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Evaluating Storytellers with Five Simple Questions
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If you’re not regularly evaluating your large group volunteers, you’re missing out on a simple and healthy way to celebrate what’s working and tweak what needs improvement.

We’ve all been in the room when an element of the large group environment just wasn’t clicking. Whether it was the storyteller, the songs, or the games, something was off and the kids could sense it.

It’s easier when the program needs a tweak, but more often it’s a personality on stage that is failing to connect with the audience. It could be due to nerves or lack of experience—both of which are coachable. But a warm body in a volunteer position that is a bad fit for their skillset…well, there’s a parable for that.

If you’ve never taken the time to evaluate your hosts and storytellers, spring is a great time of year to start. Spring is when you figuring out who you want to continue in their roles in the fall.

5 Questions to Ask When You’re Evaluating Storytellers:

1. Did the kids stay engaged throughout the entire Bible story?

Just because someone can tell a great Bible story doesn’t mean they are the right fit for the environment. I have worked with great storytellers that were matched to the wrong age group. I have worked with excellent storytellers who were better small group leaders than on-stage personalities. While rapport isn’t the end-all for a storyteller, it does help when the kids can relate to the storyteller on stage. If kids like the person telling them the story, they are more likely to listen.

2. How prepared is the storyteller?

Good storytellers know the script. Great storytellers are in tune with the room and make adjustments based on the audience. A storyteller can’t make those adjustments if they aren’t prepared. They need to know the flow of the Bible story, how they’re going to tell the story, and what to expect from the kids. I wrote more on memorization strategies here.

3. Are they good at telling the Bible story?

They may know the script, but are they drawing on a variety of their storytelling skills to tell a great story?

Voice: Do they speak monotone, or do they use vocal dynamics to help keep kids engaged as well as cue them to the most important aspects of the Bible story.

Movement: Do they wander back and forth on stage, or do they use the stage to their advantage in order to help kids understand the flow of the Bible story.

Props and Costumes: Are they prepared to execute the story in the way you plan to tell the Bible story? Do the use whatever is required of them with ease or does it feel like they’re fumbling their way through the story?

4. How clearly does the storyteller communicate the main point of the story?

It’s one thing to know the Bible story. It’s another to drive the story to land on the main idea for the day. Small Group Leaders rely on Bible storytellers to present the Bible story in such a way that the kids understand the details of the story as well as introduce why that story is important for their lives. When kids are unsure of either one going into small group, Small Group Leaders must use valuable time clarifying or reviewing the Bible story rather than helping kids unpack that story and figure out how it applies to their life.

5. Does the storyteller stay within the timeframe set aside for the Bible story?

Going over or falling short are both bad for the environment. Rushing through the Bible story may mean the small group runs out of activities. If the story takes too long, the small group leaders may not get to have quality time with their group. Bible storytellers must be aware of the time they have allotted and consistently be able to make the story fit in that timeframe. If they are prepared and staying on-script, this shouldn’t be a problem.


How to evaluate:

Note: You may not be the best person to evaluate storytellers. While you may be the children’s pastor, your strengths may fall outside of large group, either as an administrator or Small Group director. If so, partner with someone who your team respects to evaluate and deliver constructive advice for improvement. This could be another staff member or your “best storyteller.”

Before you start evaluating your storytellers, be sure you clearly communicate the criteria you are using. You want the storyteller to feel like they’ve been given every chance to succeed.

Evaluating works best when you can be in the room and experience firsthand how the kids are responding to the storyteller.

Film the person as they tell the Bible story. Self-evaluation allows the storyteller to see themselves objectively and allows them to better understand your comments. Post the video to a Vimeo or YouTube site and password protect it so the evaluation is private.

Give them initial observations and feedback. Do not give negative feedback over email. If you have constructive criticism, consider a phone call or face-to-face meeting. Performance artists can be fragile. Don’t lecture or layer on too much criticism all at once. Keep their best interest in mind and offer them tools, training, whatever they need to improve and become a leader/expert at being a storyteller.

It helps to sandwich the constructive criticism between positive affirmations of their gifts. Thank them for their willingness to serve as a storyteller, highlight something positive you noticed during your evaluation. Then gracefully transition to a few ways they can improve. Finish the evaluation by affirming something else they’re doing well. Offer them ways to improve. Give them access to video training on the direct area where they need some help. Thank them again and leave the door open for follow up conversations.

Your ultimate goal is to develop every storyteller to become a leader. Encourage a growth mindset—this will only happen when you are regularly evaluating your storytellers with clear assessments and feedback loops. Keep these growth conversation happening throughout the year.

To help you get started, I’ve created two forms to use when evaluating storytellers. One is for you, and the other is a self-evaluation form for your storytellers. Use the forms to create a conversation to help them grow. Fill out the form below.

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