in How to become a better storyteller, Storytelling

I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on? | Agora 2014 resolution

By Limor Shiponi

The real question, posed by a someone who arrived to “check out” the possibility of joining an intermediate storytelling course, sounded slightly different –

I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?!!!

I had a bold answer which I didn’t speak-up. Instead, I used my Jewish birth-right to answer a question with another question, “are you a good storyteller?” I asked. “Yyyyesss…,” came the suddenly not-so-sure-of-itself answer as the person uttering it looked around at the other attendees, hoping to grab some collective assurance, “I’m pretty good”.

“How do you know?” I asked. “People tell me my stories are entertaining and that I’m a captivating performer. My friends always ask me to tell a story when we meet. That means I’m good, don’t you think so?”

“Does that mean YOU know you’re a good storyteller?” I asked another, which brought back thin silence. The protagonist was looking more humble, as was the collective. I walked to the board and placed the original question at the top:

“I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?”

I invited answers and wrote down everything they had to say. As the answers accumulated I realized how much they could say which was connected to performance, literature and theater, and how little they could say which was directly connected to the core of the art of storytelling. We had a good discussion and learning that evening, but on my way home I couldn’t stop thinking about the gaps they had and what those gaps mean – concerning the art, the practice and the state of storytelling and storytellers in general. It really bothered me.

When I arrived home I hit the blog to find a research paper I wrote during 2007. ‘Accumulative wisdom and the Golden Fleece of Storytelling’ was a huge survey conducted among experienced storytellers. (If you fancy, scroll to the bottom of the post and you’ll find a link to the research paper download). One of the questions I was most curious about was “components important for a storyteller” – you’ll see the list in the post.

Reading the list, it makes sense to me. At the same time, it is only an appetizer for someone asking “what do I need to improve on?” which is instantly followed with “but how?” for each one of the issues appearing on the list. In addition, many of the issues are too broad to answer as is, they need a storytelling related focus.

After some head scratching I realized it’s about time to put fingers to keyboard and create a body of knowledge that will help answer the question, “I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?” and add enough about the “but how?”

So I’ve decided that’s going to be the Agora’s content plan for 2014. It’s not that I’m not going to kick some empty alleged-storytelling cans, or contribute to the better understanding of story and storytelling related business applications and B2B marketing; but the main focus is going to be – the way of the storytelling artist.

Since I know there is great wisdom out there, I’m inviting it over here. Any contribution will be warmly welcomed.

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13 Comments

  1. “Does that mean YOU know you’re a good storyteller?”

    That hit home. I told the tale of Raven And The Man Who Sits On The Tides last night. Got all the plaudits a performer could wish for… applause, complements, “great story”, “love the way you told that”… but I’m not satisfied. I *know* when I’m in the “zone” as it were. When the story comes from that deep space inside without help or hindrance. And that wasn’t it. What I don’t know (but I suspect) is whether me experiencing the story coming from that deep inner space correlates with the experience of the audience being taken to another level

    I’m working on it. But when it works, it doesn’t feel like work. I’m playing on it? πŸ™‚

    • Hi Adam, welcome!

      You are describing a situation many people don’t find possible: how come the audience is happy and the storyteller isn’t satisfied?! it’s absolutely possible as we know, and no, we’re not over-reacting or fishing for more compliments. I know that I arrive to a state of satisfaction only after completely, absolutely, in-my-sleeply owning the story to a level of performance where nothing about the story or what I want to do with it, bothers me anymore. That usually happens when I’ve told it many times to many different audiences. I become free to be in the “zone” with myself and the audience and can craft the storytelling event with intricate freedom.

      Maybe if it feels like work it means there is still work?

      • πŸ™‚

        as to β€œI’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?”

        I’m also toying with aspects of self not commonly associated with storytelling ability, self as tool, self as conduit. Am I better storyteller if I am aerobically fitter? If I eat better? Sleep? Meditate? How can I assess the improvements in my abilities as a storyteller than improving these things will result in? In short, I owe it to myself and my listeners to be the ‘best’ person, the most rounded, fittest, smartest, emotionally intelligent etc. person I can be. Not just the best storyteller.

        • If self is not commonly associated with storytelling ability we’re in big trouble πŸ™‚ but I think it is – look at the list of ‘ingredients’ on the 2007 post.

          You are asking great questions up there. We’ll go get the answers.

  2. What I need to work on is how I sell myself to schools, event organizers, and festival organizers. I’ve won competitions, I’ve won awards, I organize events, I’ve hosted storytelling events: these are all experiences that recognize that I have talent as a skilled storyteller. What continues to elude me is how to market this skill to make me an attractive artist to potential employers.

    I keep trying to come up with new and innovative ideas to create storytelling shows that appeal to a mass market, but the mass market still relegates storytelling as a juvenile activity and not worthy of adult interest. Someone suggested to me recently that I need to market to a niche market instead, allowing me to specialize rather than generalize. I think there’s some wisdom in that.

    In the meantime, I waffle between trying to acquire the skills myself or to hire someone who understands branding and marketing to help me bridge this gap.

    • Hi JD, welcome.

      Since the other end of what I do – being a marketing consultant in the business world – has to do with what you are working on right now, I’ll double the recommendation of that “someone”. You are right, there is wisdom in that.

      As a storyteller the advice would be – find your unique passion in stories, the way you tell them and share with an audience; find you’re unique path, voice, you’re unique inner storyteller you want to see out there. No someone who understands branding and marketing can find it better than you. In fact, you want to hire such a person only after you know the answer.

      Regards,

  3. I love the conclusion and decision you made for 2014. The funny thing is that I am devoting 2014 to become a better storyteller. When I read the list from your earlier research, so many of them are already on my list — mainly because my teacher speaks of them but more importantly models them. He would call it generosity, passion, vulnerability. But generosity is the word that moved me to action. I so look forward to reading your postings – as I always do!

    • Hi Madelyn, happy to e-see you here. You’re sending yourself on a great adventure, it’s exciting. Generosity is the word, together with kindheartedness.

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