How to Tell a Story

Imagine a wonderful story you’ve been told. Where were you? What was the place like? Who were you with? Was it night or day? By a fire? How did you feel when you were hearing it?

And now consider…what did the storyteller do that drew you in and captured your imagination? These are elements to consider in your own storytelling!

Before the Story

Who is your audience?

This is a great question to ask before choosing a story to tell. Is it appropriate for the age and/or developmental reality of the audience? Also, what does your audience need to hear? What kind of story could be helpful to them along their journey? Sometimes we tell stories because we want to tell them and sometimes we tell them because they need to be told.

Where does the story come from?

It is important to know the history of a story, to have a context or background. Some stories need permission from the original storyteller; others are fine to tell when or wherever. Know the difference and give some respect to the lineage of the story. If it is your own personal story, start your personal mythology; tell how the story came to be. All of this is important information to convey to your audience.

Where will you tell your story?

This is not always known ahead of time, but even so, consider this: Every place and time has a different energy. Consider the where. Are you under a tree or out in a wide-open space? Contained spaces often hold power for storytelling as there is less distraction, but this is not always true. It just depends on what you want to cultivate as the storyteller.

Who will introduce the storyteller?

It can be helpful to have someone else other than the storyteller prepare the audience for a story. Listening etiquette or hints on getting the most out of the story are useful here. This is also the place where the storyteller can be introduced!

During the Story

Voice and Body

Your voice and your body are both tools of storytelling. Consider, how are you using them? Play with the volume, tone, and rhythm of your words. Silence and space are also powerful. Check yourself for repeat words that don’t need to be there, such as so, um or like. Explore using your hands, facial expressions, varying degrees of movement, or acting things out.

Interaction

Don’t be afraid to interact with your audience. Play with your eye contact. Use it. You can include members of the audience in your story. For example if you are introducing a character, say, a 12-year old boy, you might connect him with a boy in the audience of the same age or ask how many of you are 12? Storytelling is about reaching into a different world and bringing that world back, into the present moment. Set up a ringer in your audience and have them help you act out a part of the story. Or, if you want to take more risk, find someone in the moment for that!

Teaching Moments

Stories are a place for you to weave in wisdom that you want your audience to learn. You can enrich a story by playing up certain elements. Say you are a nature mentor and you want your kids to start paying more attention to bird language, you can weave that into your story, whether or not the actual content of the story has anything to do with it!

Other Elements

  • Props and costumes
  • Use of drama, suspense, cliffhangers, and humor
  • Use of descriptive & sensory words (don’t just tell us the facts)
  • Use of music (singing, drumming, etc..)

After the Story—Reflection

Take some time to reflect. How engaged were the audience members? If appropriate ask for feedback. This will help you grow immensely as a storyteller.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself afterward:

1. Were you in your body when you told the story? You’d be amazed at how quickly people vacate their bodies when they are put in front of a group.

2. How was your breath? Breath is an incredibly powerful tool. When we get nervous it tends to be shallow. Work towards deepening your breath.

3. How was your audience interaction? Eye contact? Engagement?

4. Were you able to walk between the world of the story and the world of the audience in the present moment? This is a dance and takes time. You don’t want to go so far into the story that you leave your audience and you don’t want to be so present in the moment that you get distracted from your story. Play with this, it’s fun!

Study & Repertoire

Cultivate your repertoire. Read stories, go to storytelling festivals, exchange stories with a friend, or learn one via the Internet. Record yourself telling a story and then listen back. Or, instead of reading a book to your children at night, make up a story!

Storytelling is already ingrained in our culture. Movies, TV, even video games are all about the stories. We are so media-saturated it is easy to forget that we have the power not only to tell stories, but also to create our own. Use these long winter nights to cultivate your own powerful storytelling!