Sit or Stand When Telling a Story

Is it Better to Sit or to Stand when Telling a Story?

People in my storytelling courses frequently ask me if they can also tell their story sitting. What are the pros and cons? Let me tell you whether it is better to sit or to stand when telling a story.

It is better to stand when telling a story. It allows you to communicate with your whole body, as well as to make use of all the space around you. When you sit you limit your body language and your use of the space around you.

Of course there are situations in which it is better to sit. And whether you choose to sit or to stand, there are some important things to keep in mind.

To sit or to stand when telling a story

When telling a story you want to use everything you have to communicate with your listeners. That includes body language and movement across the space that you have available.

First, when you sit down, you limit the movement of your lower body. Think about it like choosing to not use part of your brain. It does not make senses, does it? The same applies to choosing not to use your lower body.

Second, when you sit down, you are not making use of all the space. That’s a pity. It can really help your listeners when you stand in different places when telling different parts of the story.

So if you can choose between sitting and standing, stand when storytelling.

Of course there are exceptions to this advice.

It is better to tell your story sitting when:

  • there is a clear expectation that you will be sitting
  • it is physically not comfortable for you to stand for a longer period
  • you want to underplay your power / status
  • you want to tell a story that calls for minimal movements

When you are telling a story sitting, you still can use gestures, body language and words.

4 practical examples of sitting / standing when storytelling

Example 1: Telling stories to 4-year-olds

I regularly tell fairy tales to little children in schools. When I am there for the first time, you can see some of them thinking: “Who is this strange giant?” 🙂

With these little children I almost always start sitting. When after a couple of minutes we are no longer ‘strangers to each other’ I usually continue standing.

💡 In this example I sit to underplay my power / status and to connect more easily.

Example 2: Telling a story on equal flooring with audience

There are many situations when you don’t have a choice between sitting and standing.
I prefer to not tell from a stage, but to be at the same level as my listeners. That automatically means that I cannot sit, because then the listeners in the back can no longer see me.

💡 In this example I stand because everybody needs to be able to see me.

Example 3: Telling a story at a dinner table

Years ago a company asked me to come and tell a Halloween story at their company dinner. They brought me in between two courses. I had enough space and told standing.

However, when I reflected back on this experience, I would not make that same choice.
I would want to sit at the table at a place where people would not need to turn around to see me.

💡 In this example I would sit for better visibility and because the quiet brooding story calls for a more close, minimal telling.

Example 4: Telling a story around a small campfire

A school had two days of study with all teachers at a place in nature. They asked me to tell stories around the campfire.

💡 I told sitting, because I wanted to be really close to them around the fire, and because telling the story slow, soft and with minimal movements made it more scary.

3 tips for when you will be sitting

  1. Know where you will sit beforehand and decide if that’s a good place. Can you make eye contact with all people from this position?
  2. Use all body language when you are sitting. Think about posture (open or closed), gestures and position on your chair (leaning forward or backward etc.).
  3. Realize that your invisible parts are also playing a role. When you are sitting at a table, the way you put your feet under the table will influence your telling. Keep them on solid ground, and your telling will be more solid.

I want to sit because I am scared!

I understand. 🙂

It can be very scary to stand before your listeners and tell them a story.

A chair might give you a place where you are secure. It might stop you from nervously pacing around during your telling. It may ground you.

When all is said and done, you are the one deciding what works best for you, your story and your audience. And if that’s sitting, nobody can say anything about that.

You will want to experiment later with standing though. 🙂

If you enjoyed this article, I think you will enjoy this one too: 34 Oral Storytelling Tips for Beginners.

Photo credits: Natasha Hall on Unsplash

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