If you are just starting out as a storyteller – volunteer or otherwise – and have agreed to a date for the storytelling, it’s time to start thinking about what to include in the show. Talk to the presenter and make sure you are clear about the following aspects of the show. 

  • performance time(s)
  • average age of the audience(s) 
  • expected number of people in the audience(s)
  • what is expected of you
  • where will the program will be held  

Presenters determine the amount of time a storyteller is expected to fill. I suggest you review your repertoire and note the approximate time it takes to tell each story. It is often the case that a storyteller favors stories of an average length because of preference and style. For example, I prefer shorter stories so most of my tales clock out at around five minutes or so. With this information in mind you can start to prepare for a program of stories to fill a thirty, forty or sixty-minute show.


Before going any further with program planning, be sure to find out about the average age of the anticipated audience. Tiny tots might wander away if a story does not allow for audience participation or takes longer than ten minutes to tell. In contrast, adults might want to hear a long story with more characters and several levels of thought and meaning. 

The number of people in an audience is also an important consideration. A story that is perfect for a small group is not always successful when told to audiences of one hundred or more. The size of your audience may also require the use of a sound system, and if none is available from the venue, it is a good idea to have one of your own ready to use if need be. 

It is also prudent to determine what stories the presenter expects to hear. Be sure to take the time to ask this question, as it is the most direct way to make certain you have stories in your repertoire to meet expectations.

When thinking about the stories to include in a program, find out as much as possible about the physical set-up of the venue. Will children be on the floor in front of you in the library, or will they be around lunch tables in the multi-purpose room? Will you be working on a flat floor, or will a riser be provided? If there is anything about the physical set-up that might create a problem for you, do not hesitate to ask for changes. For example, I prefer not to be separated from my audience by barriers such as lunch tables, and I always ask if they can be removed before I arrive and that the students be allowed to sit close to where I will be telling. 

Once you have obtained details about the points mentioned above, formatting your show is next. The theater rule of “start strong and leave ’em wanting more,” is a good one to remember. When a story program begins with a tale or activity that grabs the audience and makes them want to follow where you take them, the tone will be set for the entire show and your job as the storyteller will be easier. The last tale is just as important as the first, since this story represents the final part of the story journey. Think of these two selections as program bookends, and then place the other stories you want to tell within this framework.


Next, evaluate your list of selected stories and think about how to bring them together in a way that makes sense and provides variety. By this, I mean to look for continuity and find logical ways to segue between stories so there is a “flow” or feeling of connection for your listeners. This flow helps to maintain the attention of your audience and holds the program together.


I always prepare a contingency list of stories to use in case my plan does not seem a perfect fit after I arrive at the venue and look around. Storytelling is always a flexible experience, and the audience can turn out to be quite different than what you expected. Having a contingency plan is really helpful. I cannot tell you how many times my alternate list has come in handy. It only takes a few minutes to do this, and even if you don’t have to use the list you will be more relaxed for having prepared for possible surprises.


If you have a special talent you think might enhance the performance, by all means use it. A graphic artist might want to use markers, a large easel and an art pad to draw a character as a story unfolds. A dancer might want to demonstrate how the fox pranced with joy when he got a fish. A singer might want to add a song of sorrow for the hero. This is the personal touch we are able to bring to our shows, and it is a quality that contributes greatly to what is often called a “signature style.” Use your talent but use it with care; a little is great, but a lot might seem like too much. Each storyteller has to find the right combination, and this can only be achieved through experience.

Finally, be sure to keep a record of each show and the stories you shared. As your customer list grows, you may be invited back. Your program notes will help you recall the venue and plan for a new and exciting show.