s books and “Facial Action Coding System” (FACS) are well worth finding out more about if you’re interested in bodylanguage and learning to read people (children and adults) more easily.

It is a widely held that the most important and common, and strongest, nonverbal communication is through your facial expressions.

In the art of storytelling, facial expressions are a most crucial companion to how you use your voice.

Lucky they are an innate characteristic of human expression as we speak. So, in this chapter we will explore:

  • Children’s perceptions of facial expressions and why it is so important to use them.
  • Emotional Intelligence – teaching your child to identify emotions from facial expression.
  • Social referencing and how to use it – how your child learns from your facial expressions.
  • Using your face to tell the story and maintain the flow of your story
  • How becoming a caricature of yourself will improve your story and your child’s sense of security.
  • Eye contact – the effects of neglecting this important means of facial expression.

Information at face value

The importance of facial gestures, expressions and masks as storytelling techniques

You’ve just found out you are going to become a parent…

You – you – are going to become a parent!

A waterfall of emotions flood you; excitement, fear and everything in between.

Your partner’s eyes are fixed firmly on you, scouring your face for your reaction, gleaning everything they can from your eyes, your mouth – your expression.

There are tears glistening in your eyes.

Your partner is wondering – are they happy tears or sad tears?

You smile.

Facing the truth

Our emotions are naturally drawn out on our faces and thus are the most important form of non-verbal communication.

Often, words cannot even do justice to the complexity and strength of the feelings you can express with your face.

Facial expressions are such a giveaway to a person’s emotions that sometimes we even try to hide our true feelings by restraining our facial expressions

Without facial expressions, a story becomes a flat, limp narration instead of a magical and engaging tale.

You will look just plain bored and disinterested.

Apart from perhaps feeling a perceived unwillingness to spend time with them, your child will be concentrating on you telling the story, instead of being ‘in’ the story in their imagination.

They will be aware that a story is being told to them – seemingly begrudgingly – instead of being transported off in their imagination, out of their bedroom and into the magical land you are describing.

If your face shows no wonderment, you can’t expect to convince your child that it is wonderful.

Read about the specifics of facial expression and gesture in storytelling

The following are all sections in this chapter. Keep a close eye on your email inbox and read each one in turn and practice the storytelling homework. You’ll never realise just how much goes into a the telling of a story. We have linked in the first section on why facial expression is important in stories and children’s growth for your interest.

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions are important for our children’s growth.
  • Holding it up – Understanding mirroring and social referencing and their role in storytelling.
  • Watching and learning – Teach emotional intelligence through facial expression in your stories.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – Use your face to paint a picture richer than words in your children’s stories.
  • Toning it down – Finding the balance between story and reality and storytelling with autistic kids.
  • Eye Contact – Master this storytelling technique and you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.