How to Become a Professional Storyteller

Thứ sáu - 26/04/2024 23:23
The tradition of oral narrative, or the art of storytelling, is something that has been with humanity ever since its origin. These days, amid increasing opportunities for electronic transmission of sight and sound, storytelling sometimes...
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The tradition of oral narrative, or the art of storytelling, is something that has been with humanity ever since its origin. These days, amid increasing opportunities for electronic transmission of sight and sound, storytelling sometimes seems like a dead art. In fact, there are significant opportunities for someone who wants to become a professional storyteller.

Part 1
Part 1 of 4:

Starting Out

  1. Step 1 Volunteer your storytelling ability whenever you can.
    Often, the beginning of a professional storytelling career involves many free performances at public events. By volunteering at a local library, community day care, cafe, charity, or other venue, an amateur storyteller can gain the experience needed to perfect their craft and transition into becoming a professional storyteller. As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”
  2. Step 2 Start a storytelling club or event.
    If you don’t have many events or storytelling venues near you, take the initiative and found your own. Propose the idea to start a public storytelling hour to your local library or coffee shop. Give your story event a theme. For instance, you might open the event up for proposals pertaining to specific themes like romance, adventures on the sea, or troubles with technology.[1]
    • Don’t make your theme too specific. For instance, a theme like “my first date” might get a lot of similar stories and be boring for the audience.
    • Set a time limit so you don’t get stories that are too long and rambling. Ten minutes is usually a good limit for the average story.
    • Alternately, you could just get your closest friends together in your living room on a Friday or Saturday night and swap stories in a semi-structured way. You could select a specific theme, or you could just provide an open forum for sharing stories.
    • StoryCorps is a podcast which attempts “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”[2] For the hefty sum of $3,500 per day, you can host a StoryCorps event in your community. (You might consider soliciting public funding or private fundraising to help with the fee.) Interviews can last forty minutes and are added to the Library of Congress archives. They are also available online.
  3. Step 3 Start your own podcast.
    A podcast is a streaming or downloadable audio interview. Podcasts are a great format for telling your own story or those of others. With some editing, you can incorporate music into your podcast too. Your podcast can be narrow (stories in the history of astronomy) or broad (stories from around the world) in focus.
    • Podcasts can be hard to produce. Get help from a trained sound engineer to record and produce your podcast.
    • As you build your audience, seek local businesses for financial support. Offer them advertising space on your podcast.[3]
    • While you can easily do a simple podcast on your home computer with your built-in microphone and recording software, a good podcast will need to invest in high-quality technology.[4] If conducting interviews over Skype, Pamela is a great program for PC users. A similar program, Ecamm Call Recorder, is available for Mac users. Adobe Audition is a useful program for editing purposes.
  4. Step 4 Attend storytelling clubs and festivals.
    Storyteller groups host festivals all over the country. Whether you attend festivals or conferences as a participant or as a member of the audience, take advantage of the opportunity to hear other storytellers to hone your own craft and inspire you to find new stories of your own. Conferences are great opportunities to perform or engage in professional development.
    • The largest festival -- the National Storytelling Festival -- takes place each year in Tennessee.
    • Check the National Storytelling Network’s calendar at to search for storytelling events in your area.
  5. Step 5 Read a lot.
    Read both fiction and nonfiction in a conscious way, thinking about what made a given story memorable. Memoirs are especially useful for helping you think about how to frame your personal experience and regurgitate it as a great story. Read storytelling guides to improve your delivery, learn how to pace your story, and understand what makes a story great.
    • While you might intuitively understand some or all of these storytelling elements already, explicitly recognizing how these elements work in conversation with each other will hone your storytelling skills
    • You probably have lots of questions and issues about becoming a professional storyteller that someone else has already dealt with. Learn from their experiences, avoid their pitfalls, and adopt their paths to success.
  6. Step 6 Solicit feedback.
    Don’t get feedback from any random audience member. Get feedback from people who are professional orators, actors, writers, and storytellers. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Make improvements if their criticisms are well-founded and continuously review your own storytelling style and material to become the best storyteller you can be.
    • Beyond some simple feedback and nurturing, consider getting real coaching from another storyteller. A storyteller coach will tailor their advice to your specific needs and presentation and give concrete steps to help you build your business.
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Part 2
Part 2 of 4:

Honing Your Craft

  1. Step 1 Work on your timing.
    Pause for laughter when something is funny. If you say something that is meant to be funny but falls flat, move on.[5] Use pauses between sentences to give your story a natural, conversational rhythm. Do not speak too fast or you will lose the audience. Remember, storytelling is not a race. Pause before revealing a surprise or a shocking conclusion.
    • If you plan on telling a story and you know you’re limited to a certain amount of time, ensure your story is the right length. Do not try to jam a 15 minute story into 8 minutes.
    • Use repetition of a certain action or event to set up a pattern that will later be broken, or drive home feelings of drudgery or disappointment. For instance, if your story is about a person’s boring life, don’t just say that they walk home “alone, every single day.” Say instead that “They walked home. Alone. Every. Single. Day.” This emphasizes the monotonous, lonely nature of their life.
    • Speak rapidly -- but not so fast that the audience can’t understand you -- to describe or depict a sudden, jarring event or action.
    • Work on your timing not only within each story, but between stories as well. If you intend to deliver multiple stories to a class or group of people, follow a longer story with a shorter one, and vice versa. This will give your listeners a chance to mentally rest and reset their attention.
  2. Step 2 Be confident in your delivery.
    Enunciate clearly and project your voice so that everyone in attendance can hear you. Your delivery should be energetic and memorable.[6] Do not use filler words like “uh,” “anyways,” “you know,” and so on. Keep your head up and eyes forward. It helps to focus your eyes not on any particular member of the audience, but on a point just over the heads of the audience and towards the back of the venue in which you’re telling your story.
    • Be authentic when telling your story. Even if the story you tell is fictional, show enthusiasm for the characters and events.
    • Don’t be afraid to use unique voices for certain characters.[7] For instance, if your story features a fierce monster, make your voice harsh and scary when reciting the monster’s dialogue. If your character(s) are afraid, speak in (audible) whispers, as they would. Getting into character can bring the story to life.
  3. Step 3 Keep your story focused.
    [8] A good story will revolve around a single well-defined idea, topic, or theme.[9] When developing and practicing your story, ask yourself, “What is this story about?” If you cannot answer concisely in a sentence or two, revise the content of your story to keep it more tightly focused.
    • Your audience should also be able to summarize the main theme or events of the story in a succinct way. If other people who read or hear your story get confused in the telling, you may need to edit the story.
    • For instance, if you rehearse your story in front of a test audience of friends or family and they all have competing and contradictory ideas about what the story is about, you might want to revise the way you tell your story.
    • Examine each part of your story and ask yourself if it adds to the narrative flow. The events of your story should be clear and connect with one another in a logical way.
    • Listen to the advice of others when developing your story. It is important to understand how other people receive and understand your story if it is to be effective and memorable. Soliciting feedback from other writers is especially useful.
  4. Step 4 Use body language to engage your audience.
    Sharing a story well requires a total physical and mental commitment on the part of the storyteller.[10] The amount of physicality you include in your storytelling varies with the content and style of the story. Incorporating physical movement into your storytelling enhances the experience.
    • For instance, if you’re telling a story about a big bird, you might say, “Then the bird swooped down from its nest.” While saying this, you might raise your hand high above your head and bend it at the wrist in a ninety degree angle. You could then move the hand across and down your body at a forty-five degree angle and elongate the long “O” sound in “swooped.” This would add an exciting physical dimension to the story and help the audience visualize what it was like to see the bird swooping down from its perch.
    • Don’t over-perform your story. A storyteller is not an actor.[11] Always keep your body language appropriate and relevant to the tone and style of the story.
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Part 3
Part 3 of 4:

Going Into Business

  1. Step 1 Don’t quit your day job too soon.
    [12] Working as a storyteller can be difficult: work might be rare or periodical at times and unless you are highly sought-after, it might be hard to support yourself with your storytelling income. Work part-time as a storyteller and keep your full-time job until you’re well-established. Set some benchmarks to help you decide when you should make the move from part-time to full-time storytelling.
    • For example, you might decide that if you make $1,500 each month from your storytelling, you can become a full-time storyteller.
    • A supportive spouse or partner who contributes to the household income can make it easier for you to take the necessary risk which becoming a full-time storyteller entails.
    • Keep enough money in the bank to carry you through lean times. Maintain at least six months’ worth of funds.
  2. Step 2 Build a web presence.
    Start by building a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and the like. As you get more experience and start to develop your business, contract a web designer for your own web domain. Having your own website is important because it gives you total control over the style and presentation of your own work in a way that social media sites do not.
    • Upload audio and/or video of your stories in part or in whole
    • Provide a bio of yourself, including how you got started as a storyteller and what drew you to it. Make your own life a story!
    • Be sure to include contact info for people who want you to deliver some stories to their event or party.
    • Get listed in online directories. The directory is a good place to start. List your available services on local marketing sites like Craigslist to get your name out, too.
  3. Step 3 File the necessary paperwork.
    Open a business account, register your business with your local and state authorities, and maintain accurate tax and financial information. Like any other home business, professional storytelling requires a keen eye for finances. Take some accounting classes or enlist the services of a skilled accountant to ensure your home-based business conforms to the letter of the law. Your business will probably be registered as a sole proprietorship, a business which is owned and operated by a single person.
  4. Step 4 Be professional.
    Being professional means comporting yourself with grace and dignity, and demanding respect from your audience and hosts. For a professional storytelling session, always plan ahead. Find out where the venue you’ll be performing is, where you can park, and how many people will be in attendance. If possible, scout out the location before attending. Ask important questions like if you will be provided a microphone, bottled water, or other amenities.
    • If you are performing in a large hall in which sound does not easily carry, suggest -- or insist -- that your hosts provide a microphone for your performance. Remember, your reputation will suffer whether a bad storytelling performance is or isn’t your fault.
    • Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask that a teacher, parent, or other adult stay in the library or classroom with you if you’re delivering a story to children.
    • Always aim to defy your clients' expectations and leave them wanting more.
  5. Step 5 Join a professional organization.
    The National Storytelling Network is the country’s largest storytelling organization. There are many other local and national storytelling organizations, some with specialties like African or Native American heritage stories, others with stories about history, nature, or another topic of special interest.
    • Depending on the club or organization your join, you will gain access to any number of neat perks. Becoming a member of the National Storytelling Network, for instance, will allow you to apply for NSN grants, access online discussion groups, and attend the National Storytelling Conference.[13]
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Part 4
Part 4 of 4:

Choosing Your Profession

  1. Step 1 Find your audience.
    Many professional storytellers get more successful in their business when they identify a particular audience for their tales. Ask yourself what kind of stories you like to tell and who they would most appeal to. For instance, if you love metaphorical fables about anthropomorphic animals, or tall tales about fantastic happenings, you might be best suited to storytelling for a youth audience.
  2. Step 2 Consider a career as a children's entertainer.
    Many professional storytellers reach out to the primary consumers of stories: Many professionals will admit that opportunities for children's entertainment far outnumber gigs for storytelling to adults. Being open to a young audience will help storytellers build a career.
    • Librarians often pull double duty as both librarian and storyteller.[14] If you have a passion for telling stories, you might be able to introduce a storytelling program to your library.
  3. Step 3 Think about doing stand-up comedy.
    [15] Essentially, the most highly paid professional storytellers for an adult audience are stand-up comedians. Comedians have a knack for timing and know how to make people laugh with their stories. If that sounds like you, start out by doing open-mic nights and hone your jokes. When you feel comfortable, move on to booking professional gigs at bars and nightclubs.
  4. Step 4 Get a job as a filmmaker.
    [16] Film is a powerful medium that engages sight and sound. Almost nothing can compare with the ability of film to inspire, excite, and convince us to suspend our disbelief. Becoming a filmmaker usually requires at least a four-year degree in film. You can make as many kinds of films as there are kinds of stories: westerns, sci-fi movies, romantic comedies, thrillers, documentaries, and dramas.
    • Consult with the film’s writer to talk about their vision for the script and characters. How do they see various lines of dialogue being delivered? How do they imagine the characters moving and the sets looking? Since films almost always begin as a screenplay, use that as your bible and integrate the writer’s vision into your filmmaking process.
    • Make shorter films first to get a feel for how the medium works. Most phones have a video function and can be a great first camera for a young amateur filmmaker.
    • Get a production internship with a film studio to learn how the industry works. Continue developing your filmmaking abilities with new projects and developing new contacts with actors, producers, and studio executives.
  5. Step 5 Consider becoming a musician or adding music to your story.
    Singer-songwriters set stories to music and can use the rhythm and volume of their music to add gravitas to their storytelling process. Whether you rock out with a whole band behind you or simply strap on an acoustic guitar, music can be an effective storytelling medium.
    • Another community of professional storytellers includes those who tell their stories with a guitar, drums, or other musical instrument.[17] Including music in the narrative can get both children and adults involved in clapping or singing along to your story. Musical storytelling can also constitute an important educational tool by providing new linguistic structures to young children.
    • Think about adopting a spoken-word storytelling style. While spoken-word storytelling requires no musical instruments, it does require a sense of timing, rhythm, and (often, though not always) rhyme. Look for opportunities to perform at open-mic nights in your local coffee shops and bookstores.
  6. Step 6 Become a religious officiant.
    If you are a religious individual, you might feel called to put your storytelling skills to use in the service to your higher power. Priests, imams, and rabbis don’t just recite ancient passages from their holy books. They must prepare innovative sermons and stories for their congregations. Storytelling is integral to keeping their attendees engaged the religious service.[18]
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