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How to Start and Maintain a Successful Storytelling Group/Guild
by Chris King

You are excited about storytelling. You want to start telling stories, but don’t know where to tell them. You are already telling stories, but want to tell more often. You have stories to tell, but want to practice telling them in a non-threatening environment. You are a storyteller and want to meet other storytellers. You want storytelling to grow and to become accepted in your area. All of these, and many more, are reasons to form a storytelling group. But, how do you start one and what are some of the guidelines to follow to ensure a successful outcome? Read on.

Make an initial plan. To start any group, you will need a plan of action and at least one or two other people who are willing to help with the startup. Find a place to meet (it could be in your home, your local library or a bookstore), set a time and date for the first meeting, print up some fliers and announcements to post on bulletin boards, and let as many people know as possible (a personal invitation on the phone, in the mailbox, and/or through e-mail will bring out more people). Have an agenda ready for the first meeting — it doesn’t need to be a meeting loaded with business. I would suggest starting with a story and/or stories from those who would like to share. At this gathering, get a feel for the type of group you want. Do you just want to meet monthly to swap stories? Do you want to form a guild with membership? Do you want to create a group that will perform for others? Remember, it won’t happen overnight, but it helps to have direction. I don’t want to sound didactic here — enjoyment and fun are necessary to have people return — but without any structure or plan, you will soon lose people who feel it is a waste of time.

Leadership and participation are necessary for the success and longevity of any group. Remembering that the joy of storytelling is the reason for forming your group, you must also have people who are willing to take care of the nitty-gritty, leading the gatherings and volunteering to take on special projects. The more people involved, the more ownership they will have and the more easily your group will thrive. If you decide to have membership, with dues, what will the members gain? And what will you expect from your members. Several groups I have been involved with grew to a large membership base, but very few members ever took part in activities or were even seen at meetings. There were only a handful of people taking on a lion’s share of the work. That is why it is important to make the group dynamic, fun and beneficial enough that people want to be involved.

Decide what members of the group will gain from becoming members. Will they have a chance to tell, learn and listen to stories — after all, isn’t that the main reason you are forming the group? Will you send out a newsletter? The most successful clubs and/or guilds I have belonged to and am in touch with send out at least a quarterly newsletter — monthly or bi-monthly are even better. Even though I do desktop publishing and am visually oriented, I have come to realize that the design of the newsletter is not as important as the regularity of receiving it and the information that is included. Even a one-sheet update works. Or, if most of your members have e-mail access, a regular e-mail newsletter is easy, fast and doesn’t involve the cost of printing and postage. In any case, make sure that someone who is willing is in charge of the newsletter. Other benefits to members can include a directory of tellers, either in print and/or on a club website; group performance opportunities — for example, TELLABRATION!; and the strength in numbers for any project tackled — a conference, seminar, retreat or hiring of a nationally known teller.

Here are some cautionary tips from groups I have known:

  • Business is important, but be sure not to overdo it at the regular meetings. Many groups form an Executive Board that meets regularly, opening their meetings to interested members, to form the business plan and aspirations.
  • Avoid conflict between members. More groups and clubs have failed because of misunderstandings. We are all different and have different opinions, but need to be reminded of what is “good for the group.” This is why strong leaders are important.
  • Lack of consistency can ruin a group. Have a consistent time, date and place for meetings. Follow a consistent structure at the meetings — some groups have a theme for each meeting, others have open telling and others bring guests as listeners. If the newsletter is to be published monthly, make sure it is.
  • Remain financially sound. Even a small, casual group will have expenses. Determine a fair membership-dues-price and decide how many meetings someone can attend without becoming a member — non-members may also receive one newsletter as an introduction. Having a substantial treasury helps with advertising the group, holding special events, hiring well known storytellers, being able to donate a gift to your meeting place and will give the group/guild credibility.

Even though forming a storytelling group will entail work and planning, the rewards will far outweigh the energy expended. Just do it! You will be glad you did. And so will all of the other storytellers who become involved. Let me know about it, too.

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