The ages-old art of live storytelling has many purposes: passing on knowledge or wisdom, giving cautionary advice or counsel, or just plain entertainment—and sometimes all three simultaneously.
From fables and tall tales, to children’s stories and real-life experiences, stories speak to what we know, what we hope to learn, and things that may surprise us.
Stories can broaden our imaginations, reinforce important values or spiritual beliefs, and even increase our empathy toward others. They can also play a significant role in building powerful connections and heal that which fractures us—personally and as a global community.
So if you think you have a story to tell, but no prior experience in telling, where do you start?
Here are three ways you can get involved:
1. Find a local storytelling group.
A quick internet search will help you locate a group close to you. And if your area doesn’t have one, why not start one? The National Storytelling Network is a great place to begin. You can connect with storytellers across the country and internationally, as well as gain access to all types of support within the community of tellers, professional and hobbyists alike.
These days, it’s even easier to connect with storytelling groups since all of them have gone online for the time being. So “local” is just a state of mind.
2. Look for local open mic events.
Many bars, coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, and other venues host open mic events, and they are great places to tell your story. Even if in-person attendance isn’t possible at the moment, look for virtual ones, or there may be events held outside that are safe to attend
3. Attend a storytelling festival.
The International Storytelling Center hosts a yearly festival in Tennessee the first weekend in October. In its 47th year, the festival has been a draw for storytelling fans all over the world.
While attending the festival in person in 2020 isn’t an option, the festival has gone online and will be held virtually during its regularly scheduled October weekend.
In addition, they have events throughout the year, and you can view videos of tellers on their website. Many of these festivals have what they call story swaps, where anyone can stand up and tell. If that frightens you, note that the audience tends to be small at swaps and is usually made up of first-timers trying out their voice.
There are dozens of other festivals throughout the country and throughout the year, so there just may be an event near you. But again, the global situation has made it easier—and more affordable—for people to attend without having to leave their homes.
Now that you know some ways to connect to a storytelling community, here are a few basic tips about how to craft your story:
Be warned, a story you tell verbally differs from one written to be read.
If you are brand new to storytelling, a good first step is to listen to examples of well-crafted stories. Tune in to storytelling shows such as The Moth and Snap Judgment. Both are broadcast on NPR and available as podcasts.
Pay attention to how the tellers begin their stories, how they engage listeners by making them care about the outcome, and how they wrap up their tale.
Storytelling is a journey, with the teller as guide and the listeners as willing participants in the adventure. To be a good storyteller is to be a trustworthy guide that delivers the goods.
The Moth has online resources for how to craft your personal story. You can also take a class on storytelling at a community center or local junior college. Many storytellers offer their own workshops, so there is no shortage of places to learn the art at an affordable price.
If you want to tell a story but don’t have one in mind, take heart. Often local storytelling shows are built around a theme, which is open to interpretation. This allows you broad latitude for crafting your story, while also prompting some ideas, forcing you to focus rather than wander.
When your story is ready, remember that it must be told, not read, so you’ll have to learn yours by heart without referring to notes.
While that doesn’t mean memorizing word for word, it does require rehearsing so that it flows naturally. Personally, I will memorize large chunks of my stories, but in a way that sounds naturally conversational.
Once you’ve found a community to tap into, you’ll be able to fully appreciate the benefits of storytelling and the strong bond with other tellers and fans.
Listen, enjoy, and then go forth and tell.