Actor/Storyteller Tim Hartman will be joining us live on today’s BlazeCast with Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker (@bakerlink) beginning at 1:00 pm ET:
Tim Hartman is a man of many talents. The Pittsburgh, Pa.-based performer is a cartoonist, an actor and a seasoned narrator. And for over 40 years he’s been entertaining and inspiring the masses through the arts, appearing in local venues, on Broadway and in feature films.
Among his unique talents is the ability to masterfully convey a story — to draw audiences into the fray by capturing the essence of characters and the situations they face.
We asked Hartman to share his personal path into the entertainment world as well as some of his secrets for storytelling success.
His career began, he says, when he had an epiphany at age 11 or 12-years-old.
“[I was] telling a story about something that happened to me. Everybody was looking at me and I’m communicating something that’s making them all laugh,” he recalled. “And they’re laughing until they cry.”
It was this one moment — this telling of a simple story — that led Hartman to realize the gift he’s been given.
While many people may never act professionally or appear on-stage to convey a dramatic story, the skills Hartman has honed are helpful to anyone tasked with communicating a message.
From delivering a public speech to effectively addressing peers in the workplace, his advice is both beneficial and applicable. Hartman’s best tips, tricks and secrets to successful storytelling are below:
1. Don’t Be Spastic
Hartman said that one of the biggest mistakes that people make when appearing in front of a boisterous audience is getting louder in an effort to match the crowd. This is particularly true when addressing young children. Rather than elevating one’s volume and level of excitement, he recommends turning it down and relaxing the delivery.
“Instead of calming themselves down and their stories down … you can tell, it gets faster and faster,” he said of some performers who face this predicament. “What it does is that feeds the audience [and] not in a good way. It makes them more antic.”
The actor and storyteller said that it’s entirely possible to tell tales very quietly and to effectively draw people in by doing so.
Here’s a clip of Hartman in “The Mothman Prophecies”:
2. Keep It Simple
Hartman’s preferred model of presenting a story is a simple one. He doesn’t rely too heavily on props and he told TheBlaze that it’s generally only him on stage. There aren’t any gimmicks — just heart and soul poured into a story in an effort to bring it life.
“It’s just me and a chair. You can draw people in and create an entire world,” he said. “The audience becomes your set, becomes everything around you.”
3. Have Enthusiasm
So, how can one be effective without any props or related stage items? One of Hartman’s big secrets to storytelling success is enthusiasm. He claims that, despite what some might think, everyone in the world is a good storyteller.
In fact, we all convey tales about absurd or comical happenings to our friends and family all of the time. It’s a matter of taking this sentiment and translating it into more professional forms of storytelling and speaking.
The key to any form of narration in front of an audience is to have a vested interest and enthusiasm for what you’re talking about.
“If you really enjoy the story the audience will automatically like what you’re saying,” said Hartman.
4. Perception (Be Relatable)
Another key to success is relating to the audience. Whether it’s public speaking or storytelling (these two can sometimes be synonymous), creating a relationship with those you’re addressing is important. While mastering this might sound complicated, it’s actually quite simple.
“As a storyteller its your job to let people know that you’ve been in a situation just like them,” Hartman said.
The performer gave the example of David and Goliath — a small man standing next to a nine-foot giant. While the audience hasn’t likely been in this exact predicament (after all, we don’t have giants roaming about today), everyone can relate to being a child and standing next to taller adults (or of even facing difficult odds, like David, that they must overcome).
“If you can describe what that’s like, they imagine themselves in that situation,” Hartman said of the audience.
5. Know Your Story
One of the most common pitfalls for anyone looking to deliver a speech or tell a story is a failure to properly prepare. Not only should you know the details of your tale, but Hartman says that one of the secrets to success is practice.
“What I will do is read a story and generally know the basic outline and just sit in a room and tell it in my voice,” he said. “Find the thing … that catches [the audience's] attention … find a place in the story that will make their heads tilt a little bit.”
Practice helps to draw out important elements, while also ensuring the entertainer or speaker fine-tunes delivery.
Here’s one of his performances:
6. Use Details
One of the biggest keys to telling a good story, Hartman argues, is showing and not just telling. By this, he means bringing the readers into the story rather than simply glossing over some of the finer details.
The performer argues that it’s important to show how the characters feel and even to describe how they look. Additional details like the smell or taste of something in the story are also warranted — and beneficial.
“I throw things at people,” he said, noting that it’s sometimes fun to lead with a lot of details.
For instance, he sometimes tells the story of how he almost died on stage during a production of “A Christmas Carol.” He was inside of a box and the director decided that it was important for smoke to come out from that same box — an event that he says led him to almost be “gassed to death” while inside.
Watch him describe this scenario, below:
He tells the story by starting with the fact that he was inside of a small space that was “five by five by five” and then slowly builds out to keep the audience’s interest. The details keep listeners in tune and waiting for what comes next.
7. Have No Inhibitions
Nerves are natural, but Hartman very obviously puts them to the side and owns the tales he tells. He told TheBlaze that it’s important to “have no inhibitions.” In his own storytelling, he isn’t afraid to be (or attempt to, anyway) the very characters he’s describing.
“I don’t care if I look stupid if it’s in service to the story,” he said. “Or if I look bad.”
If a character is loud, then being loud while describing or imitating that person helps add something special to the story. Rather than worrying about looking silly or stupid, Hartman said that performers should communicate without inhibitions.
His main message: “Don’t be afraid to reach out of your comfort zone.”
As a Christian, the actor also seeks to ensure that positive messages enter into his work.
Hartman is set to appear in in the “Cotton Patch Gospel,” a musical that tells the story of Jesus’ life as though it were playing out in modern-day Georgia. The first showing is tonight at Saltworks at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pa.