Storytelling workshop: Follow-up notes and toolkit
...

Thrown together by David Tamés
v.4.2, Revised September 8, 2022

“I have always believed that we are made of stories. When we die, what people remember are the stories that we told and the stories about our life.” — Ruth Stottler

Storytelling 
...

Good storytelling starts with listening
...

Listen to deeply understand what someone is saying. You can understand your audience by listening to them first. 

Listen to empower the speaker. When we listen deeply, the speaker tends to think deeper about what they are saying. The speaker is then free to listen to themselves instead of worrying about when they will be interrupted. 

Listen to deepen the relationship between you and the speaker. 

Appreciations 
...

Honestly find and express what is good or what you like about what someone said, e.g. “I liked how you described the sound of the road in the autumn.”

Be specific about what was said, e.g. “I liked how you specified the address of the showroom and described the surrounding neighborhood as gun finish grey.”

Saying how what they said affected you positively, e.g. “When you described feeling the hum of the engine throughout your body when you first drove out of the showroom, I felt it, too.” 

Saying how what they said affected the speaker, e.g. “When you got to the part about how the curve of the hood looked so cool from the driverʼs seat, something in your voice changed. I could hear how much you loved that car.” 

Remember, the bulk of the work in storytelling occurs in the mind of the audience. 

Guidelines for listeners and speakers 
...

Listeners 
...

In our society we donʼt usually get the appreciations we need, so someone may start behaving strangely when being appreciated. They may laugh, deflect, deny, or even get emotional. This is a fact of our lives; all of it is normal and often a natural part of a personʼs creative process. 

When someone does get emotional, as listener your job is not to fix them. You donʼt need to touch them or hug them, unless they ask for it. Your job is to listen. 

Silences are fine. Simply offer the gift of being listened to without projecting any expectation toward the speaker. 

Sometimes taking notes for appreciations while listening (if not distracting) can help give more specific appreciations. The listener then has the option of giving some verbal appreciations, and even giving the speaker the notes. Also, for the speaker it is sometimes good to have an informal record that you were at least once really well listened to. 

Speakers 
...

Trust your appreciator. When they say something is new or good, believe them. Donʼt deflect or deny it. 

The act of being well listened to can help you think. The listener offers their presence, but is not trying to think for you. 

Let the silences exist. Knowing that you have a receptive audience when you do eventually have something to say is very empowering. 

We use what works. When we are listened to and thus also listen deeper to ourselves, we naturally do more of what is good. 

Listeners care more about how you feel than what actually happen. Your stories should balance plot and your personal response to events.

Donʼt think that what is not verbally appreciated is bad. Focus on what is verbally appreciated. 

Listening is just one tool among many tools. Your internal critic, good sense, and professional knowledge and experience are all good tools. Appreciative listening complements those other tools. It works as a balancing force.

Story triangle
...

The story triangle is a dynamic interaction between three elements: the storyteller, the audience, and the story. These three elements interact in such a way that the story experience is different every time. 

storytelling-story-triangle.png

The Storyteller 
...

The one who interprets, shapes, and expresses the story. Whether they are telling their own material, a traditional story, or someone elseʼs story, the storytellerʼs choice of words, tone and body language make that story uniquely theirs.

The Story
...

The story has a life apart from both the teller and the audience. Stories are both containers and triggers. As containers, they carry and convey characters, experiences, events, and even worlds to a listening audience. As triggers, they set off sparks and flashes of recognition, remembrance and meaning within the minds of the audience. Like a molecular reaction, stories bond to the life events of the audience, making the stories feel more authentic.

The Audience
...

The audience takes in the story as told by the teller, and uses the tellerʼs words and performance cues in addition to their own life context to interpret the story. They react to the whole story and its individual parts by applauding, laughing, crying, being bored, yawning, etc. Their mere presence affects the storyteller and the story. While a story may exist before it is told by the storyteller, even in written form, the primary and most important place a story exists is in the individual minds of the audience during the story experience.

Imagination Not Words
...

When writing a paper or designing a project, we tend to rely on our intellect. But when we tell a story, we need to rely on our imagination. Itʼs not about using or memorizing the right words or accurately describing all the procedures of a technology, but trusting the images and your relationship to them as you explain your work. Dream big in small words.

Guidelines
...

These guidelines provide starting points to help you develop and deliver your stories, for more guidance refer to the [Storytelling Resources] page.

Attention grabbing elements
...

Culturally based narrative elements that get attention:

  • In American culture, sex and violence are the most used, though not appropriate in many contexts
  • Money
  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • Cool
  • New, original, significant contribution

Story context
...

There are many different ways to categorize story context. Here are three categories that may be useful:

PhysicalSensual, what did it:Historical
Time of dayfeel like?Factual statements about the world, possibly with direct relevance
Month/Seasonsmell like?Something we might recognize, either specifically or metaphorically
Weather (sets the mood)taste like?
Locationsound like?
Scale of Time/Spacelook like?

Performance
...

Outward (physical) manifestations of a well told and well known story – these are not the things to focus on, theyʼll come naturally when you know your story:

  • eye contact
  • body language
  • not mumbling
  • awareness of hand gestures 
  • reveal your emotional response to objects and events via intonation rather than just words whenever possible

Possible structures for stories
...

There are many ways to structure your stories, for example:

Behavior driven development scenarios
...

(ref: “What’s in a Story?”)

Title: one line describing the story

as a [ role ] I want [ feature ] So that [ benefit ]

or,

Title (one line describing the story)

As a [ role ]

I want [ feature ]

So that [ benefit ]

Acceptance Criteria: (presented as scenarios)
...

Scenario 1: Title (one line describing the scenario)

Given [ context ]

And [ some more context ]...

When  [ event ]

Then  [ outcome ]

And [ another outcome ]...

Scenario 2: Title

... etc. 

Other structures
...

  • Classic narrative: A and B, but C, therefore R (A and B are the status quo, C is a conflict that arises upsetting the protagonist’s world, R is the resolution that the protagonist achieves after a series of struggle to deal with the conflict)
  • Personal journey 
  • Hero’s journey
  • Framed 
  • Flashback 
  • etc.

Things to remember
...

  • To be a good storyteller you need: honesty, authenticity, simplicity, with listening. Be the underdog in your story and your audience will root for you.

  • You are already a storyteller.

  • Find someone who will listen to you appreciatively. Practice with them. 

  • Listen to other storytellers. Appreciate them. Storytelling starts with listening. 

  • Start with simple stories. Tell complex stories in simple ways. Remember to emphasize your response and inner-monologue, don’t just recount plot points.

  • Storytelling is an interactive, in-the-moment art form. As such it is very forgiving. While audiences may vary, the art form allows for change and evolution. 

  • Select stories that are appropriate for your audience. Donʼt forget the story really happens in the listenerʼs head. Your job is to tell the story and get out of the way. 

  • Storytelling is about the interaction between the storyteller, the listener and the story. Itʼs an immersive, interactive, entirely human experience. 

  • Practice is good. Donʼt worry if you tell your story differently in different contexts. 

  • Donʼt be afraid to have fun. If you have fun, youʼre audience is more likely to have fun.

Questions
...

  • Who is your audience?

  • What sorts of stories do you (or would you) tell?

  • What stories do your listeners expect?

  • What images do you want to create and leave in their minds?

  • What stories do you hear or what to hear?

  • How do you listen to them?

  • What stories influence you?

Acknowledgments
...

These notes were originally derived from workshop notes and handouts from two storytelling workshops conducted by Kevin M. Brooks (1958–2014) at the Dynamic Media Institute, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and hosted by yours truly. Kevin is fondly remembered as a storyteller, dreamer, mentor, and friend.