Consider the Many Uses of Storytelling

It is a bit daunting that when I tell people that I am a storyteller, the reaction is often, “Oh, do you read stories to children?” I do tell stories to children and teens and families and adults. And many of the original bones of those stories are in books. But, no, I don’t read them and I tell them in my own way. This form of storytelling is used to enlighten and entertain, but there are a plethora of other uses for storytelling. In this article I am going to discuss several of the many.

Storytelling may be used to forge relationships and build community. When we know someone’s story, we can’t help but like them. It doesn’t matter if we are different ethnically, culturally, financially or chronologically. We all have stories that resonate and show us how alike we actually are. Neighborhoods work as neighborhoods when those who live near each other sit together on porches or lean over the back fences and tell each other stories. Communities can be held together through their stories – by sharing how they developed, what hurdles they have overcome, how they have improved their homes and streets, and how they have raised their children and their children’s children.

Storytelling may be used for public relations and marketing. Everyone loves a good story. Tell me a good story about your company, your business, your organization, your school, and I will be more inclined to buy from you, hire you, join you or enroll in you. It’s a group’s story that reveals – or should reveal – their character, their mission, their goals and their vision. If you can spur your group to work on developing their story – and every group has one – you will find that employees and/or members will take pride in telling your story to others. It gives them something to “sink their teeth into” so to speak.

Storytelling may be used for teaching. When I was in school, I hated History. It was all names, dates and places. Now, I even give a workshop on “How to Bring History to Life through Storytelling.” If only my teachers had told the rich and wonderful stories from the past, I would have loved and learned history with a passion – I do today. There are several professional storytellers who have been commissioned to tell a region’s history, a business’ history, an event’s history using stories to bring the history to life. I also know tellers and teachers who use storytelling to teach science, math, art and English. At the National Storytelling Network Conference I met a woman who works for the Denver Police Department and goes to schools telling teaching stories about safety and security. It is much easier to reach the youngsters through stories that by spouting rules and regulations.

Storytelling is a healing and therapeutic art. It is being used more and more today to help the young and old work through their problems. After 9/11 one of my favorite storytellers from New York City, Laura Simms, called out for stories that would help the youngsters who were students in the New York schools. She gathered many shared stories and published them, so that they could be told again and again. These are stories where characters face and overcome dreadful odds. They are stories that show that we can all be heroes and heroines. Other storytellers use stories to help those who are incarcerated, to help unwed mothers, the homeless and others who need to work through what seem to be insurmountable challenges. The power of well chosen stories can do that for us.

Storytelling can encourage hidden talent. A storyteller in Ohio, Donna Fetzer, holds what she calls, “Story Theater.” She brings children up onto the stage to become characters in her stories. She carries with her props, costumes and hats, along with a good measure of creativity and fun. Even the shy can’t resist taking part. And before you know it, the groups are putting on performances for their families and friends. Other tellers take up school residencies and work in the school on a daily basis helping the children become young and polished storytellers who give a storytelling concert to cap the residency.

Storytelling can be used as a gift. I know another teller, Kathleen Pichola, who creates stories to be given for special dates. For example, she gathers items and memories from the past and pulls them all together into a unique and special story for someone’s birthday. She will often practice a new story to give to a friend or a person who has helped her in some way.

Some other uses for storytelling – and I am just scratching the surface – include:

  • Family stories at the dinner table, picnics, reunions and holidays.
  • Stories used by speakers to enliven their presentations.
  • Stories used on websites or in web-blogs.
  • Newspaper and magazine stories that catch and hold our interest.
  • Just every day stories that chronicle what has happened to us – both good and bad.

You get the idea. How can you make use of storytelling? Let me count the ways. And do send me your ideas and uses. I love receiving your FEEDBACK!

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