National Storytelling Week: Storytelling 101

National Storytelling Week: Storytelling 101
Once upon a time humans started telling stories. This sounds vague, but it’s actually pretty accurate, as humans and stories seem about as old as each other. Storytelling appears to have just happened, and has thankfully kept on happening ever since.

Next week (30th Jan – 6th Feb) is National Storytelling Week – the perfect time to celebrate the wonderful tradition of storytelling, which is weaved so seamlessly into our everyday lives.

Had a catch up drink with a friend? You probably shared a story. Saw the Christmas John Lewis advert? They drew you in with a story. Watched a TED talk of late? They showcase some of the best storytellers out there.

Sharing stories is one of the main ways we communicate and interact. Good stories can amuse, inform and comfort, but chiefly they engage. They’re far more memorable than dry facts, and the possibilities of a story are pretty much endless.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled for you a Storytelling 101.

Those TED (and TEDx) talks full of great storytellers? Well, some of them have some great things to say about storytelling itself too!

TED talks come from a nonprofit organisation devoted to spreading ideas. TED began in 1984 as a conference about Technology, Entertainment and Design, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

From why we tell stories to how to become a better storyteller – the links and videos below will give you a greater insight into mankind’s favourite pastime.

A brief history of storytellingStorytelling Creativity

As I touched on earlier, the beginning of storytelling is fairly unknown – orally it likely started in line with humans developing speech, and through pictures it dates back at least to cave drawings.

This article gives you a quick run down of some storytelling highlights from our past.

How to be a better storyteller

One of my favourite tongue-in-cheek (yet useful!) tips from writer Chris Walters is:

  • Don’t tell dad stories (or mum stories).
    In my family this means don’t just repeat the story a second time in an attempt to get a stronger reaction from your despondent listeners. In other families it may mean you shouldn’t use catch-phrases over and over, or it may mean you need to stop bringing everything back to the topic of grandchildren and why you hunger for them so. The only thing your story needs to do well is entertain the listener. If it’s not doing that, find a better story. And tell it better.

Click here for the rest of his tips, from basic to advanced! And yes, he does expand on that ‘tell it better’ part.

How and why stories are so powerful

Author of The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall speaks about how stories make us human. He explains how by listening to a story, we don’t just spectate, we take part:

What makes a great story

Film maker Andrew Stanton (creator of ‘Toy Story’ and ‘WALL-E’) gives advice such as how to lay a promise at the start of a story that it’s going to be worthwhile. He demonstrates how listeners or an audience secretly like to work for stories. And he reminds us that storytelling has guidelines, but not hard and fast rules…

Why we tell stories

Phil Kaye is a touring poet, a published author, and co-director of Project VOICE. He starts his talk with a brilliant poem and shares with us his exploration of why we tell stories:

Where great stories start from

To find out more about Project VOICE and about story in spoken word poetry, I’d highly recommend this TED talk by the founder of Project VOICE, Sarah Kay.

She tells us that stories can begin when things we’re passionate about comes together with what others might be invested in. She also shows us that being actively engaged with what goes on around us can lead us to reinterpret and create something from it, and that this can be the catalyst for a great story…

Uses of storytelling: presentations and persuasion

The telling of stories, being quintessential to communication, has unsurprisingly been taken up as a method both to present and to persuade.


As I mentioned before, the TED(x) talks about stories also tell stories. In this article by Ffion Lindsay, she gives us a different way of looking at storytelling. She puts together a series of classic techniques for telling stories within presentations. You might spot a few that were used in the talks above!


Storytelling is not only appropriated to engage an audience though, it’s also used to persuade. In advertising and marketing, stories are often used to convey facts more emotively, or to make a product or service more relatable. In this article about the psychology of storytelling, Gregory Ciotti gives us an insight into how this is done.

Similarly, for an example of how stories are used in branding, the Hovis adverts are great place to look.

There’s the original 1973 version:

And here’s the 2008 version, drawing on the original but looking back over more than a hundred years of British history:

Both these adverts use stories to make you buy into the Hovis product and brand.

Celebrating storytelling

Storytelling may be a marketing tool, but that only increases my fascination with it, rather than taking anything away from how fantastic stories can be.

Whether you’re the audience or the teller, stories are a part of our human nature, and give so much opportunity to empathise – to laugh or cry. They can bring people together, or we can lose ourselves in a story.

The videos and websites above convey a wealth of inspiration and knowledge about storytelling, and yet there’s still so much more you can investigate and discover.

Storytelling Week focuses on spoken word and performed stories. It celebrates the oral storytelling tradition. The National Storytelling Week website has lots of information, whether you’d like to get involved in their societytake part in any events for the upcoming week, or just find out more. And if you’re after some ideas of things you can do on your own, or with friends and family, to get involved in storytelling, here are some great ideas.

library storytelling

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Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bonus: If you’re a Listening Books member check out Listening Books #bookoftheweek archive – it’s full of great books and stories you can get on CD, stream or download!

This post was written by Holly Newson.

Picture credit: Flickr – Langwitches

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