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So You Want to Become an Effective Storyteller
by Chris King

Everyone is a storyteller, but at different levels. There is everyday storytelling when we get home from work and tell about our day. There is casual storytelling at gatherings — for example: reunions, parties, picnics, and other get-togethers of friends and families. Then, there is storytelling that involves presenting to a group. This may be storytelling included in a speech, or a presentation of one or more stories by a storyteller — amateur or professional. No matter what level of storytelling to which you aspire, you can use the following tips:

Find a story you love. There are many ways to find the right story and stories for you. Look for stories in your own family anecdotes. Another natural place is in your own cultural and ethnic background. Go to the 398.2 section of the library. Read, read, and read some more, looking for stories that surprise, haunt, amuse, or touch you. Never tell a story you don’t like or a story that you choose because it is trendy and marketable or someone else likes it. The right story is the one that fits you emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

Start telling. The only way you can become effective as a storyteller is to dive right in and practice, practice, practice. Try out many stories on friends and family — anyone who will listen. By telling and retelling, you will find out what works and what stories are right for you. I also suggest joining the National Storytelling Network. You will find storytellers and storytelling groups in your state and region. These will offer opportunities for sharing stories and getting feedback. If there isn’t a storytelling group or guild in your area, you could start your own, or join a Toastmasters International club. These usually meet weekly, and by making your assigned presentations into stories you will gain valuable evaluations on those stories.

Internalize the story. What are the bare bones of the story? Rather than memorizing a story that you find you are drawn to, write down a concise outline of the story’s plot or make a storyboard of the series of events. Then put yourself into the time, place, and characters of the story. Tell the story in your own words as if it happened to you or someone close to you. Answer the questions, “Why am I telling this particular story? What is it about this story that speaks to me?”

Make the story and stories your own. What parts of the story intrigue you? What strengths and talents do you have that you can use to enhance your telling? What is unique about you that you can bring to the telling of stories? There are storytellers who enhance their telling with music, percussion, mime, facial expressions, poetry, and song. There are other storytellers who sit and tell in the traditional style of letting the story come through them only using voice and words. We will talk more about using props in future articles, but remember, never use a prop unless it enhances rather than detracts from the telling.

Volunteer at local schools, libraries, nursing homes, and organizations. Most of these will welcome a storyteller, and telling to these groups will give your repertoire a testing. You will find out what works and what doesn’t. You will also discover the differences in telling for different ages. This is an excellent way to decide who the ideal audience is for you and your stories.

And keep on telling. You are on the way to becoming an effective storyteller!


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