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How to Become a Great Storyteller

GA Anderson writes about mystical and psychological symbol interpretations and how to apply them to your dreams.

Storytelling microphone

Storytelling microphone

How to Become a Great Storyteller

If you want to become a great storyteller and tell the best scary ghost stories ever, there are several things you will need to understand and do, such as:

  • memorizing and practicing your presentation,
  • honing a set of storytelling skills, and
  • using methods that work, such as engaging your audience; performing, not telling; talking to, not at your audience; emphasizing important points with voice changes, and using body language and movements to keep your story flowing.

Memorize and Practice

As you improve, you will know your stories by heart or how to embellish an ad hoc request, but to get to this point, you have to memorize each story and practice presenting it. Doing this will help you to;

  • know the ebb and flow that best fits your story
  • the parts that are just narration tying the important segments together
  • and those that are your opportunity to engage your audience

It can be very helpful to write the story down or read it to yourself several times and then watch yourself perform it in front of a mirror.

Using a mirror allows you to see your face and your own animations and will give you clues as to what does and does not work. Such as that, a menacing scowl might work for a scary story for kids but not for a ghost story for teenagers.

You might feel a bit foolish at first, and you might think you look silly in the mirror. However, this tip works, so if you want to be a good storyteller, it is a necessary step.

Develop and Fine Tune Your Skills

To do a good job, you will need to fine-tune your story so that the wording matches your own speaking style because certain words, and speaking inflections, will suit you better than others.

Another important storytelling skill to develop is the ability to know when they are with you, intently listening. Or, when you are losing them, they are;

  • fidgeting in their seats
  • looking around, not focused on you
  • whispering to their neighbor

Developing this skill will allow you to pick the right "method" to get them back.

Fortunately, you don't have to do this alone because you can search for storytelling groups on Facebook and Google that will help you to practice and get tips that will improve your skills.

Use Methods That Work

Below are some of the techniques that great storytellers use that have proven successful over time.

If you want to do well, you need to pay attention to them.

Example of a Great Storyteller

Take a look at the speaker in the video below.

  • Listen to him.
  • Watch how he animates his tale.
  • Notice his hand motions and voice changes.
  • Pay attention to how he reinforces and highlights what he is saying so that he engages his audience.

For example, notice that he leans toward his audience when he wants to emphasize what he is saying and how he leans back and speaks conversationally when he is just presenting narration that ties his story together.

A storyteller's nand and body language

A storyteller's nand and body language

These all are methods a good storyteller uses to perform and not just recite his story so that he can draw his listeners into the tale he is sharing.

His audience never realizes that he is acting because what he does is subtle. However, it is extremely effective.

He does not exaggerate. There are no big booms or frantic flailings. He is a maestro who leads his audience.

With just a little practice, you can do this too and will overcome the natural urge to overact. Then you will see your animation efforts looking natural and appropriate for the story you are telling.

My Scary Story Example

Here is an excerpt from one of the tales that I often share with my own audiences.

It’s called The Broom Town Curse, which is a popular campfire story.

The Witches of The Broom Town Curse

The Witches of The Broom Town Curse

"You know, there is a lot of history surrounding this campsite. Some old legends say there was some Civil War fighting just a few miles down the road from where we’re all sitting.

They say that there used to be a little settlement hidden back in the deep woods, just on the other side of this camp. Of course, back then, we’re talking over a hundred and fifty years ago, that area would have been deep woods, not just the backside of a campground like it is now.

Not many folks around here even remember there was another settlement, but when I was up here scouting out this campsite, I did meet one old-timer that remembers. I never did get his name; everyone just called him “Pop."

He told me some of the history of this area and even told me the legend about this little settlement."

Animating the Story

The first part of the example is simple narration. Therefore, the storyteller would speak normally.

As he begins to discuss the war, he might lean into is audience or lower his voice as if to hint that he is letting them in on something he’s going to tell them in confidence and that they might not already know.

In doing this, he is drawing his audience to him.

Now he guides his listeners with hand gestures and body language to indicate that the location of the fighting was close by.

He might even point to it, as if the audience could see it too. Can't you almost imagine the audience following his hand gesture to "look down the road?"

The Art of Storytelling - Hand and Body Language Examples

The Art of Storytelling - Hand and Body Language Examples

In doing these things, he has brought the story to the local area so that it is about the place where the audience is located. This is another method that he uses to involve the audience.

When he begins to talk about rumors, he again uses voice and body language to engage his audience by leaning in, bending his head or perhaps lowering his voice.

He may even follow these movements with a skeptical shrug, as if telling the audience, "they say it's just a rumor, but ... " Once more the storyteller is drawing the audience to him, into the story.

Do they believe it's just rumor? What is the storyteller going to tell them next? Now they are really listening.

At this point he again points out the time and locale of the story, turns and points off into the distance.

Facing the Audience Is Important

Notice that in both examples, the performer is facing his audience. This is important to do because you always want your listeners to be in front of you.

You are performing, and should want them to focus only on you. The only way to get your audience to enjoy the full benefit of your words, movements, and facial expressions is to place them before you.

  • If your stage is a campfire setting, have your audience on one side of the fire and you on the other. If the campfire is to either side of your stage, then position yourself as if the campfire was between you and your audience.
  • If you are in a standing group, step back so that you are on the back edge of the group, putting everyone else at least slightly in front of you.
  • If you are part of a gathering in a room, step back to a door, fireplace, or other focal point of the room, again, putting your audience in front of you, not behind you.

There probably will be times when you can't control your position.

When this happens, turn to address different sections of your audience to give each a chance to be in front of you.

This will allow everyone to share glimpse of your storytelling efforts. If they can't have the whole pie, at least give everyone a slice of your performance.

Storytelling Is an Art

As you can see, a good deal of work goes into becoming a great storyteller.

Success doesn’t happen overnight, but with practice and patience, you can develop this skill, and in so doing bring a great deal of pleasure to people, as well as feelings of satisfaction to yourself.

The tradition of campfire storytelling

The tradition of campfire storytelling

© 2018 ga anderson

Good Storytelling Tips, Questions, and Suggestions

ga anderson (author) from Maryland on November 28, 2018:

Thanks Sondra

Sondra Rochelle from USA on November 28, 2018:

Good job, GA

ga anderson (author) from Maryland on November 27, 2018:

I agree Ken. My primary experience has been as a campfire and small show story teller. So I followed this opener with one about campfire storytelling, but I intend to make this a mini-series and address storytelling in work and training settings too.

Thanks for the read and comment. Now here is a cheap plug to go read the campfire story telling article.


Ken Burgess from Florida on November 27, 2018:

Great article GA, I believe these skills/practices would be good for anyone who has to speak/present to an audience.