How to Become a Storyteller

So, you want to know how to become a storyteller? Oral storytelling as a hobby, maybe even as a job? Let me give you a realistic roadmap of this journey based on my and others’ experiences as storytellers.

Becoming a Storyteller takes time, talent, and a willingness to learn. First, the most significant part is telling stories; doing the work. Second, you do need some talent to be a good storyteller. Third, you must be proactive in seeking out the people you can learn from.

Becoming a storyteller…

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💡 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I get a little percentage whenever you buy something after clicking one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

How to become a storyteller: the journey

Let me sketch the journey of becoming a storyteller: from Beginner to Student to Storyteller to Master Storyteller.

Four stages of development as a storyteller

The Beginner has just told his (or her) first stories. He is enthusiastic and wants more. Beginners come to storytelling with very different skill sets and talents.

There is an unlimited amount of beginners.

The Student told some more stories for different audiences. He failed a couple of times. He has learned how many skills it takes to be a good storyteller. He is willing to learn, though.

It takes courage to be a student of storytelling. It involves failure and growing pains.

The Storyteller has told many stories and developed a working repertoire. He has internalized his storytelling skills. He has found what kind of storyteller he is. He can match the right story to the right audience.

It takes years to learn everything necessary to be a competent storyteller. During those years, you will grow and discover how much more there is to learn.

The Master Storyteller is an expert at connecting with his listeners. He brings an event that brings everything together: his personality, the energy needed, and the right stories for the right audience at that specific moment.

There are very, very few Master Storytellers. While promotional materials might quickly call somebody a master storyteller, competent storytellers amongst each other know who is a master storyteller and who is not (yet).

Personal example: How I became a storyteller

Langkawi, Malaysia, 2008. I was lying in a hammock before my wooden house, sipping a cocktail in the sun. Two monkeys were dancing around and putting on a show.

And yet I was miserable. I had just gone through a breakup and an exhausting period at work. Was all my life going to be like this? Was it worth it?

I got up, walked to the guesthouse cafe, and saw a cupboard with left-behind books. One book jumped out: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (link to Amazon).

In my hammock, I started to read. About a boy with a dream. What was my dream? What made me happy? I realized it had to do with standing before people and touching them with my words.

Back in The Netherlands, I became a member of a public speaking organization and booked a four-day storytelling course.

I googled about storytelling in my city. Pretty soon, I was telling my first story along with other storytellers in a big barn on a dark, starry night.

How to become a Storyteler
A little yellow note that tells a story

A festival organizer told me that it will take you ten years to become a decent storyteller. And so I put a little yellow notice on a shelf in my room: 2009 – 2019 Becoming a Storyteller.

From Beginner, I became a Student. Courses and workshops, but primarily through taking every opportunity to tell stories, a lot of stories.

I messed up quite a few times. Stories that fell dead on the ground. Practical problems, like wardrobe malfunctioning, getting lost on the way to the event, and bad sound. Often, I chose a story that I felt afterward really did not fit the audience.

Luckily, I also found that people enjoyed listening to my stories. And more importantly, I enjoyed it enough to keep doing it.

I went on, story by story. Slowly, I started to earn more money with my storytelling, and in 2016, I became a full-time professional storyteller.

With my background in education, I specialize in storytelling and workshops for schools and people who work with children. I am one of the foremost experts in my country in that area.

However, in other storytelling areas, I still have much to learn. When people call me a master storyteller, I clarify that I am not. Maybe twenty years from now.

The three things you need to become a storyteller

1. Lots of time

Oral storytelling is both an art and a craft.

Like any other art or craft, you need to invest a tremendous amount of time to become good at it. In The Tipping Point (link to Amazon), Malcolm Gladwell arrived at the 10000 hour ‘rule’.

To be clear, you can enjoy storytelling as a hobby and not worry about getting better at it. However, most people prefer to enjoy telling and get better at it.

Putting in your time…

2. Talent

Talent is overrated. Hard work is much more critical.

However, I always cringe a little when I read or hear ‘Everybody is a Storyteller.’

It’s like saying, ‘Everybody is a Comedian’. We all know that’s not true.

Sure, most people can crack a joke now or then. But most people are not funny on stage, and some people are not funny at all. And that comedian that looks like he is doing it effortlessly? Be assured that he has spent much time perfecting his art and material.

So, while almost everybody can tell a story, you need talent to become a Storyteller. Honestly, after teaching more than 15 four-day courses, it becomes quite easy to spot who has a natural talent for it and who doesn’t.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. No matter how little or how much talent you have for storytelling, you can always enjoy telling your stories to people who want to hear them.

3. A willingness to learn

Yes, you can be a storyteller without ever having followed a course or been coached by another storyteller. However, this is not recommended!

In my experience, learning is so important. You don’t need to use or even agree with everything people in storytelling courses teach you. But there is a lot to learn that you don’t even know about when you ‘do it all by yourself.’

💡 Read about my recommended oral storytelling course for beginners.

So, be always willing to learn. Especially, seek out actively those storytellers you admire and try to learn from them.

Want to learn something now? Choose one of these articles to start:

5 Things you can do today to become a storyteller

Becoming a storyteller is a journey. And every journey starts with a first step. If you want to become a storyteller, you could do one of these five things today:

1. Find a story you love

Maybe it’s a story you were told as a child, a story from your faith or cultural background, or a story from your own life.

If you are starting, ensure it’s a small (5-minute) story you would love to tell.

2. Prepare a story for telling

Think back to a story you love. How does it start? How does it end? What is it about? Could you picture it in your mind?

Write it down in 5-7 sentences, or make a couple of drawings.

How to Tell a Fairy Tale

How to Tell a Fairy Tale in 5 Steps (Oral Storytelling)

Have you ever wondered how to tell a fairy tale? In a classroom for children? At a special occasion for adults? I teach courses in storytelling and in this article I share with you how you can start telling the fairy tales you love.

3. Tell it informally to a friend

Stories grow by telling them. It forces you to give words to what is in your head. Don’t worry; every first telling of a new story is a bit clumsy.

The main thing is to connect to what made you want to tell this story. Start at the beginning, and you will arrive at the end as long as you keep telling.

💡 You can also do this by phone.

4. Discover your local storytelling scene

Google on ‘Storytelling’ and the name of your city/area. Try to find out if storytellers are living there. Maybe there are even some storytelling events.

Write down the dates of events in your calendar. Send emails to local storytellers and explain that you would love to learn more about storytelling. Ask them if they have any tips for you.

5. Discover different storytellers

You will gradually find out what kind of storyteller you are.

Take your time going to events and listening to other storytellers. Be prepared to find a mixed bag. What do you like? What do you dislike?

You can start today by watching some of these excellent storytellers I have collected in this post:

How do you become a paid storyteller?

To become a paid storyteller, you need good storytelling skills and a way to market yourself. Marketing is simply showing how your stories and storytelling can help a specific group of people. Start with reaching out to local organizations to discuss how storytelling can help them.

It helps a lot to have an online presence (website, social media). However, your biggest selling point is people who have seen and heard you tell a story. So try to get potential bookers to visit you or visit them, and make sure you have a little story or anecdote prepared.

How do Storytellers Make Money

How do Storytellers Make Money? (9 Ways)

One of the first questions I get when people hear I’m a storyteller is: How do you make a living? So let me show you nine ways in which modern storytellers make money.

How to get a job as a storyteller?

To get a job as an oral storyteller, you will need good storytelling and social skills. Put yourself in two pairs of shoes: the shoes of those who will hire you and the shoes of those you will be telling stories to. What will make both these groups happy?

Can anyone be a storyteller?

Anyone can call himself (or herself) a Storyteller. It is not a protected title. And almost everyone can tell stories. However, not everyone can become a storyteller that people want to listen to. And only very few can make a living with storytelling.

You can compare it to singing. Everybody can enjoy singing (at least in the shower). However, not everybody can capture people’s attention by singing on a stage, and only very few can make a living from singing.

Do you need talent to be a storyteller?

You do not need talent to enjoy telling a story. And without talent, you can still become a decent storyteller through hard work and continuous learning. However, you will need talent to become a good storyteller.

How to become a good storyteller?

A good storyteller has three things in common with good wine. First, becoming a good storyteller takes time. Second, becoming a good storyteller involves ‘good’ ingredients. And third, a good storyteller still keeps on learning and getting better.

How to become a master storyteller?

A master storyteller is one of the few who are recognized by their fellow storytellers as masters in the art and craft of storytelling. If you have enough talent, you can become a master storyteller by continuously growing in storytelling over a long period.

More resources about becoming a storyteller

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