What Makes a "Master Storyteller"?

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

A couple weeks ago I attended a tech conference with a seminar on storytelling. One of the presenters of the seminar was introduced as a “master storyteller.” A snarky person from the seminar audience (not me!) asked, “what makes you a ‘master storyteller?’” 

The presenter rightly dodged the question by pointing to his introducer and quipping “he said that, not me.”

The situation got me thinking though… Who is a master storyteller? What would they look like? I see that term bandied about sometimes so it’s not a completely worthless inquiry. 

Would a master storyteller be able to spin a colorful yarn on a moments notice? Could they tug on our heartstrings without fail every time they open their mouths? Do they know things about storytelling that we don’t? 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the answer is none of the above. The reality is that there are no master storytellers. The idea is a bit of a fallacy. 

Maybe part of what makes a “master storyteller” is having the experiences to share. That might be true, but we can’t all be Richard Branson, can we? 

Or would a master storyteller be good at telling fictional or other people’s stories? But is it as masterful if it’s not your own true story? 

Perhaps a master storyteller is adapting the ol’ Wayne Gretsky adage to storytelling, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” But that paints the picture of a person constantly attempting to tell a story for every occasion, no matter how good a fit the story might be. That would be obnoxious.

The truth is, nobody is going to be able to tell a perfect story at any moment, or ‘wow’ us with a great story every time. Eventually they’re going to tell a snoozer, run out of ideas, or just get bad (see M. Night Shyamalan).

In my experience, storytelling is more a practice than a goal; a mindset more than a skill. If there is one idea I try to transfer to all my clients it’s that it’s not about being an amazing storyteller, it’s more about getting comfortable with sharing your stories, sharing of yourself and sharing who you are. 

The act of telling our stories is the act of exposing ourselves. It’s about authenticity, and perhaps getting comfortable telling stories about mistakes you made, times you were scared, or the moments you’re less proud of. These are the stories that help people to get to know you. It might seem scary to expose yourself this way, but trust me, you aren’t alone in your experiences. In fact, by being willing to share stories of our challenges and failures, you’ll find that people will become more comfortable opening up and sharing their own stories with you.

If you’re new to storytelling, my advice would be rather than trying to craft a perfect compelling story, start with just getting comfortable talking about your day. Talk about the ups and downs, the things that had you feeling good, the things that frustrated you, and the parts of your day that stood out. From there you can eventually get deeper into the stories about the things you want to accomplish and what drives you in life.

Sharing our stories is sharing of ourselves. Our identities are tied to the stories we share. You literally are your stories, By becoming comfortable sharing them, you not only express yourself better, but you present other people with the opportunities to express their stories to you. 

Want some help with planning your own stories? I've got the perfect tool for you. Sign up below and I’ll send you my Story Planner Worksheet. It will walk you through the basic steps of crafting the stories you can have handy for when you need them.