When you hear, “tell me a story,” does your mind suddenly go blank?
Don’t panic. The good news is, you’re already a natural storyteller!
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s built right into our genetic code. Human
beings are a storytelling species. Of all the creatures on Earth, we’re the
only ones that share past memories and future dreams as a way to get
to know others, build friendships, plan an endeavor, inspire a group.
In fact, we’re usually telling ourselves some kind of story all the time –
about our job, a relationship, the kids, neighbors down the street, our
next vacation. You name it, and we’re probably making up a story about
So, with all that creativity just naturally flowing, the secret is how to
channel it into crafting a story that’s interesting and fun for others to hear.
How, in other words, do you go from being a “natural” storyteller to being
a good one? Here are 10 tips that will get you started in the right
1. Know your audience. Do you want to tell stories to your kids? Your
grandchildren? Your child’s third-grade class? Co-workers? Family
friends? The charming participation stories that enchant children may
seem patronizing or insulting to a group of adults.
2. Choose a story you genuinely like. It could be a traditional folk tale or
fairy story. A historical tale. A personal story. The most important thing is
that you really like it. It doesn’t matter how exciting a story might be or
how well you tell it; if you really don’t care about it, your audience will be
bored too. Guaranteed.
3. Keep it short. A good story doesn’t have to be long and elaborate.
Especially when you’re just starting out, it’s much easier to practice and
polish a piece that’s only 4-5 minutes long.
4. Find out what the story is really about. Why do you want to tell this
particular story? What does it mean to you? The exact same story may
mean something different to every teller. That’s fine. When you discover
what the “heart” of the story is for you, you’ll automatically find the
passion and life in it.
5. Tear it down to the bare bones. Particularly if you’re starting with a
written text, read the story over a couple of times to get the basic outline,
and then lay the book aside. See what you remember when you simply
tell it. These points will become the foundation for rebuilding the story
using your own creativity.
6. Know where you’re going. Make sure you have a beginning, middle
and end for your story. A good storyteller never makes the audience
nervous that they (and you) are lost.
7. Practice out loud. Get in the habit of talking to yourself. You can never
become a good storyteller by telling the story in your head, no matter
how many times you practice. Tell the story in your car while commuting
to work. Tell it in the shower. Tell it to your dog (pets tend to make quite
good listeners, by the way). Tell your story over and over until you’re as
comfortable in it as you are in your favorite jeans.
8. Find your own voice. Listen to other storytellers to hear different styles
of telling: flamboyant…quiet…dramatic…quirky…laid
back…funny…serious. The list could go on and on. Notice which tellers
appeal to you and which ones don’t. There are no right or wrong ways to
tell a story; there’s only what’s right for you.
9. Don’t memorize. Storytelling isn’t a theatrical performance. It’s a
shared experience. No matter how many times you tell a particular story
– as long as you haven’t committed it word-for-word to memory – you
never know when something brand new and absolutely delightful will
10. Roll with the punches. Did you suddenly remember a critical piece of
the story you totally forgot to mention earlier? No problem. Bring it up
when you think of it and let your audience be part of the discovery
process. (“And what I didn’t tell you before, was…”)
Most importantly, trust the stories that choose you to be told through.
Follow their lead. When you do, both you and your listeners will embark
on a magical journey you’ll not soon forget.
© Nancy Binzen 2004