"The teller is the bridge between the story and the audience"

Roger Jenkins is a professional Singaporean storyteller who has performed and run training courses for teachers and students in schools in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Chennai, Saigon, Sandakan, Hong Kong and Jakarta. In 2013 he won the Best Storyteller Award at the prestigious 16th Kanoon International Storytelling Festival held in Iran.His books, Stories for Moral Education (Juniors and Teens) have both sold over 12000 copies each, to parents and teachers.Recently, Culture Monks, presented a storytelling workshop by Roger Jenkins for teachers and storytellers. He also did a Storytelling performance for children and a workshop for parents at the  Kinderdance Kolkata.

Tell us how you started storytelling?

I came to storytelling by accident, after I was asked to run a course for teachers on using it as a strategy in the classroom.  I felt I had to lead by example – and the moment I stood up and told stories to that first group of stories, and felt their response, I knew this was something I wanted to do a lot more of.

During a subsequent tea-time conversation with the American teller Margaret Read MacDonald, I realised she was travelling around the world and getting paid to tell stories and I thought, Hey! That sounds like the best job in the world! (It is!) 

What according to you is the role of a storyteller in today’s world?

Stories really connect us. They’re what make us unique as a species. While there are many ways to tell stories – on the page, on screens of various sizes – oral telling is highly personal and therefore more likely to make an emotional connection with the audience.  In sharing stories, the teller reminds us what it is to be human: from my mouth to your ears, from your ears to your heart. Looking into the eyes of the teller, you feel their passion; you know if this is spam or not! 

What are the most important things that a storyteller needs to captivate an audience?

A teller needs a good story that is appropriate for his audience – and to find a way of telling it that is also appropriate. You don’t tell the same story at bedtime (when you have lots of time) as you do at breakfast (when you are rushing to get your kid off to school!) So the teller is the bridge between the story and the audience, and your role is to make sure the story travels to the listener as best you can.  Younger children like a more visual style, so  visual aids (eg puppets, pictures, props) are often helpful, but older kids/audiences will respond to the power of your words. Best advice I ever got? "spoke from the top of your head and the bottom of your heart" - Max Tell, Canada.

Has the storytelling job changed, with the rise of podcasts and so much audio content?

I wasn’t telling before the onslaught of audio, but I think it’s become even more imperative that we get people away from screens or out of headphone-isolation and into real contact with other people. Storytelling fosters good listening too (listening to a device with a re-wind button means we don’t need to give it 100% attention because we can always hit replay.

How do you see stories helping children in terms of cultural sensitisation/ change drivers?

When we listen to a story, scientific research shows that our brain responds to a large extent as if we were actually there in the story with the characters. So stories are a great way to develop empathy in kids. “It’s very hard to hate someone once you know their story.” A story like‘Don’t Eat Your Little Sister!” encourages kids to focus on the similarities that bind us, not the differences which seem to divide us on the surface. 

Some of the most successful companies in the world use storytelling very intentionally as a leadership tool. In what ways can storytelling help leaders be more effective?

Stories makes abstracts – such as a leader’s vision – concrete.  When you are thinking of taking over a company, you don’t need a storyteller – get a good financial analyst. But once you’ve bought that company, you will have hundreds or thousands of workers worried about the future and probable changes of direction, wondering who you are and what qualifies you to lead them – and that’s when the leader needs a story, to earn their trust (your who-I-am story) and to reassure the staff of their place in a in a larger, more capable/diverse company able to maximise opportunities in the changing world of tomorrow. . .

How was your experience in Kolkata?

Really enjoyed it – it was my first visit. The kids were great, and parents/teachers/tellers eager to learn!

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