How to Tell a Story on Zoom

How to Tell a Story Online on Zoom (10 Tips)

Maybe you have been asked to relate a personal story in a Zoom meeting. Perhaps you are a storyteller and want to become better at telling stories online. Here are some tips for you that worked for me.

Telling a story online on Zoom is different than telling a story live in the same place. The keys to success are being well prepared, coming with a helper, and coming with the intention to connect.

These tips about storytelling on Zoom equally apply to other videoconferencing software like Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.

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Tip 1: Connect with your eyes through the camera

When you tell a story offline, you can make eye contact with each person. Every time you do, you both look into each other’s eyes.

Eye contact online works very differently. When you want to connect with your eyes, you need to look into the camera. You will need to imagine the listener behind the camera and connect with them.

You will not experience any eyes looking back at you when you connect through the camera. That’s something to get used to.

However, you will be able to connect individually to many people simultaneously. Think about it: instead of going from person to person, you are building a connection with all your listeners simultaneously.

Of course, you also want to get the feedback you usually get when making eye contact. To get some feedback, you will need to look at your screen, where hopefully, you can see a lot of your listeners (gallery mode). It’s also something to get used to.

When you tell your story online, eye contact is still essential. You connect to your listeners by looking at them through the camera lens and imagining them there. You alternate this with looking at your screen to get their feedback.

eye contact storytelling

Your Eyes Speak: Eye Contact in Storytelling

Eye contact is crucial for storytelling to a group of people. In my storytelling courses, I see most people underestimating this vital storytelling skill. So, how do you connect with your eyes? Practical tips and mistakes to avoid.

Tip 2: Adjust your speed to the Internet connections

When I am watching a soccer match of the Dutch soccer team, I can hear my neighbors screaming five seconds before I see the goal on my screen. This is because we have different internet connections.

When you tell a story online on Zoom, people might start laughing and reacting at different moments because of this same problem.

That means very snappy effects and comedic timing will have to go. You will have to give all your listeners time to catch up. When you ask them a question, make sure that everybody has gotten the question and has had the time to come up with an answer before you continue.

Tip 3: Dial up your energy by 20%

I remember telling a story on Zoom which always worked when told live. The feedback I got was that it became too dull. What?

Then I realized I did not account for what a screen does to the energy in your telling. I knew that I would appear less energetic on a screen than on a stage. And I should have upped the energy in my telling, but I forgot.

So up the energy in your telling. There is no need to become some different version of yourself. Just think about turning your energy 20% up.

Plan some interaction to involve your listeners more

Tip 4: Use forms of interaction that work well on Zoom

Asking people a question in the middle of your story will slow things down immensely. Why?

  • people will start talk at the same time
  • people will start to answer, only to find out that their sound is still muted
  • people will answer but there will be sound problems

What kind of interaction does work?

  1. Non-verbal interaction works best. People can do hand signs, like clapping, or show emotions on their face. They can cheer, they can make a fist, they can do a dab.
  2. Verbal interaction that does not require listening to others, like a call-and-response.
    Example: “Everybody who is longing for summer, say YEAH…” (YEAH!)

Tip 5: Stay close to the camera

First of all, your listeners need to see your face. Second, they need to see your gestures, your hand movements. Third, they need to see part of your upper body (at least the shoulders).

You might be tempted to make some stage where people can see you telling a story from a distance, like in a live event. However, instead of an intimate online event, you are now creating the 4th wall, turning yourself into a television performance to watch.

In this video (and in many other videos on her channel), Storyteller Katrice Horsley gives excellent advice about using your space and your face while telling stories online.

Storyteller Katrice Horsley gives excellent tips on using your space and face on Zoom

Tip 6: Make sure there is enough light on your face

The best light is natural light, but natural light is hard to control. You can’t adjust the sunshine outside. And in the evening you will sit in the dark.

So, you will need some extra light. Even light, not the spots that blind you, but soft light, preferably coming from the front. You can create this with multiple spots.

I am not a lighting expert, but I found this video quite helpful when I was diving deeper into this topic:

The better we see you, the more we can enjoy your story.

Tip 7: Invest in good quality audio

It is very unpleasant to listen to bad audio. People can accept mediocre video quality but will tune out when the audio quality is bad.

When you have a lot of Zoom meetings, consider investing in a better microphone. For example, I own and happily use the Blue Yeti (link to Amazon) for online meetings and recording audio.

Make sure to test your audio settings in Zoom before the meeting. This is best done with somebody else who will give you feedback on how the audio sounds at their end.

Tip 8: Setup a test meeting to get familiar with Zoom

You might have been in many Zoom meetings before. However, how much experience do you have as the organizer of such a meeting? As an organizer, you have more options in the software. And you will need to be able to find them fast when needed.

My advice is to do a trial run. Create a meeting and ask a friend, colleague, or partner to join this meeting. Make sure you know how to let people in, mute people, share your screen if you want to, etc.

If you are not the organizer of the meeting, make sure that whoever organizes it knows what they are doing.

When you are comfortable using the software, people will feel this and relax more.

Zoom Screen Assistant
When you need an assistant, you will be happy you have one.

Tip 9: Appoint an assistant beforehand to help you

Another tip for when you are the organizer of the Zoom meeting.

Imagine: You are in the middle of your story. Everybody is focused. Suddenly somebody clumsy unmutes himself, and you hear the metallic sound of the radio playing ‘I see a red door, and I want it painted black.’

Now you need to do something about that. You need to look at your screen, find out who is unmuted, and change this setting. This will easily take you and everybody else out of the story.

How nice would it be if somebody took care of these kinds of things?

So, ask somebody handy with computers to assist you. They don’t need to be seen on camera. They just need to watch and solve problems like this. They can also monitor your connection and the sound quality. They can react to people in the chat who are having issues.

Tip 10: Enjoy the online event as it is

There is a tendency to compare online events all the time to their offline versions. But why?

We don’t read a book and say it’s a lesser version of an oral storyteller. Likewise, we don’t watch a movie and say it’s a lesser version of a book.

Enjoy the online event for what it is: an online event. Telling a story online on Zoom is something different than telling a story offline to people who are gathered in the same place. It is not the same kind of thing, like a book and a movie are not the same kind of thing.

Telling stories online has unique pros and cons. It is not for everybody. However, it might be something for you. I hope these tips will help you to avoid some of the cons and delight others with your stories.

Photo Credits: Sigmund on Unsplash