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The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals

The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals

Professor Hannah B. Harvey Ph.D.
Professional Storyteller
Course No.  9313
Course No.  9313
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

The gift of storytelling may be one of life's most powerful—and envied—skills. A story well told can make us laugh, weep, swell with pride, or rise with indignation. A story poorly told can be not just boring or uncomfortable, but positively painful to experience. Humans seem to be fundamentally hard-wired for stories—they’re how we record both the monumental events of life and the small, everyday moments.

The oral storytelling tradition is as old as language itself. Throughout history, stories have primarily existed in the verbal realm, preserving and passing knowledge across generations before being canonized in print. This was true of the ancient epics, and it’s true today. Your family history, your company’s history, the stories you tell that define and shape your identity—these are all stored in your mind and shared through your actions and words.

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The gift of storytelling may be one of life's most powerful—and envied—skills. A story well told can make us laugh, weep, swell with pride, or rise with indignation. A story poorly told can be not just boring or uncomfortable, but positively painful to experience. Humans seem to be fundamentally hard-wired for stories—they’re how we record both the monumental events of life and the small, everyday moments.

The oral storytelling tradition is as old as language itself. Throughout history, stories have primarily existed in the verbal realm, preserving and passing knowledge across generations before being canonized in print. This was true of the ancient epics, and it’s true today. Your family history, your company’s history, the stories you tell that define and shape your identity—these are all stored in your mind and shared through your actions and words.

And being a gifted storyteller has its advantages: A well-crafted narrative can keep the people, values, and life lessons you hold dear alive and give you the power to influence your children, your employees, and others.

There are many reasons we relate and respond to stories. We’re often drawn to

  • what or whom the story represents;
  • how the story reflects a core part of who we are (or who we want to be); and
  • what the story could be—because we don’t like the reality of what the story is.

So how do you tell stories that stick—in your own mind and in the minds of your family, friends, colleagues, and clients?

That’s precisely what you’ll learn in The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals, an enthralling course that reveals the tried-and-true methods experienced storytellers use to develop and tell engaging, entertaining, and memorable tales. In 24 lectures, Professor Hannah B. Harvey demonstrates how to master the art form’s basic principles with the same witty, dynamic energy that has made her an internationally recognized professional storyteller and award-winning educator.

Even if you never plan to set foot on a stage, knowing what a professional storyteller does in the process of crafting and delivering a tale allows you to enhance the stories you tell everyday—to your children at bedtime, in your conversational anecdotes, and in your presentations at work. Teachers, lawyers, clergy, coaches, parents, and anyone who wants to understand the power of stories to capture hearts and minds will benefit from the lessons presented in this course.

Find Your Own Story

Professor Harvey calls the act of creating a story performance an “alchemical process” that involves an interconnected cycle of talking, writing, imaging, playing, and rehearsing.

You’ll begin your exploration of this layered chain of events by breaking down storytelling’s secret underpinnings and examining the dynamic relationship between you, the story, and the audience, known as “the storytelling triangle.”

This course introduces you to practical methods for building dynamic tension and capturing—then maintaining—your audience’s attention. You’ll acquire tips and techniques for finding, selecting, and preparing stories, whether they’re based on your own experiences, time-honored folk tales, or beloved family yarns.

You may be surprised to discover how many small, virtually imperceptible decisions go into the telling of a good story, right down to the way you emphasize certain words. For example, a far richer picture is painted when you say “the door creeeeeeeeaked open,” instead of stating “the door creaked open.” That’s because the former enhances “sensorium,” allowing the audience to fully visualize what you’re describing.

You’ll also learn to

  • choose expressive language;
  • craft compelling characters;
  • refine your narrator’s point of view;
  • shape your story’s plot, structure, and emotional arc;
  • develop imagery, vocal cues, and intonation; and
  • use body language to connect with your audience.

And there’s so much more. Professor Harvey instructs you on ways to make the past feel present, to take “on and off ramps” to gracefully enter and exit stories, and to employ devices such as repetition and audience participation to lure back listeners you’ve started to lose.

Beyond Happily Ever After

Part how-to workshop, part intellectual study of the history of narrative, The Art of Storytelling investigates the hidden meanings of various genres from the hero’s journey to the fairy tale. You’ll examine classic story structures, archetypal characters, and why certain stories, such as Cinderella, have endured across time and cultures.

In studying the psychology of fairy tales you’ll discover that, although they were never intended for children, their characters and situations serve as a mirror in which children see themselves reflected. As you dissect the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood to examine the themes of temptation, heroism, good, and evil, you’ll realize how real the fantasy world can seem for children and the many ways fairy tales fulfill children’s needs.

Fairy tales offer children reassurance that

  • their feelings are valid;
  • although they struggle with contradictory desires, it will all turn out OK in the end; and
  • if they “enter the woods,” they can overcome the temptations that the woods represents.

Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect

Many lectures feature exercises that literally get you moving to develop your stories and make them more enjoyable for you to tell and your audience to hear. Although journaling and scripting are part of the process, at no point will you be expected to memorize your stories word for word. The professor’s interactive activities and “side coaching” sessions are designed to make you comfortable enough with your story to tell it naturally and make impromptu changes as needed.

For the uninitiated, some exercises may seem outside your comfort zone, but you’ll soon find that Professor Harvey’s warm-ups, activities, and rehearsal ideas are an effective way to harness performance anxiety and get prepared to be playful and spontaneous.

While you may not do this preliminary work when telling stories at a party, doing the exercises ahead of time will help tremendously when you’re thinking on your feet.

In taking this course, you’ll learn that storytelling is less about the telling than it is about listening to what your particular audience needs, and reacting in the moment by adapting your language, body gestures, and voice to accommodate the changing dynamics and atmosphere.

You’ll even learn what to do if the unexpected occurs while telling a story to a roomful of kids or giving a presentation (such as sirens blaring outside). Lectures addressing the practical considerations of using props, PowerPoint, and microphones in various scenarios are as informative for performers as they are for business professionals.

An Unforgettable Experience

An absolute treat for the heart and mind, this course is complemented by clips of accomplished storytellers practicing their craft at festivals, as well as Professor Harvey’s own personal tales about growing up in Appalachia, which range from the heartfelt to the downright hilarious.

An exceptionally captivating lecturer, she brings her unique perspective as a scholar-artist to this endeavor, grabbing hold of your attention from the start and never letting go—which is exactly what you’ll learn to do with your own audience by the end of this course.

Whether you seek to sharpen your abilities in the boardroom, the classroom, or simply around the water cooler, The Art of Storytelling has the answer. The context may change, but the methods remain the same.

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    Telling a Good Story
    What qualifies as a story? Learn the significance of storytelling in various cultures; the ways this art is distinct from other forms of performance or literary thought; and how the craft of professional storytelling can help you improve your own storytelling abilities. Listen to tales from the professor’s life and get an introduction to the “storytelling triangle.” x
  • 2
    The Storytelling Triangle
    Telling a story is a three-way dynamic relationship between you, and the story, and the audience. In the first of three lectures that analyze this storytelling triangle, look at The Old Maid and other stories in depth to understand how the process of storytelling works. Then, consider why you’re drawn to certain stories. x
  • 3
    Connecting with Your Story
    What kinds of stories appeal to you most? Look at the variety of stories that are available for you to tell and some practical resources for finding them. Assess the intellectual, social, and cultural connections we develop with stories and identify how you can add depth and context to the stories you tell. x
  • 4
    Connecting with Your Audience
    Focus on this second aspect of the storytelling triangle—your relationship with your audience—by looking at the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual contexts of this relationship and how stories work to bring audiences together. End with an exercise that helps you identify stories that connect with a variety of audiences. x
  • 5
    Telling Family Stories
    Examine the hidden meanings of the family-story genre, including why we tell family stories, how stories organically emerge from families, and what remembering these stories entails. With these hidden meanings in mind, consider how you can tell your own family stories in a way that captures your audience’s attention. x
  • 6
    The Powerful Telling of Fairy Tales
    With classic stories, fairy tales, and myths, there’s a lot more than “they all lived happily ever after” going on beneath the surface. Use Little Red Riding Hood and other fairy tales to understand the psychology of storytelling and what fairy tales do for children in particular. Then, see why the themes of these tales can be just as appealing to adults. x
  • 7
    Myth and the Hero’s Journey
    Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are modern examples of a “hero’s journey.” Use ancient myths from East Africa and ancient Sumeria to break down this structure and investigate why the archetypal figures and pattern of separation, initiation, and return found in the hero’s journey resonate so deeply. Pause to consider how you can apply these ideas to craft stories that reach your audience on a meaningful level. x
  • 8
    Tensive Conflict and Meaning
    Dissect the layered process professional storytellers use when preparing to tell a tale, which involves an interconnected cycle of talking, writing, imaging, playing, and rehearsing. Explore the concept of “tensiveness,” the dynamic quality that reveals a story’s opposing forces; then step back from one of your stories to see the potential relationships between the larger parts of the narrative. x
  • 9
    Giving Yourself Permission to Tell
    Engage in “stretching” exercises to learn to let go of things that may hold you back from telling your story, and give yourself permission to play with the story, make mistakes, and really immerse yourself in the narrative. Listen to the story Mama’s Wings to identify its tensive pulls and unifying themes and images. x
  • 10
    Visualization and Memory
    Learn to visualize a story’s people, places, and events through interactive exercises that get you “seeing” the story in front of you. Explore techniques that help you remember a story without memorization, and methods for immersing yourself in the scene while shifting into “epic mode” to focus on your audience. x
  • 11
    Discovering Point of View
    There is no such thing as a purely objective narrator. Consider how the narrator’s perspective and point of view guide the audience through the story, and how even the most familiar stories can be reinvented by narrating from another character’s perspective. See why age, gender, heritage, economics, and temperament shape your vantage point. x
  • 12
    The Artful Manipulation of Time and Focus
    Explore how you as a narrator can artfully guide the audience’s experience of the story by looking at techniques for controlling events, manipulating time, and making the past tense feel present. Consider when to take your narrator out of the characters’ conversations to increase the pacing and energy. x
  • 13
    Narrator—Bridging Characters and Audience
    Begin thinking about the narrator’s relationship with characters and how control may be ceded to certain characters at points throughout a story. Learn how using focal points can distinguish between personalities, and establish the physical and emotional relationship you have with those characters through storyteller Motoko Dworkin’s performance of a Japanese folktale. x
  • 14
    Developing Complex Characters
    How old are your characters? Are they “head-centered,” “stomach-centered,” or something else? Experiment with gestures and body postures that add depth and dimension to your characters. Then, gain insight into how you can develop characters into memorable people your audience really enjoys seeing in action. x
  • 15
    Plot and Story Structures
    Does your story need to be told in chronological order? Use your storytelling journal to organize the pieces of your story into a structure that conveys the underlying meaning. Learn to separate plot from emotional arc and gain tools that are useful when you’re developing the frame, structure, and resolution of your story. x
  • 16
    Emotional Arc and Empathy
    From ghost stories to family stories, empathy is crucial in giving your audience an emotional entry point and permission to feel. As you turn from plot sequencing to the development of your story’s emotional arc, learn how to build a compelling beginning and emotional climax through an exercise that explores the motivating desire of your primary character from first- and third-person perspectives. x
  • 17
    Varying the Narrator’s Perspective
    Learn to build dynamic tension through your characters and achieve satisfying resolutions. Stories and exercises teach you how to treat third-person statements as if they’re first-person accounts and how to let secondary characters narrate for themselves or serve as “little narrators.” Understand ways to personify the negative force your protagonist is struggling with so it becomes a “little character.” x
  • 18
    Vocal Intonation
    Focus on using vocal intonation to evoke the “sensorium” of a story for your audience with a lesson on how the voice operates, featuring warm-up techniques. Perform mouth and tongue stretches and articulation exercises, then learn how pace, pauses, and sound effects can create character distinctions, contribute to the emotional arc, and draw in your audience. x
  • 19
    Preparing to Perform
    Synthesize everything you’ve learned so far by integrating the elements of storytelling in writing and performance exercises that help you look at your story from various angles. Create a story outline, tell a “side-coached” version of your tale, do an exaggerated run-through, and write a script. Finally, consider the meanings your story holds. x
  • 20
    Putting Performance Anxiety to Good Use
    Whether you consciously deal with performance anxiety as a barrier to communicating with others, or you want to become a more energized and engaging storyteller, this lecture is designed to teach you the physiology behind performance anxiety; the correlation between anxiety that debilitates and energy that enlivens; and practical tools for channeling nervous energy. x
  • 21
    Adapting to Different Audiences
    Consider the physical parameters of informal and formal storytelling scenarios; how stories emerge in these different settings; and what specific audiences—from children to employees—typically need from a story. Learn how to handle yourself as a storyteller in relaxed situations, boardroom settings, and the classroom environment. x
  • 22
    Invitation to the Audience—Mindset
    How do you get and keep your audience’s attention? In this lecture, you’ll learn about on-ramps and off-ramps—how to lead into your story and make it relevant, and how to conclude gracefully. Acquire specific tools for putting your audience in the proper mindset to listen, whether you’re engaged in conversation, giving a presentation, or telling a story to children. x
  • 23
    Keeping Your Audience’s Attention
    Once you’ve hooked your audience, how do you keep them from straying? Learn general rules to live by as a storyteller and ways to keep your audience engaged, including the use of audience participation, props, and repetition. Learn to adjust to what the audience needs in the moment and to cope with interruptions. x
  • 24
    Remember Your Stories—The Power of Orality
    Wrap up the course with some final considerations for keeping your audience interested, from the technical aspects of microphones and PowerPoint, to the more nuanced ways that you can read audiences and understand their needs on the spot. Finally, return to the nature of orality itself as a cultural force that shapes us all. x

Lecture Titles

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Hannah B. Harvey
Ph.D. Hannah B. Harvey
Professional Storyteller
Dr. Hannah B. Harvey is an award-winning professor, an internationally recognized performer, and a nationally known professional storyteller. She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies/Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was also a teaching fellow. While teaching at Kennesaw State University, she received an Honors Program Distinguished Teacher award and an Alumni Association Commendation for Teaching Impact. As a performance ethnographer, Professor Harvey develops oral histories into theatrical and solo storytelling works that highlight the true stories of contemporary Appalachian people. Her ongoing fieldwork with disabled coal miners in southwest Virginia culminated in a live ethnographic performance of their oral histories, Out of the Dark: The Oral Histories of Appalachian Coal Miners, earning her a directing award from adjudicators at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in 2007 and three year-end awards from professional critics in 2005. Her written research has been honored by the American Folklore Society and been featured in Storytelling, Self, Society, of which she is managing editor. Professor Harvey has delivered award-winning performances and has conducted workshops at festivals and universities in the United States and around the world. She has performed as a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee; received accolades for her performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland; and led intercultural workshops at the University Hassan II, Ben M'Sik, in Casablanca, Morocco.
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Reviews

Rated 3.8 out of 5 by 59 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great StoryTelling Now that I have retired from a career as General Surgeon, I can enjoy listening to fields of interest outside my profession of 40 + years. Professor Harvey's course proved informative and entertaining. I could easily get engrossed in the scenes she described. Although her accent when telling the Scottish tale, for instance, was not like a native Scotsman -- (I could understand it)! It helped me really get into the scene. She had done her research well and included references to Aristotle, Campbell and Bettelheim. As I listened to the lectures I took notes on the many useful suggestions. I retold Hemingway's six word story to my wife -- she had tears in her eyes. The use of examples of real story tellers sometimes brought audible laughter from me. Professor Hannah is bright, bold and beautiful. She brings heart into the art and shows how to bring your story alive. Last week, with a small group of friends, I used the on-ramp and some parlor techniques to relate one of my experiences triggered by the conversation. It brought a hearty laugh from my audience, thanks to some suggestions I learned from these lectures. Will I listen to this set of lectures again? You bet. When I had reached the end of the 24 sessions I had the feeling that finishing a good book gives -- a certain sadness. I am really happy I purchased The Art of Storytelling. September 24, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Truly awful This is by far the worst Great Courses course I have ever bought. Prof. Harvey's family stories are trite and uninteresting. She has an awful habit of grunting, snorting and sniffing. She can't seem to differentiate between children's stories and adult stories. She advises not to use accents, and then randomly and bizarrely (she cannot say "fairy" without resorting to her awful accent), tries to use a Scottish accent, which she claims she is capable of. She isn't. In short, she is overbearing. I could not finish the course. September 6, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Unbearable Affectation I have been a committed fan of the Teaching Company courses for years; and will continue to be. This Company has been a mainstay of my commute for decades. This is the first course I simply could not finish. The academic content is simply not up to the Teaching Company standards; I kept waiting for the content to "beef up" but it never did. I am still mad that I endured several hours of this grating presenter, waiting for something substantive to show up. Regarding her teaching and presentation style: she attempted to teach storytelling techniques by first telling stories, then circling back to them as illustrations of how she had told the story successfully through using various methods common to storytelling professionals. The only problem was that her storytelling was dreadful: affected, stale, overworked and "overtold," shot through with fake 'spontaneity' and self-conscious technique she seemed to believe her enthralled audience would somehow "miss." The effect, for me at least, was irritation and a desire to get away, which I eventually did by moving on to another course ("The Art of Reading" -- truly superb). She also "overshared" about her family, her personal history, regional history, etc. and completely misjudged, repetitively, how much interest audiences made up of non-family members would have in her family's clearly often repeated insider lore. Other reviewers have mentioned her "storytelling accent" which to my ear came across as bad, amateurish overacting. Her natural speaking voice was in fact very pleasant, it is when she launched into "storytelling voice" or self-consciously exaggerated her accent to make a point that she set my teeth on edge. She also mentioned student and child audiences one too many time. I am neither an undergraduate student nor a child, and when I take the time to concentrate on academic content I want to be addressed as if I possess an mature adult, educated, discerning mind, not something plastic to be molded by tricks and what I assess to be rather silly or transparent "techniques." I do not recommend this course to anyone interested in mature literary arts, or in the craft behind effective verbal performances or presentations, including oral storytelling. August 18, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by An Excellent Course The Art of Storytelling is an excellent course. The content is amazing and applicable to not just oral storytelling, but to creative writing on the page as well. Professor Harvey is an engaging and entertaining lecturer and presenter, one of the best that can be found. I was impressed that someone with such creative presentation skills and skilled acting could also be so well-researched and substantive in their knowledge. I highly recommend that you purchase the video rather than the audio because one has to see how the stories are being performed to fully appreciate and learn from Professor Harvey's talents. Also, in several lectures she physically shows the audience how to do certain things. I highly recommend this course. August 7, 2014
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