Projected Dialogue – A Little-Known Humor and Storytelling Secret

Conducting a small 3-hour Storytelling workshop in Hong Kong a few years ago.

Conducting a small 3-hour Storytelling workshop in Hong Kong a few years ago.

What in the World is Projected Dialogue?

Pretend you are walking down the hallway, you bump into me, and my drink spills all over the ground. You look up and see me staring at you with a huge snarl on my face. What do you think I’m thinking at that point?

Let me guess your answer. You might say, “You’re looking at me like you want to destroy me.” Right! Now, let’s project the dialogue of what I might say to myself and how I might say it. So you’d say, “You’re looking at me as if to say, “I’m gonna destroy you!” That’s it! You project whatever dialogue my face is showing and then you verbalize it.


If they Show It, You Say It

Keep in mind, the other character does not actually say it, but it looks like he’s thinking it. He doesn’t say it, but he shows it with his expression. Your job is to verbalize the dialogue he is having with himself. Here’s an example from my story about a lady who said my audience was going to be shocked once they find out I am black. Let’s see how I projected dialogue onto her based on how she looked at me during the first break in my seminar after she witnessed me connect with that audience.



Now, do you think she really said out loud, “And you’re still black?” Of course not. But she looked at me as if that’s what she was thinking and so I verbalized it. I condensed her expression into 4 words, “…and you’re still black!”


This Method Frees You

I love this method because it allows you to get away with having a character say something he or she didn’t really say…at least not out loud. You have room to play. My motto is, “If they show it, I say it.” She definitely showed it on her face and so I said it on the stage.

I also like this method because it allows you to set-up the humor by using drama. For example, I tell a story about my “speaking hero” who ignored me before I was going to introduce him to an audience. Listen how I projected dialogue onto him based on how we was looking at me.




Did you catch it? I told the audience, “He just looked at me as if to say, ‘You don’t belong on the same stage.’”

He didn’t actually say it to me but he looked at me as if to say it. The interesting thing about this is the audience still feels like he said it! They should feel that way, because he said it with his eyes and his expression. Sometimes that hurts more.


You Must Master the Stems

Projecting dialogue becomes very easy when you understand how to use the stems. What’s a stem? It’s the beginning of the phrase for how you can set up this projected dialogue. Some examples of stems you can use when projecting dialogue are…

  • He looked at me as if to say, “…”
  • She’s looking at me like, “…”
  • She glanced back at me like she wanted to say, “…”

Those are some effective  stems (but not an exhaustive list) you can use to set up the projected dialogue. When you internalize these various stems, you automatically start using more and more projected dialogue. It’s a great tool, a freeing tool, and an effective tool.

You’re listening to me like, “Okay Craig, I get it!”


Your Turn

You might have already been using Projected Dialogue without knowing what it is. Have you? If so, how? What was the line of dialogue that you projected onto the other character?


Craig Valentine

Leave a Reply 3 comments