Alternative Careers: How To Become A Storyteller In India

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How To Become A Storyteller
14 min read

In Alternative Careers, Kool Kanya explores unique and lesser-known fields to give you insight into a more adventurous world of livelihoods! In this guide, we’re discussing how you can become a storyteller.

Stories are our earliest records of history, and oral storytelling has been around for as long as we have. One might even say that storytelling itself is a tale as old as time.

Before paper, before the printing press, before novels, before slam poetry competitions, before 280-character Twitter fiction; there were oral storytellers.

The tradition has carried itself ably into the 21st century, and will likely outlast technology as we know it. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to watch the plot thicken; the kind whose heart starts racing when you hear the words “Once upon a time…”, then you’re in just the right place to learn how to become a storyteller!

Table Of Contents

What Is A Storyteller?

A storyteller is someone who narrates or reads out stories to groups of audiences of all ages, invoking setting, characters, themes and morals through imaginative oration.

Usually, the storyteller and audience ordinarily sit or stand in close proximity. This creates a specific ambiance that allows the storyteller to create a deep connection,  a personal bond, and a sense of community between themselves and their listeners. 

A good storyteller is capable of mesmerising their audience with their narrative techniques and gripping gestures. They are able to build a bridge between themselves and their listeners.

tradition of storytelling

A good storyteller can contextualise anything with a story — whether it is data, branding, or anything else.

Who Can Be A Storyteller?

To become a good storyteller, one needs to have a pocketful of narration techniques and the ability to capture an audience’s attention. A storyteller should be open-minded and outgoing, with prior experience in acting, teaching, performing arts or making presentations adding to their skills.

(Continue reading below.)

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of abilities that can ease your way:

Observation And Communication Skills

Storytelling often involves one to think like a writer and a reader. And what is more important for either than the ability to wield one’s senses to enhance the story. Having an eye for detail is a great tool for any storyteller.

Being able to communicate with everyone from corporate clients to school administrators to people of all ages is a must for a good storyteller. Offshoots of these skills, such as the ability to negotiate prices and network effectively, are also important to have.

A Touch Of Theatrics

Storytelling is very different from other forms of literature presentations. Unlike an author reading their stories out, or a slam poet performing their work; storytellers need to be able to physically embody the tale they are telling. It is in that way a lot closer to theatre as an art form.

For this reason, a good story teller has to possess or develop the abilities of voice modulation, dialoguing, mood-setting, physical movements, and more.

A Feel For The Audience

A story is as good as the audience’s immersion into it. Which is why it is important to know how to manipulate and involve the audience with your spoken and body language.

The audience is entirely dependent on the storyteller to lead them where the story goes, so knowing how to tap into their sense of wonder and aspirations is important.

Readiness To Experiment

While storytelling is an ancient art, the stories that we tell are always evolving. A good storyteller has to be prepared to step out of their comfort zone and experiment. This could be with their techniques, or the type of characterisations, or the morals of each story.

How To Become A Storyteller In India?

Although vocational or professional training isn’t necessary, India is home to institutes like Vayu Naidu and Co and World Storytelling Institute in Chennai that train people who want to pursue this like theatre.

geetanjali shetty kaul

We spoke to Geetanjali Shetty Kaul, the Founder of Secret Passages, who has both the practical experience and the industry know-how to help you understand how you can become a storyteller.

How To Start Out As A Storyteller

Like any other business, a storyteller must have a business plan and strategy.

  1. Research about the kind of stories you want to tell. Are you going for straightforward fiction, or something more experimental, like fantasy? Are you willing to do branded formats, or are you sticking to the standard telling of stories?
  2. Zone into your niche. Decide whether you will be narrating for children, senior citizens, corporates or NGOs, and finalise a language you’re comfortable with. Your niche will be a cause you feel passionate about, and will help you in developing a marketing strategy and dealing with customers.
  3. Research your competitors. It’s a good idea to check out other storytellers, and ascertain their marketing, pricing, technique and delivery. This way you will know how you can align, or stand out.
  4. Figure out your networking strategy. You will have to scout a variety of venues, and use your contacts to reach out to your audience of choice. Start with a list of people in your network who can help you.
  5. Create a branding strategy. How you present yourself to the world, and to potential customers, matters. Here’s a quick guide on building a brand story.

Research: Chron

Now, you are ready to start setting up your business!

Processes To Set Up For Your Storytelling Business

Geetanjali has been in the business for several years and has a ton of insight on how to become a good storyteller. Here are the steps you need to follow.

1. Do Market Research: Conduct extensive research about all the latest trends in the storytelling industry, and make it a part of your business plan to keep up with fresh ideas and concepts. This could be digital storytelling, or video content, or anything else!

2. Create Your Services: Start with a few basic services, and you can expand your offerings as your business grows. So you could start with simple storytelling, and expand into training and workshops.

Once you decide what kind of services you want to offer, make a list of everything you will need to make your storytelling successful. This includes venues, props, or equipment. If you have a roster of stories which you dip into, make sure you maintain an excel sheet with all correlated information and update it as and when there are any changes.

woman reads out to a child in bed

Pro tip: Test these stories out on your family and friends to figure out what works, what is missing, what can be changed, etc. This will also give you a chance to build a cample video portfolio.

3. Set Up Your Store Front: Think of a name for your business, and create either a website or a business account on Instagram. You can use the app’s business features, such as user insights and promotions, to your advantage. Making a unique logo is also a must!

Plus, make branding materials such as business cards. You can get these designed by a professional on the Kool Kanya Marketplace.

4. Volunteer Your Services: By offering your services as a volunteer, or for a barter, you can build a client list, get a little stage experience, collect testimonials, and create a buzz using word-of-mouth. 

You can volunteer at a local library, community day care, cafe, charity or literature festival. Once you have a few free sessions in your kitty, getting paid sessions based on recommendations will become easier.

5. Set Up Payment Methods: You can set up a business UPI account to carry out transactions, as they are the easiest way to conduct business. Another option is to request online bank transfers, if customers do not have a UPI app.

6. Start Spreading The Word: Start marketing your business by asking family and friends to recommend your service to their networks. You can also share your Insta page or website on your personal social media. Make sure to mention every aspect of your service in detail.

Pro tip: Make a graphic advertisement of your services, and broadcast it to your local WhatsApp contacts.

7. Get Clients And Start Storytelling: Once you have started getting clients, make sure you are ready to get going. You will have to be disciplined, dedicated, and willing to take up projects of all varieties

8. Be Your Own Customer Service: To build a solid, returning customer base, you will have to maintain a relationship with your clients. Taking the time to hear their concerns and reviews can help you do better and build a loyal clientele.

9. Keep Collecting Stories: This means reading extensively, listening and observing, haunting local libraries, and constantly researching unique and interesting stories from around the world.

(Continue reading below.)

How Does A Storyteller Tell A Story?

Storytelling requires a lot more than just the ability to speak to an audience. Here is what you need to do to tell a good story.

1. Understand what kind of stories you can narrate best by sampling out a few genres.

2. Keep a questionnaire for clients to fill in to understand their specific personalisation requirements. This could include what kind of story they would like, who the audience is, how many people they want in the audience, details about the occasion, any branding requirements and so on.

woman reads to children at a school

3. Use the answers the clients give to come up with ideas regarding the story you want to tell and vibe of the experience, and offer them a couple of options to choose from. Keep the client’s goal central to the options.

4. Share your budget with your client, and negotiate a good price for your services. Like any freelance gig make sure there is a contract in place.

5. Make sure to get a good look at the venue, and see what you will need in terms of equipment and technique in that location. For example, a small recreation room in an office will require different specifications as opposed to a large auditorium in a school.

6. You can link up with puppeteers, fellow storytellers, musicians and other performers to enhance your storytelling, depending on the client’s budget.

7. During the session, be attentive, evocative and confident. Use audience responses to gauge your next trick, and mould their experience into an enjoyable one. Make sure you get the client’s goal across in a seamless manner.

How To Grow Your Storytelling Business

Like every business, storytelling also requires one to scale up; whether horizontally or vertically.

Horizontal scaling up would be expanding one’s customer base to reach a larger audience, create a loyal clientele, and building the hype around your business. On the other hand, vertical scaling up would involve expanding one’s offerings to make more profits.

To do this, one has to first find clients and then explore the scope of your storytelling business.

How To Get Clients For Your Storytelling Business

Get your family and friends to spread the word, and recommend your services. Their word of mouth referrals are a great way to start your business.

Set aside a small marketing budget, and market your website or Instagram page with a fully-loaded menu of your services by creating a reach campaign and get followers. You can also learn how to build an organic audience for free using this guide (it’s all about geo-tagging, hashtags and consistent posting!).

woman makes gestures while narrating

Once you complete a couple of gigs, upload reviews and positive responses on your website, or Instagram stories and make a highlight. Make sure you follow up on your clients, because building that one-on-one relationship with them is key to keep them coming back.

Join local Facebook and WhatsApp groups for performers, and promote your business there. You can also participate in or plan some events for local charities as PR to reach a wider customer base.

You could also reach out to pages who curate and review local experiences, and introduce yourself kindly and request a shout out.

What Is The Scope For Storytellers In India?

Once your work is well known, there are a variety of ways to explore and expand your approach to storytelling as a career.

For starters, one might want to upskill professionally to add value to their work. Geetanjali herself has trained 400 storytellers in the art form, and is the creator and guide for The Heart and Craft of Storytelling, a certificate course that equips participants with tools and skills that allow them to imbibe storytelling in various aspects of their life. 

She also has several auxiliary workshops, such as unstructured play, mind-mapping & visualisation, facilitating safe-space circles and more. Taking up such workshops can help you upskills as a storyteller.

As for avenues one can explore as a storyteller, you could obviously join a network or a troupe, or start your own performance troupe.

You could also develop your own workshops, train teachers and corporate staff, or pursue art therapy. Storytelling for business is picking up pace, and it’s a great time to tap into that market.

You could start making content for Instagram and YouTube, or create storytelling podcasts to expand your reach. You could also look into travel storytelling as an elevated form of tourism. 

woman records a podcast

How Much Does A Storyteller Earn?

As a storyteller, unless you have a team, you are likely to work as a freelancer. All of this is dependent on how successful your sessions are, how you obtain and retain client satisfaction, how you ensure quality control, and how you meet your deliverables.

You can charge anywhere between zilch and upwards of ₹10000 for a single storytelling session. The prices you set should be based on audience size, client’s budget and brief, and the value you place on your labour.

It is recommended to keep a well-maintained accounts book, because if you are earning anything upwards of ₹50,000 a month, you will have to disclose your income for tax purposes.

When you’re the sort of person who lights up at the mention of stories, and wants to make others feel the same way, storytelling is a great path to go down.

You’re more than a speaker, or a dreamer. You’re more than an actor, or an influencer. Why? Because you are all of it, and more! Go forth, weave stories that matter and charm listeners wherever you tread.

With all this in mind, and all the information we have put together in this guide, we hope you will venture into the world of alternate career paths armed with the knowledge and skills to succeed!

Last updated: 19 March 2021

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Priyanka is a poet, a feminist, and an Ophelia conspiracy theorist. She can often be found yelling "Pray you, mark!" at rooms full of condescending men in positions of power. She believes that there is a tremendous dearth of tenderness in this world, and that we need to shift perspectives from acute compassion to chronic empathy. Trust her, she's learned that the hard way. She spends her life drinking coffee, playing with eyeshadow, and ricocheting between bawler and baller.

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