Why storytellers should not practice in front of a mirror

By Limor Shiponi

Surfing Sean Buvala’s blog I came across two new posts about what he calls the mythology of business storytelling. He’s breaking down some of the frequent statements flying around these days to demonstrate in a way, what’s really wrong about them.

Yes, people are being told and being telling themselves quite a lot of misleading affirmations. I don’t know why they are doing so but you can see this behavior spreading like fire in many other fields too. Fools gold was always full of charm and so it is today.

On the second post Sean mentions ‘Myth 4. Storytelling has no rules. Story is whatever you want it to be’. Boy, do I hear and read that often together with ‘Myth 5. Everyone is a storyteller’; Not only in business storytelling garrulity but also within storytelling itself.

Lately, many people arrive to learn storytelling trying to persuade their instructors that the above is true, while the instructors knows very well all that blabber is just the attempt to cover up the fact they didn’t ‘feel like’ doing their homework. On every new course I teach, the first time I hear one of those phrases I stop the action and ask, “Did I ever tell you why storytellers should not practice in front of a mirror?”


Why storytellers should not practice in front of a mirror

You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do… you know. We’ll call it your morning routine. Then you grab a coffee, read some headlines, say hello to your sleepy kids etc. collect all your stuff and approach the door on your way out. Your last stop is the mirror. From watching many people look at the mirror before leaving I’ve noticed this ritual:

You stop and stand in front of it or sneak in slowly. You look at yourself scanning quickly. You are not all satisfied. You turn the back side a little forward to see what’s going on there, you turn up your nose a little, go closer, check your face and hair, go back again, not good enough, change your hair a little, stand in profile position, pull in your tummy, give up, look front forward again and after about a minute or so you look at you in the eye, smile slightly and walk out satisfied.

Nothing about the facts has changed but you’re ok with your own perception that has dramatically changed in a very short while. People would say, “What’s wrong about loving yourself? There is not enough of that today!” I’m not against loving yourself, no. But when you walk out of that door you are going to meet some other people. If you are way off reality, like what happened to the little bear in the story on Sean’s post, you are going to miss the mark without knowing it. Storytelling is reciprocal; do yourself a favor and practice with other people, not with a mirror. Otherwise you can easily fall in love with you and we all know what happened to Narcissus…

6 thoughts on “Why storytellers should not practice in front of a mirror”

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  2. Good insights and advice. Practicing in front of the mirror tends to make you stiff — at least it does me and takes the “magic” out of the story. Clare

  3. Yup, practicing in front of a mirror is generally a waste of time (can be instructive to see yourself on video, but not on a regular basis I think..) Being English I believe that it’s entirely possible to give oneself too much self-affirmation – the technical term for this is being ‘up oneself’ (that’s the polite version 🙂 – Barbara Ehrenreich is very good on this in her book ‘Smile or Die’ )

    I have a slightly different problem – one of the things that first attracted me to oral storytelling was it’s supposedly improvisatory nature. I say ‘supposedly’ because I gradually came to realise that a lot of storytellers (including many that I really admire) do an awful lot of work on paper, even down to creating a more or less ‘set’ text.

    I hate doing this although I have done it several times, as it’s really the only practical thing to do if you’re working with a group *and* you want to have precise technical cues as well.

    I’m also blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with an excellent oral memory – at least in the context of storytelling. Once I’ve come up with a form of words for something, I can find it very hard to break free of it…this can be quite un-conscious

    Thus practicing becomes something of a dilemma, as it’s required in order to really properly learn the story, grow into it (never really finishes, I don’t think) but I don’t want to ‘set’ it too early…

    Not saying I’m not a bit lazy too, sometimes 🙂

    1. Great point about the improvisatory nature of storytelling. I’m going to take the thought into a new post.

  4. Pingback: Storytelling and improvisation | Limor's Storytelling Agora

  5. Pingback: The improvisatory nature of storytelling : Limor's Storytelling Agora

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