The Beginning Storytelling Toolkit

By Doug Lipman

You may be reading this because you've heard about storytelling and you want to do it. You've read articles or even a book about the benefits of storytelling: how it can help engage the imagination, build a sense of shared purpose, or just turn a bunch of sour faces into a group sharing some pleasant moments.

Or maybe you've watched someone entrance a roomful of people with a story. Whether in a classroom, your children's bedroom, or a corporate board room, you've seen how people who are fidgety or at cross purposes can suddenly become quiet and intent. You've seen the magic and want to know how to create it yourself, to assist with your goals (whether your goals include self-expression, a work task, to communicate about a cause you believe in or to engage the healing power of storytelling).

Or perhaps you've found yourself telling stories successfully, but want to know if there's a way to do it even better.

All in all, for any reason, you've come to the conclusion, "I'd love to know how to tell a story."

Sounds like it should be easy, right? But there are some problems.


CaroLynne A. O'Donnell, Board Member, Twin City Tales Spinners, Bloomington, IL

CaroLynne A. O'Donnell, Board Member, Twin City Tales Spinners, Bloomington, IL

"I am a 'non-storytelling' Board Member of a Storytelling Guild, and Doug's course helped me become more confident in my involvement with the Guild's mission, coaching activities, and special events.
"To get all that information was very helpful! It helped me with my own oral communication—with individuals, at formal meetings, friendly gatherings, etc. And, it was fun!" 

Do I Have What It Takes to Tell?

Sure, you've seen or read about people who can command attention as they tell. But does that mean you'll be able to?

Some people, you think, just do it naturally. You've seen them at parties, say: folks are clustering around them while they regale a group, who are laughing or nodding. Others, you notice, try to tell captivating stories, but without success. So, is this a mysterious talent that some people have and others don't? Is there even a storytelling gene?

To make matters worse, when you studied literature in school, you probably worked from the implicit assumption that stories are made of written words. You put them on paper, then, to share them aloud, you either read them or memorize them.

There's a good chance that you find memorizing daunting and difficult. Maybe you've seen people fail: They look down at a piece of paper, or perhaps over your head at nothing in particular. But they still sound like their face is buried in a piece of paper. Or they forget half-way through; you cringe to see their panic and embarrassment.

You've probably also seen people fail by being boring or inappropriate for their audience.

I Bet You've At Least Tried

Maybe you've told with good effect; I hope so. But even if you failed, it's not your fault. You just haven't gotten the help yet that you need, in order to learn.

In school, you probably learned, unconsciously, some misconceptions about storytelling that hang in the air around the clock, misconceptions like these:

  • Telling a story is like reading without the book
  • There is one right way to tell
  • You should appear smooth and professional, above all.
  • You should practice in front of a mirror until you know every word.

Unfortunately, those misconceptions can derail your storytelling before it leaves the station.

Maybe you've even tried to learn storytelling as an adult. Sadly, all too often, those who purport to teach you aren't really helpful.

You may have taken a public speaking course, for example. Some are excellent. (If you took one, I hope it was, indeed, excellent.) But there are also many that focus on what is measurable, not on what is effective. Students or teachers score speeches on how many hand gestures were used or how many times they looked in the eyes of the listeners. All too often, this leads to speakers who obey the rules but lose the heart of their speaking.

Or you may have been unhelpfully criticized in a course, leaving with the idea that you can't tell a story because "you paced during your telling," say, and, in the words of your instructor, "good storytellers never pace."

For all those reasons, you may be confused and even discouraged. You might have decided that it's okay for others to learn to tell, but you'll just do without that ability. You tell yourself it doesn't matter.

—Barry Rosen, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

—Barry Rosen, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

"Initially I was somewhat hesitant to take the course, 
as I assumed that it would not have enough substance. In addition, I thought that it might be taught at too basic a level for me. I must tell you that I was in for a most pleasant surprise!
"I thought it was an excellent course. I had a fantastic time, and I found it very interesting. You were great! I found it very worthwhile. It's great not to have to get dressed and leave the house.
"I learned a lot both from you and my "classmates." I looked forward to every single class and my only regret was that the course had to come to an end. Thanks again!

Your Storytelling Matters!

I beg you not to accept the idea that you can't learn to tell. It's not trivial; it's not okay; and it's not true.

Your telling ability matters! Think of what happens when you remain stuck, confused, and discouraged about your ability to tell stories.

First, your communication suffers. Storytelling is one of two primary legs for communicating your ideas, wishes and goals to people. The other leg is expository or conceptual speaking: the essay, as opposed to the story. The "essay" includes the list of features your product has, or the reasons why it's important to study English literature, or the steps to take to perform long division.

All the non-story ways of expressing yourself verbally are one strong leg that your communication stands on. But storytelling is your other leg. When you're able to alternate flexibly between them, your communication has maximum effectiveness.

Harvard professor Howard Gardner says that the single trait held in common by all great leaders of the 20th century is that they were all storytellers! He says that storytelling is a key tool—and perhaps the key tool for leadership.

Whether your leadership is on the level of great leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., or consists of leading your children to sleep at night, or anything in between—if you don't have effective storytelling as a tool, you're limping on one foot.

What happens when your communication suffers like that? To be blunt, you don't get what you want. You aren't as effective in your job. You're not as effective at building relationships in your personal life.

You see, stories are a way that you can reveal who you are. People build relationships based on liking and trusting one another. When you're able to tell stories about yourself, you show clearly and powerfully who you really are. That's when people begin to trust and like you!

You've probably seen people who have a near-magical ability to make people like them. If you watch such people closely, you'll see many components to that ability, but one key component is the ability to tell just the right story about themselves or about someone they know or admire.

This is not a small thing! If you go on without this skill, you'll be handicapped. Others who know this secret will do better. They will be the ones who are flocked to at parties, chosen for promotions, whose causes advance more rapidly and effectively.

The longer this goes on, the more frustrated and discouraged you become about your own ability to tell stories. You may even develop a block about it. So you're further away than ever from this tool for helping to achieve your basic goals in life.

What About Books?

Okay, you say. If it's so important that I develop my natural storytelling abilities and I can't count on standard courses, surely I can learn storytelling from a good book, right?

Well, you probably didn't learn to drive from a book. Why? It's about doing it, not about hearing it described.

Maybe you've already gone to one of the books on storytelling for beginners. Some are fantastic, like Ruth Sawyer's classic The Way of the Storyteller, which is excellent at inspiring you to want to tell, but a little weak on the particulars.

Or maybe you found some of the "recipe book" instructions out there: "First, choose the story carefully...." Such books tend to resemble each other, and each of them tends to emphasize "rules" over interaction with your audience. Their "tips" are often such platitudes as "tell with animation," or "don't be afraid to look your listeners in the eye." If you could learn to do that just by being told to do so, you'd be doing it already!

Do you know the joke about the lost pilot in a small airplane who asks someone on the ground, "Where am I?" and is told, "In an airplane."

The answer given from the ground in that joke is, like too much storytelling instruction (whether in books or courses), accurate but not helpful!

Some Unhelpful Instructions

Telling someone to "move your hands here!" is a common form of unhelpful instruction. I was at a festival where several children and teens performed. They were, on the whole, wonderful. But several of them used a wooden gesture (each a different gesture), not just once but again and again.

I realized that some coach must have told them, "That's a great gesture; do that again," and so the student began to focus on the gesture. (When you focus on a gesture, by the way, unless you are highly trained in acting, you give the gesture a different quality than when you gesture while focussing on the story.)

By giving people instructions of what to do on the "symptom" level, you actually make the symptoms worse, not better.

The key is to know where to put your attention so that you will tell easily and naturally. Doing so isn't really difficult, but this is information that most successful tellers aren't able to articulate.

Speaking of successful tellers, you may have approached someone who tells stories well and asked, "Will you teach me to tell a story?"

Lots of natural storytellers are confused by such a question. They think, "Actually, there's nothing to it. You just tell!"

It's true, of course, that many people can tell stories without being able to articulate their process accurately. This makes them good tellers but bad instructors. Either they don't know what to say to you, or else they repeat what they've heard others say, such as "Well, first you write it out..." or "Try practicing in front of a mirror." They end up saying what they think they should tell you rather than what they, in fact, do.

Practicing in front of a mirror (which can be useful occasionally) is usuallydeadly. Why? Because there is no listener present. You're practicing not communicating. All the magic of storytelling depends on responding to your listeners. Anything you do that puts you out of touch with them will make things worse.

Most of that "symptomatic" advice focuses on what you are doing, and thereforetakes your attention away from your relationship with the audience—which is actually where the magic happens. You need, instead, to focus on what you are doing WITH your listeners.


"It's been so inspiring. I don't know where to begin in appreciating this course! I got so much out of it. I took a lot of notes.
"One thing that helped me where I was stuck was figuring out the crux of the story. The questions that you asked helped me enormously."
—Madaline Blau, counselor in private practice, Los Angeles

Watch Out for "Shallow Bowl" Teachers!

The biggest pitfall for would-be storytelling teachers—and therefore for beginning tellers—is what I call "Shallow Bowl Syndrome."

I named "Shallow Bowl Syndrome" after the fable in which the fox invites the crane to dinner and serves soup in a shallow bowl—which is perfect for the fox's wide tongue to slurp, but inaccessible to the crane. The next day, the crane invites the fox over and serves soup in a tall jar—perfect for a long beak but inaccessible to the fox. (If you don't know this fable, I put two brief versions for you to read at

How does this affect the learning of storytelling? Well, like the fox, I am likely to assume unconsciously that you take things in, in the same way I do. So I tend to teach storytelling in the way that makes sense for menot that makes sense for you. Fine for all the broad-tongued among us, but not much help for the long-billed!

Over decades of teaching storytelling, I have had a chance to notice not just how I learned to tell, but how others learn. As a coach of storytellers, I've been able to work with people who've had trouble learning storytelling. They have "taught" me what difficulties you are likely to encounter. And how to overcome them.

Many accomplished storytellers—even some great ones—only know to say (sometimes at great length), "Here's what I do." Don't get me wrong; that can be useful. But it doesn't help a crane to know what works for a fox. And it becomes out-and-out harmful when it's put in the imperative: "The right way to tell a story is..."


— Mark Jameson , childrens entertainer, clown and puppet show performer, London, England

Mark Jameson, childrens entertainer, clown and puppet show performer, London, England

"I really appreciated the sense of being able to tackle storytelling from the beginning.
"I found the course excellent for showing me some practical advice on visualising stories. Doug also showed us how important it is to listen with delight to my audience.
"Most importantly he showed me that my telling can be very valuable to others even if it is not perfect. If I have problems, I now have ways of tackling them.
"I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and experience that Doug brought to the course. Excellent practical advice. Good exercises and well linked via Doug's website.
"I felt it was well worth the investment of time and money."

Is there a solution?

Fortunately, the principles of effective storytelling aren't too complicated. After all, people have told stories successfully since before recorded history. And many of them figured out how to do it without ever being taught!

Even more people would become excellent storytellers if they were only givenaccurate and useful instruction. Still others will succeed if they are assisted personally to find the way that works for them.

Forget "the way" to tell stories. Storytelling is personal communication; there isno one way that works for everybody. On the other hand, you already have strengths that can become the foundation of your storytelling. If you are helped to build on those strengths, you will be able to succeed!

What I have noticed over the years is simple: if I help people focus on the right things, they automatically tell well. There are, of course, a few common pitfalls that will prevent people from succeeding, but it's possible to teach people toavoid them.

Therefore, I have developed a method for teaching storytelling based on some simple principles, tools, and exercises. I know it works because I won't let anyone fail!

Every struggle someone has had learning to tell in my courses over the years has become a learning for me about how to teach better. Partly out of laziness, I've learned how to prevent most such struggles before they even happen. That way, I don't have to put effort into coaching them to through the mire. (I'm willing to coach you on your mucky struggle, but why bother if I can steer you around it before you fall in?)

Who Am I to Help You?

How do I know how to help you? I am, first of all, an internationally known storyteller with 30+ years of experience. I have performed twice at the grandaddy of storytelling festivals, the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I have performed at the Smithsonian. At Pete Seeger's Hudson River Revival. On radio and television. From Singapore and New Zealand to Salzburg and Brussels, to Los Angeles and New York.



“Doug is the ultimate story coach. By helping me think of story in images,
he has greatly improved my telling and writing. Whatever Doug offers is
worth the cost!

—  Liz Kumru, Nebraska StoryArts & Publications Editor, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Liz Kumru, Nebraska StoryArts & Publications Editor, University of Nebraska Medical Center


Doug Lipman (Stephen Locke photo)

Doug Lipman (Stephen Locke photo)

But that is only a part of what qualifies me to teach you storytelling. I have also been a coach, teaching others to tell stories since 1979.

In my role as a coach, I have time to notice the result: did my instruction lead to your success? In other words, I haven't just been writing about storytelling. I have been interacting with thousands of learners on three continents—andnoticing when and how they succeed.

Who have I taught? People from all walks of life: lawyers, NASA scientists, teachers, librarians, software engineers, technical writers, preschool teachers, college professors, corporate consultants, CEOs, middle managers, social workers, nurse practitioners, dermatologists, United Way volunteers, cancer-society presidents, and many more. Not to mention scores of professional tellers.

In the course of this, I've noticed that there are certain principles that always apply, but must be applied individually. I have created tools and exercises that, when people put their attention to them, make it likely that people will succeed—quickly and easily.

This powerful, general, yet personalized approach (which I've been perfecting in workshops, courses, and coaching sessions around the world) is what I will make available to you.

Along the way, I've written books on coaching and advanced storytelling. I've created toolkits for intermediate tellers and those interested in special topics like creating stories easily and caring for their voice.

But I've never before assembled in one place the key ideas and techniques that I've developed over all these years for helping the novice. Ways to help people go quickly and effectively from a beginning storyteller to a captivatingstoryteller.

In an attempt to teach storytelling as efficiently as possible, I took out all the inessentials and boiled down what I knew worked into a two-month course last year.

People have continued to ask, "Are you offering that course now?" "How about now?" Rather than offer the course continuously, I decided to make all the info in it available in a Beginning Storytelling Toolkit.

What you will learn

This Toolkit covers a lot of ground, but there is no fluff in it. You will learn the key, practical elements of the following subjects:

  • Starting out as a storyteller, with no prior knowledge about the subject
  • Learning a story without memorizing
  • How to practice a story
  • The five key tools for accellerating story development
  • Four secrets for captivating your listeners
  • The five main ways to be boring (and how to avoid them)
  • Three tools for making your stories meaningful
  • How to teach through your stories
  • How to find, shape, and tell a life-experience story
  • Taking a story off the printed page
  • Adapting a folktale
  • The "organic way" to grow a story from scratch
  • Three keys to story structure
  • Starting off your story
  • Giving your story a satisfying conclusion
  • The role of body language
  • Expressing emotion in a story
  • Creating character voices without straining your vocal cords
  • Developing your storytelling imagination
  • What to focus on while you're telling
  • How to relate to your audience
  • How to get helpful feedback on your storytelling
  • Dealing with "Performance Anxiety" and gaining confidence in your storytelling
  • Where to find resources for advancing your storytelling beyond the basics.

By the time you've finished your journey through the Toolkit, you will be able to learn and tell stories with confidence. You will know the essential steps in finding and developing stories. You will know how to shape your stories in accordance with your purposes in telling them. You will know the basics ofperforming, relating to your audience, and using the elements of oral language. You will know the principles of training others to be helpers in your growth as a storyteller. You will know how to command the attention of your listeners—guaranteed!


"I really liked being reminded about thinking of compassion and being emotionally engaged with the character as well as the listener, to be globally, emotionally open that way."
—CJ Edelston, El Cerrito, CA

My Guarantee

After all these years of teaching storytelling, I am confident I can teach you. I have succeeded with so many people (and learned from my failures along the way) that I will guarantee you that, if you get this toolkit and go through the steps involved, you WILL become an effective storyteller.

I'm so sure you'll succeed that I'll make you this promise: if you get this product, go through the process and somehow you don't succeed, I will refund every penny you spent on this. PLUS I will pay you an additional $50 out of my own pocket, just to compensate you for your time. That's a more-than-your-money-back guarantee!

Obviously, I'm confident of my methods. Or I wouldn't be able to make this guarantee.


Consider the Deluxe Edition—for even easier learning

To make doubly sure that you succeed, I'm offering you the option of theDeluxe edition, which includes everything in the Regular edition, but also:

  1. Written transcriptions of all four lessons
  2. Written transcriptions of all four coaching/question-and-answer calls.

If you prefer to read (rather than listen to) the lessons and coaching calls, the Deluxe version lets you do so. Even if you listen to all the lessons (which I recommend), you'll find the transcriptions invaluable for note-taking and review.

  1. A certificate good for a half-hour, individual coaching call with me.

    If there is some obstacle in your way, you can use that individual coaching call to blast through it.

I normally charge $110 for a 30-minute coaching call. (See my coaching pagefor details.) Since the Deluxe edition costs only an extra $50, this is a no-brainer! One way to think of it is that you'll get coaching at a 50% discount—and over 150 pages of transcriptions free!

The CD-and-Notebook Format

The original Beginning Storytelling Toolkit was online, only. Later, in response to your requests, I have created a hard-copy version that includes:

  1. All 4 audio lessons and all 4 recorded coaching/question and answer calls, each on CD.
  2. All 8 of the session handouts.
  3. Complete transcriptions of all 8 recordings.
  4. A full Table of Contents of the recordings and transcriptions.
  5. A three-ring binder to organize all the above materials.

The CD-and-Notebook format is available only for the Deluxe edition.

In addition, you gain access to the forums and online assignments of the original online version, should you choose to use them.

Order the CD-and-Notebook format by clicking here!

The USB-Drive Format

You can also have all the files on a USB drive that you can plug into your computer or wear on your wrist! You can plug it into any computer with a USB drive, or transfer the files and play them back on your computer, tablet or smartphone!

The USB-Drive format is available only for the Deluxe edition.

In addition, you gain access to the forums and online assignments of the original online version, should you choose to use them. 

Order the CD-and-Notebook format by clicking here!

The Monthly Version

To allow you to begin your storytelling adventure with the smallest outlay of money, I created the Monthly Version. You get one session (a Lesson or a Coaching/Application session) every month for 8 months.

You pay a low fee each month. You can cancel at any time.

You can get the Monthly Version in the online format— in either edition (regular or Deluxe).

Order the online format—in the Complete or in the Monthly version—byclicking here!

How to Take Advantage of My Experience and My Guarantee

To take advantage of this, go to the appropriate catalog page:

  • CD-and-Notebook format or
  • Online format

Either way, you'll be able to access the Toolkit website, including the ability to download or listen online to all eight hours of recordings and learning aids, access to the interactive assignments and member forums. You'll be able toask your own questions and read the questions of those who took the course before you—and the answers given by me and their fellow students.


"I took this course because stories are about life, and so am I. I wanted to learn to use stories more effectively. I learned many things, including to pay attention to the listener. I love the appreciations. I think that is so loving and caring.
"I love, too, the way you go up to the balcony with your answers, being able, like a helicopter, to go up and look back down."—Bob Berlin, Macon, Georgia, Decision Management Associates
Bob Berlin, Macon, Georgia,  Decision Management Associates

Bob Berlin, Macon, Georgia, Decision Management Associates


What would you pay for this?

Seven hours of my time would cost you $1365—not to mention the time I'll spend answering your online questions, etc. That's a reasonable amount for learning quickly and effectively something that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

An in-person weekend workshop would cost at least $400 for tuition, plus airfare or other travel expenses. Not to mention lodging away from home.

The people who took the original course paid $397—a very low amount for a guaranteed learning of a major life skill.

Because I'm trying to make this available to more people, though, I'm offering this (in the online format, Regular edition, Complete version) for $147 (just 37% of what the original students paid). The Deluxe edition is just $50 more.

Choose the format that works best for you, and Complete or Monthly:

If storytelling is so interactive, how can I learn to do this online?

Good question. Obviously, it is better to learn in person. If you can come to one of my in-person workshops or bring me to your workplace or association, you should do that! If you can travel to my house for an $1800 Solo Coaching Intensive, of course that would be better!

Unquestionably, you need in-person interaction to learn this skill.

That said, I've done everything I know how to do, to make this toolkit effective:

  • You'll get exercises you can carry out at home (in person or on the phone with someone you already know) and then report the results on the website.
  • You'll have the interactivity of talking about your problems, questions, and concerns on the online forums.
  • If you choose the Deluxe version, you'll have an individual, 30-minutecoaching call with me, as well.

So, click on a link below to go to the catalog page you want:

I promise that your communication—and therefore your life—will never be the same!

Yours in storytelling,


The Guarantee

I am so confident of how I have learned to teach the basics of storytelling, that I will guarantee that you are satisfied. If you listen to the lessons and do the online exercises, you will learn to tell stories. You will gain the benefits I have described.

If, having use the Toolkit, you don't agree that you've learned to tell stories, just tell me. I'll refund every penny you paid. And I will pay you an extra $50, just to compensate you for wasting your time!


Mary Payne, Oklahoma City, OK

Mary Payne, Oklahoma City, OK

"I have gotten an awful lot out of this. The best part for me was probably how to deal with performance anxiety. I really appreciate that.
"But also I loved the whole idea of imagery, that what I'm imaging, the audience is going to image if I can make it a gift. I just think it's fantastic."—Mary Payne, Oklahoma City, OK