I realized today that I have now been doing story times for 5 years. Thankfully, in that 5 years my story time skills have much improved. I remember my first story time, I read 4 books and had hardly any songs. I'm opretty sure that it was awful for anyone in attendance. Luckily, I have learned quite a bit since then and I felt that I should share some of those things.
First, observe many different story times. I only saw 2 people do story times, and while that hepled I think I could really have benefitted by seeing more. When I did my first story time I held a degree in marketing, had coached middle school track and had limited work experience outside of the restaurant industry. Not much of that perpared me for planning and perfroming story times for preschoolers. Before my first story time I felt like I was being thrown off a dock and told to swim with no lessons. (I should mention that my co-workers were really helpful with anything that I needed, but having never done anything like a story time before I was terrified.) But, also know that everyone has a different style and it may take a few tries to find yours. Copying something you see but aren't comforatable doing (ie. using a puppet, or doing character voices) will not go well. You need to be yourself (they hired you for a reason).
Second, be over prepared. Make sure that you have read your books several times so you know the story. This will help you be able to look away from the book and at your audience from time to time. Also, if you are doing a flannel story do not memorize it word for word. That makes it difficult if you miss something. Just know the story very well so that you can retell it in your own words. Know the songs that you plan to sing and be comfortable with the motions for fingerplays. Have an extra song, fingerplay, or flannel story on hand so that if you need to fill some time you are ready. Or, if you notice that your audience is getting too fidgety, you can ditch the last book and do a few songs instead. And, songs like Head, shoulders, knees and toes are always great to pull out if you have to. I use an ipod for songs during story time and I usually add at least one extra just in case we have a wiggly day.
Third, pick books that you enjoy reading. If you are reading something that you aren't really into, the kids pick up on that. But, if you like the story you will read with more enthusiasm and the kids will be more interested.
Fourth, don't be afraid of those parents! I'll admit, I was. I was terrified of looking silly to the parents that came. But, you know what, they are there for their kids and they totally understand that acting silly entertains kids. I try to involve the parents as much as possible. If we have a book that repeats a phrase I will have the audience help me with it (since 2 year olds aren't the best at this the parents have to help them.) For many of the songs I will print out the words so they can sing along. I even hand out a sheet with all the songs and any words they can join in with.
Fifth, don't be afraid to abandon a book. Sometimes a book you think will really go over well just flops. It happens. If that happens, just say something like, 'it seems like this book is not one of your favorites. Why don't we move on, and those of you who are interested can check it out and find out what happens at home.' I have also done this with a video. (For my family story times we end with a Scholastic video of an animated book.)
Finally, learn to be flexible. When you are working with preschoolers ANYTHING can happen. I have had kids pee on the floor, fire alarms go off, babies crying, toddlers steal my flannel pieces, you just have to go with the flow. The most common thing is kids interuppting, but that is probably because they are paying attention to you. Whatever you read sparked something in them and thry just can't contain it. I have found that it is best to listen and then steer eveyone back to the story.
And very lastly, never be afraid to ask for help or ideas. There are lots of resources out there and plenty of Children's librarians eager to share what has worked well for them. Two of my favorite resources are PUBYAC - an e-mail list serv for children's librarians to share ideas and post questions (visit PUBYAC.org to sign-up) and Flannel Friday - a group of Children's librarians that post flannel stories on Fridays (visit the Pinterest page for a listing of all the post or the group's Facebook page here.