Sunday, October 04, 2015

So You Went to A Storytelling Festival...Now What?

So, you have been to a storytelling festival. What now?

Storytelling festivals and major conferences come in all shapes and sizes.If you have had the fun of attending one, you might be wondering "what now?" I have some suggestions that I think might help you explore the art of oral storytelling just a bit more. Below the picture are some notes and then a few specific items that might apply to you as a future "pro," should you be interested in exploring that option.

You can also listen to this post by the link at the end of the article.

1. Open your mind. Every festival or event has its own flavor, lens or world-view

As the director of, I can usually tell when an event with a large attendance has completed and the audience has started to arrive home. How? I start to get Emails. Folks search the internet, find and want to learn more about storytelling. Many times the questions in the Email are a variation of "How come there isn't (more about some subject) on"

I've been a featured teller at many gatherings and festivals. I have produced both large and small events. I can tell you this for sure: every event has its unique flavor, its own unspoken (usually) way of understanding the world. No matter how intently the event bills itself as "international," "national" or "fill in the name of the state or region," the event you were just at was driven entirely by the audience that attended the event. Everything about the event was planned for that audience. The festival or conference served those people- and you were one of them. Fantastic! Thank you for supporting the art form!

There's nothing wrong with this audience-based focus. It creates an invitation for you: go to more events!  You just dove in, you took the plunge and you found something new and exciting. Now, go find more. Travel, listen, tune in to the many and undeniably diverse expressions of oral storytelling in gatherings large and small. Attend the events that gather professionals that you will sit and watch. Attend events where everyone gets to be the teller and you (yes, you!) might have a chance to tell. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about yourself and the world around you when you open your mind to the breadth of oral-storytelling events.

2. Explore the variety of tellers that make up the oral storytelling world.

Many other Emails I receive contain a thought that is something similar to, "Your site doesn't feature Teller XYZ on the front page, the greatest storyteller on the planet!"

While we at have featured many storytellers and have hundreds of articles, stories, podcasts and more from these tellers, it's important to remember that storytelling takes on many forms and sounds throughout the world. While one listener might believe that Teller XYZ is the source and summit of all things storytelling, there are thousands of other people who have not heard of Teller XYZ but yet are very much inspired by any of the other gifted and talented storytellers in their own city, state, region or country. The oral-storytelling world is still very much composed of many big fish in various little ponds.  You'll find that most of the big fish are actually very gracious and humble about their own work and would also encourage you to go about exploring other ponds. 

So, go do that. Dig around; find out just how much talent and craftsmanship there really is. Travel some distance in both mileage and philosophy. Be comforted and discomforted.  Take some risks; hear someone new across the city or across the country.

3. Support storytellers you like via events and products.

When you find storytellers you like, engage with them as much as you can. Join their newsletters, buy their books and CDs, and attend their workshops. It's not easy to make a living as an artist but yet you can give energy, love and support back to the artists you enjoy.  Visit their website, join their Email lists. Just engage. As an artist with many books, workshops and recordings, I am truly grateful for every bit of support given by my audience.  Please know that even just sending an encouraging Email (or posting an online review of their book or event) to the teller means much, too. You'll find that most oral storytellers are very accessible people, just like you.

However, maybe you have been inspired to pick up the mantle of "storyteller."  If you are looking to tell more stories in any setting, then here are a few more thoughts:

1. Read books and blogs. Go to workshops.

Immerse yourself in learning. Find the great books and training (if I say so myself) that can help you become a better storyteller. Here is a good start. Here is another. Here is a tips book. Here is another tips book.

Never stop learning. I've been at this art form since 1986. I still go to workshops and webinars, looking for at least one nugget of wisdom in each that will make me say, "That is why I came to this." Invariably, I find that nugget in every event. Imagine how much knowledge you can gain if you are just starting out!

2. Support other performers.

You will learn the most about storytelling at the events of other storytellers. Is there a local event happening and you aren't a performer?  Go to that event. Sit in the audience. Listen and enjoy. Be polite. Support the arts. If you are on the program at an event, stay for the entire program. Sit in the audience, don't hide backstage.

3. Gradually ramp into your professional status.

Good professional storytelling looks very easy to do. It's not. It's a craft and an art, perfected over time and practice. Before you launch into a new business of being a "professional" teller, be sure you have spent a good amount of time honing your craft in smaller events and venues. Get coaching- real coaching that gives you honest and clear feedback. Learn the Five B's of professional storytelling on any stage: Be prepared. Be good. Be heard. Be gracious. Be done.

You've been to a storytelling festival. That is wonderful. Now, keep on growing!
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Picture from Library of Congress.