At last, we get to what people think of first when it comes to storytelling: using your voice to tell the story. Before we do though, you might want to take a few minutes and watch Maegan and Tyler tell a Bible story paying attention to how they use their voices.
Maegan and Tyler both do a fantastic job with using their voices to tell Bible stories, and with a few tips and a little practice, you will be able to as well. So let’s dive in.
First the basics. It won’t matter what you do with your voice if the kids can’t hear you, so be sure to speak up. The kids on the back row should be able to hear you fine.
Here’s what Maxine Bersch offers:
Your manner and voice should be natural and informal. Be yourself. Your posture should be erect but not rigid. Give your voice vitality and controlled energy. — Maxine Bersch, Storytelling in a Nutshell: A Primer for Storytellers in Christian Education (Genevox Music, 1998), 96.
Be sure to speak clearly and enunciate. A common struggle for many people when it comes to public speaking is speaking too quickly, so be careful not to rush through the story.
Use Your Voice as an Instrument
Think of your voice as an instrument. So when you are telling the story of the Fall from Genesis 3, bring out the sound a snake’s hiss as you speak the serpent’s parts. Know, or make and educated guess as to how each person was feeling in the story you are sharing. Were they afraid, convey that in your voice. Angry? Happy? Confused? Amazed? Use your voice to communicate those emotions.
At the same time, don’t forget that volume is an important part too. There are times in a symphony when a violin is soft and quiet and other times when it is loud and furious. Use volume likewise. As we said before, the general rule of thumb is to speak naturally so that you can be heard by all the kids. But there is a time for you to lower your volume.
Take Nicodemus approaching Jesus in John 3:1-2 for example:
1 There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”
Now, it is unlikely that Nicodemus was loud during that encounter. He wanted to be secretive, so he most likely talked more quietly. Do the same as you share what he said. As you narrate verse 1 and the first part verse 2, speak with your normal volume. But when you get to the second part of verse 2 where Nicodemus speaks, glance around the room for a second or two, lean in toward the kids, and then lower your voice.
Change Your Pace
Another way to add energy to your storytelling is to change the pace, or cadence, at which you speak. Again, normally you want to speak at a clear, moderate pace, but there are times when you will want to speed up, or slow down, for effect based on the flow of the story. Here is what Aaron Reynolds suggests:
Take a close look at your lesson and determine where the peaks and valleys belong, according to the story. Pick out the parts where the action drives forward… peaks. ID the places where the moment is soft and poignant… valleys. These ups and downs invigorate the storytelling. — Aaron Reynolds, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School (Zondervan, 2007), 114.
Use peaks and valleys in how you speak: The action-packed, emotionally charged Bible stories we teach aren’t flat. They have peaks and valleys. So let your telling of theses tales ride those ups and downs as well. You’ll bring incredible power to your teaching. — Aaron Reynolds, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, 113.
Think about the pacing in the Bible story of Peter and John racing to the empty tomb on Easter morning in John 20:1-10. It might look something like this:
1 On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
2 So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” 3 At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple out ran Peter and got to the tomb first.
5 Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in.
6 Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there.
Faster Pace (Story Peak)
7 The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. 8 The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed.
9 For they still did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went home again.
Use Pauses and Silence
The ultimate slowing of pace is a pause or stop—a highly effective tool if used correctly. Consider what Aaron Reynolds has to say on the power of silence:
The trick is to avoid overusing silence. Never use silence more than a couple times in any 25-minute teaching lesson. Used sparingly, silence gives weight and impact to meaningful or important points, poignant moments, or weighty content. — Aaron Reynolds, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, 100.
Our Bible stories are only around 5 minutes long, so that means you will want to use silence once, at the very most twice, during a Bible story. Be careful—silence will not work with every story, but for the stories where it will, it can be quite powerful. Consider the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11. We’ll pick up near the end in verses 38-44. You might consider something like this:
38 Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
39 “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Brief Pause – Normal Pace
41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. 42 I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.”
43 After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Silence – Gradually Speed up Pace
44 The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.”
Use Tone and Contrast for Emphasis
As you look over the story, look for what words and phrases you want to emphasize, then plan on using tone, pace, inflection, or some other way to make them pop. The power of contrast is another useful tool in your storytelling toolbox. Listen again to Aaron Reynolds:
A sudden and unexpected shift in the tone or pacing of your lesson has the power to not only create a dynamic moment but also to draw attention to a main point or an especially compelling bit of application. — Aaron Reynolds, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, 92.
So there you have it! Nothing really revolutionary, but hopefully this blog series has gotten you motivated and given you a foundation to build your storytelling skills upon. Have fun telling the story of Jesus to your kids!
TRY IT OUT: Using the story of David and Goliath, think through how you would use your voice to tell the story more effectively. Add this to what you have already worked on. Put it all together and record yourself telling the story and then watch it to see how much you’ve learned.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.