How to become a Storyteller

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 own 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. And third, you need to 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 talent.

There is an unlimited amount of beginners.

The Student has 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 himself is. He can match the right story to the right audience.

It takes years to learn everything to be a competent storyteller. In those years you will grow but also discover how much more there is to learn.

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

There are very, very few Master Storytellers. While promotional materials might easily 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. Just went 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 something 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 I booked a 4 day storytelling course.

I googled about storytelling in my own 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: 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, workshops, but mostly 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, bad sound. Often choosing 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.

Story by story I went on. 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 specialized in storytelling and workshops in schools and for people who work with children. In that area, I am one of the foremost experts in my country.

However, in other areas of storytelling, I recognize I still have a lot to learn. When people call me a master storyteller I make it quite clear that I am not a master storyteller. 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’.

Just to be clear: you can easily enjoy storytelling as a hobby and not worry about getting better at it. However, most people prefer the combination of enjoying telling and getting better at it.

Putting in your time…

2. Talent

Talent is overrated. Hard work is much more important.

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 effortless? Be assured that he has spent a lot of time perfecting his art and his material.

So, while almost everybody can tell a story, you do need talent to become a Storyteller. And frankly, after teaching more than 15 4-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 still 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 ever having been coached by another storyteller. Not recommended!

In my experience, learning is so important. You don’t need to use or even agree with all the things people in storytelling courses are teaching 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. And mostly seek actively out 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 that you were told as a child. Maybe it’s a story from your faith or cultural background. Maybe it’s a story from your own life.

Just make sure that if you are starting out, 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 as long as you keep telling, you will arrive at the end.

💡 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 there are storytellers living there. Maybe there are even some storytelling events.

Write down dates of events in your calendar. Send emails to local storytellers, explain to them 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.

Make sure that you take your time to go to events and listen to other storytellers. Be prepared to find a mixed bag. What do you like? What not?

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 will need both 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 get 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 both good storytelling skills and good 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). Not everybody can capture the attention of people by singing from a stage. And only very few can make a living with 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. You will, however, 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 has to do with ‘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 storytellers that is recognized by his or her fellow storytellers as a master 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 of time.

More resources about becoming a storyteller