Capricorn - Pricus - Sea-Goat

6 Ways TEACHING Storytelling Helps One be a Better Storyteller

The Set-Up

I recently had a whirlwind gig: Designing and giving a one-hour training to 350 museum volunteers, to equip them to tell pre-selected traditional stories as part of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s upcoming “Mythic Creatures” exhibit. (Full disclosure: I actually gave the 1-hour training twice in one day; once to 250 volunteers, and repeated it for 100 more that evening.)

The goals of the training, as stated in an email to me, were: “to provide some training for the volunteers about storytelling techniques and how to be a good storyteller.”  In one hour.

Phoenix tattooThe museum provided the volunteers some good printed materials with introductory tips on storytelling, and also the printed texts of the 3 stories pre-selected for the volunteers to choose between to learn and tell (Story of the Constellation Capricorn; Thunderbird and Whale; The Wawel Dragon).

So the specific objectives I developed for the 1-hour training and printed on the handout I gave the volunteers were:

  1. Consider what storytelling IS (I used the NSN definition, as well as the storytelling triangle concept)
  2. Learn some tools for learning/preparing a story for telling
  3. Focus on a few useful skills/techniques for telling a story to an audience

And I had additional goals for myself as trainer, which included:

  • Thread the 3 chosen stories throughout the workshop, so they would be encountered and used as examples for the tools and techniques I was teaching.
  • Select and teach the few specific tools/techniques for this group’s needs in the time available (I’m not making you read the whole “lesson plan” here in today’s blog…!)
  • Model effective storytelling for them
  • Acknowledge the reality that the volunteers were all over the map in regard to knowledge about and experience with storytelling, and have that shape my presentation and activities.



Have I mentioned we had one short hour?…


6 skills utilized in such teaching…that are applicable and useful (crucial?!) in storytelling – and if employed, will make one a better and better storyteller!

  1. Flexibility – being able to step away from the plan, leave some things out, and go with the flow (the participants had so many good questions and ideas to address!), while not departing from the goals of the workshop/class/training – or, in storytelling, from the bare-bones of the story.
  2. Improvising – closely related to “flexibility,” but going a step further: re-creating as you go!
  3. Pulling together and weaving together various threads
    • For this workshop:
      • resources provided to the volunteers in their manual (advice/tips from 2 other storytellers’ online materials);
      • the stories the museum selected (might not have been my choices);
      • what I chose as the helpful getting-started basics;
      • awareness of the wide variety of people’s skill and familiarity with storytelling, and needing to honor/include all of them.
    • For stories:
      • story’s “bones” of plot and character
      • perhaps drawing upon variants and making choices among them
      • attention to the event, venue, audience
      • your unique, creative elements you contribute to the story
  4.  Developing and standing on your foundation
    • In teaching: Your learning objectives. Whatever actually transpires, are you meeting those?
    • In storytelling: (I have to go with storyteller Doug Lipman here…) Your MIT! = Most Important Thing. Do your storytelling choices flow from, and/or support, what the story means to you?
  5. Interacting with audience, for sure. Responding not only to their questions, but also to their blank or quizzical or delighted faces!
  6. Preparation, preparation, preparation. (And there could be a whole several-part blog series on this alone, of course! Hmmmm…..)

Does the sheer panic I experienced (How DO I pull this off in one short hour? ONE HOUR!!! – well, no, not panic, but definitely some productive stress 😉 ) translate to storytelling?  HA!…Certainly the adrenaline rush, and the joy, and the deep satisfaction of offering something that is ultimately experienced as enjoyable and valuable (which, I’m very happy to say, was expressed to me after this particular training) – that’s surely common to both!

Have YOU learned something from teaching that applies, or illuminates, or in some way contributes to your telling of stories?

Do tell, in the comments section!

Thanks for reading – Pam


Speaking of teaching and workshops… Saturday, March 21, Phoenix storyteller Mark Goldman and I will co-lead a full-day workshop near Denver, CO on storytelling skills called Fill the Story – Fill the Time – Fill the Space.  Click here for full details and/or registration.


Phoenix image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at / Stopwatch image courtesy of digitalart at