Storytelling Tips


1. Talk about yourself: We’re often taught that it’s rude to talk only about ourselves, but in the case of storytelling, there's an exception! Stick to what you know best and share your own experiences. Your story matters.

2. Focus on the details: Details help a story come alive. The more detailed you can be, the more compelling your story will be for listeners. Including specifics about your classroom, family, community or school district will help listeners understand the particulars of your experience.

3. Be specific: Focus your story narrowly by discussing a single moment or a single day of your experience. Diving into one particularly compelling instance of a recurring issue will be much more effective than trying to cite every example you’ve encountered.

4. Think in moments: Thinking about particular moments will help you to be specific. When you’re asked a question, instead of answering in generalities, think about a moment that you've actually experienced that illustrates your point instead.

5. Incorporate others: It’s often useful to mention the role of fellow community members in your story. Which teacher was influential? Which friend surprised you? Who among your family members helped make a difficult situation better? Recounting the parts others played in your story can bring life and emotion to your story and will help you stay specific.

6. Think in extremes: The prompts are designed to help you along in this vein, but if you’re having trouble thinking of a story, think about extreme cases: the most difficult homework assignment your child struggled through, or the proudest you’ve ever felt as a student in school. Extreme cases are often the ones that we remember best and they'll elicit the most evocative stories.

7. Look for lessons and turning points: Some of our best stories are the ones that focus on our personal growth. Think about moments when your feelings changed, or when you began to feel differently about something. Sharing these experiences helps us demonstrate our evolving thoughts on a situation or experience—and inspires others to work for change or transformation in their own communities.

8. Stay honest: Embellishing stories is tempting, but it’s important to remember that the most arresting stories are the ones that come from the heart, without added flourishes. You may find it helpful to visualize your story before you tell it, so that you can draw from a mental picture.

9. Focus on the story, not the recording: Remember that it's the stories we're after, not the delivery. Try your best not to think about how your voice sounds or who might be listening later. You can always do a second take!

10. Relax: Take a few deep breaths before you begin. There are no wrong answers here!



1. Choose a quiet spot to record: In conversations, we're able to tune out or modulate background noises that the microphone on a smart phone can’t. If there’s a loud refrigerator or air conditioner in the room you’ve chosen, consider shutting it off or finding a new spot to record.

2. Be a quiet listener: We’re accustomed to giving people we’re talking with clues that we’re paying attention. Often these clues are verbal. We murmur “Yes”, and “I understand,” as people share their stories. On tape, try your best to avoid this impulse! Limit the amount that you speak. A simple nod of your head or a silent smile will demonstrate that you are listening without also disrupting the recording.

3. Test your equipment: There's nothing more disappointing than realizing after the fact that your recording didn't work out. Before beginning your storytelling, do a simple test recording to make sure that everyone's voices can be heard and that your recorder is functioning properly.

4. Make sure your smart phones or other recording devices are fully charged: Start the interview with a fully charged phone to make sure you don't lose power mid-interview.

5. Speak directly into the microphone: Have each participant speak as closely to the microphone as possible. This will ensure the best quality recording. If you have an external microphone that plugs into the headphone jack, consider using it. The sound quality will be even better.

6. Use a tripod: Your video will come out best if you use a tripod. If you don't have an actual tripod handy, you can fashion one out of a stack of books or an easel. Propping your smart phone on any stable surface will mean you’ll get a steady image and a lower risk the disruptive noises that can result from handling the phone while recording.

7. Shoot horizontally: If you're using a smart phone, consider shooting while holding the phone horizontally instead of vertically. This will mean a more standard aspect ratio for your video and  may mean the phone's microphone is better exposed.

8. Do a few takes: Don't hesitate to do a few takes. You don't want your story to sound rehearsed, so avoid actually practicing! But if you get nervous, or think of another story you'd like to tell, go ahead and record another. You can choose your favorite story at the end.

9. Use natural light: Indoor lighting can produce video that’s either too light or too dark, or that creates distracting shadows on faces. Try your best to either choose a quiet outdoor storytelling spot where you can get some filtered natural light, or choose a sunny indoor spot where the interview subject is facing a sunny window, not standing with his or back to it. You may want to test a few spots before settling on the best one.

10. "Quiet, interview in progress": Once you've chosen a spot to record, write a quick note to alert folks that you're holding an interview and that they shouldn't interrupt.