“What’s the One Thing?” series – tips for new storytellers

You’ve reached a point where you now know what storytelling is. The kind of storytelling where you stand in front of an audience and tell a story to other with no notes. Just you, the mic, and your words. You are excited (or at least ready) to make good use of what you have learned in your class, your workshop, your coaching. You have but one question left to ask: Does anyone have any pointers?

As a person who teaches and coaches people in storytelling I’ve heard this many times. So the first bit of info in the “What’s the One Thing” series, I thought I reach out to other storytellers and storytelling sites and ask the question: “What’s one tip you would share with new storytellers?” Here’s tips collected over the last week:


  • One tip by Shannon Casson (who actually has 10 good ones at (https://blog.samson.co/blog/2020/12/how-to-tell-a-good-story-on-stage-ten-storytelling-tips-with-shannon-cason/) is be vulnerable.
    • I love this tip. Stories are a way for storytellers and storylistners to know each other. A connection like that doesn’t happen without showing people how you became the person you are. When you go through important times with people, you become closer to them. Being vulnerable means admitting mistakes, fears, and weaknesses. Seeing you make it through, may help others do the same.
  • Masterclass also has a listing of tips. The one I’ll mention is here “Have a clear structure” ( <https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-tell-a-story-effectively#how-to-tell-a-story-effectively> )
    • Good, effective stories have a structure that is recognized in a way that makes sense to the brain and is easy to follow. Interestingly, I have found that there are a number of storytelling structures that can be used to give your story the bones it needs. It can be a simple as a 3 -act structure, the classic hero’s journey, or even the “Save the cat” structure to name a few. Chose the one that best fits you and what you are trying to do, but be sure to use a structure. The brain needs some sort of strucutre to best understand the story
      • For more on the science of storytelling, I recommend the book “Story Smart” by Kendall Haven
  • For those that retell stories like fairytales, folktales, and the like, Rudoluf Roos has a listing of 5 tips, (https://internationalstoryteller.com/how-to-tell-a-fairy-tale-oral-storytelling/) that he recommends. The one I’ll mention here is tell the story in the moment. 
    • This tip works for storytelling no matter the genre. Telling stories in the present tense is a great way to help the listener feel like they are there in the story at that moment. This greatly improves listeners engagement
  • Tales and Ales is a local storytelling show in Virginia. It’s one of the many local DC, MD, and VA storytelling shows that has brand new storytellers telling stories on its stage. One the recommendations direct on its website is avoid how-to, lectures, etc. (https://www.novatalesandales.com/tale-tips)
    • A good, effective, story has a way of making a point, without hitting the listener over the head to learn it. How-to, lectures, and speeches are all great ways to make and communicate a point. A story, however, talks about a lesson learned in a way that doesn’t preach or bully a person to see that point of view. A well told, well-crafted story will lead people to an understanding, not drag them there. 
  • I often teach with Stephine Garibaldi ( https://stephaniegaribaldi.com/) for the  Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Bootcamp storytelling 101. In the list of tips handed out, one of them is this: Make no assumptions about when and how the audience will react. Roll with it. Be in the moment.
    • The listeners may react much differently than you expect. You think they will laugh, they gasp. You make a serious point, and they laugh. It happens. It takes telling the same story a number of times before you can accurately gauge how listeners will react. Even then, you’ll get supposed by a reaction. Roll with it. 
  • Be well practiced, but not over rehearsed
    • You want to be sure you know the scenes, the order, and what your main character(s) are trying to get. But if your story is too scripted, it may not come across as authentic and genuine. Mathew Dicks, author of the book “Storyworthy” talks recommends that they story you tell to an audience should be the “cousin” the that same story as told to friends and family at the dinner table. You know the story, but don’t need to hit every punctuation and syllable.

Lastly, I give to you advice from me: Being a storyteller is an journey, not a destination. You never really finish, you just take different roads for new adventures. When I started telling stories in 2014, I just wanted people to not go to sleep while I was teaching. Then I wanted to tell an interesting story on stage. Then a funny story. Then a story for 30 mins. Then a made-up story. The stories you tell are a never ending pathway to telling your story, on purpose.

Published by Nick Baskerville

After years of being an instructor in the military and the and the fire service, I realized I needed to improve my delivery. My students needed me to improve delivery. But how do I improve my delivery? Simple. I finally took a member of Toastmasters up on the invitation to come to a meeting. It wasn't long until I joined. Along the way of improving my skills at delivering a message, I came to understand that of all the ways to get a point across, telling stories is the best way to get it done. Around this time, another friend from Toastmasters told me about The Moth monthly story telling shows. What better way to test out my theories on storytelling. It's in my travels there to the shows that I found more and more shows, and classes, and events centered around storytelling. Despite how many people know about the storytelling world, not many people know about the storytelling world. So now, I'm out to tell the world about storytelling.

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