11 Groups That Will Improve Your Storytelling Skills

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Good leaders are always storytellers. People who knew Abraham Lincoln admired his storytelling skills from the days of his youth. Even if you’re new to public speaking, you too can develop your own storytelling ability. I’ve already written about the 10 Essential Elements of a Successful Story and about the 108 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language elsewhere. But there are other ways you can become a more effective storyteller.

If reading about great storytellers is a good way to learn to be a good storyteller, hearing today’s storytellers tell great stories is an even better way. Below I’ve listed the names of several storytelling organizations, most of which are live events. I encourage you to attend their shows if you live nearby them. Except where noted, all stories told are true. If geography or distance makes attendance impossible, many of these shows are available on the Internet or through smartphone apps.

  1. Story District (formerly SpeakEasyDC) – The largest storytelling organizations in the Washington, D.C., area, Story District holds monthly themed shows. For example, an upcoming Story District show will feature stories related to the topic “Jumping the gun: Stories about leaping before you look.” Shows are monthly; storytellers are selected before the event. Story District also teaches classes on storytelling. Most of stories told at this group’s events are available on YouTube.
  2. Perfect Liars’ Club – The Perfect Liar’s Club features four storytellers who tell equally incredible stories. As unbelievable as they all sound, only one of these stories is a lie. The audience votes on which storyteller they believe is the “Perfect Liar.” Though the Perfect Liar’s Club started in Washington, D.C., the organization plans to expand operations to London and Toyko soon. Shows are monthly; storytellers are selected before the event.
  3. Story League – Contestants in this open mike storytelling event tell funny short stories. The winner of Story League contests earns $100 and advances to a championship storytelling contest for the chance to win $500. Story League typically holds events every other month.
  4. The Moth – One of the most brilliant live storytelling organizations around, The Moth started in New York City, but quickly became a national phenomenon. Today one may find Moth events from Los Angeles to Louisville, and as far away as Melbourne, Australia. Unlike many other storytelling organizations, Moth stories are not memorized. If The Moth does not have events are in your city, you can access their stories on The Moth website, on NPR’s Moth Radio Hour and through a smart phone app.
  5. Better Said Than Done — Like Story District, Better Said Than Done produces themed storytelling shows. This storytelling outfit, which is based in Fairfax, Va., also teaches a variety of storytelling workshops including: “Telling the story of your life” and “Crafting your company tale.”
  6. Story Short Slam Maryland – Storyfest Short Slam meets at the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Silver Spring, Md., every other month. Contestants, including Storyfest Short Slam founder Michael Zhuang, compete to win $100 for the best story, based on audience preference. To learn more about this event contact Michael Zhuang at [email protected]
  7. Mortified – Mortified is a bit different from other storytelling organizations. Mortified invites people to read their diaries or other embarrassing creations from their childhood aloud to complete strangers. Some Mortified participants perform songs or plays they created when they were kids. Snippets of the show, which was the subject of the film Mortified Nation, are available on the Internet. Check website to for upcoming Mortified events in your city.
  8. This American Life – This American Life is a weekly public radio show that is broadcast on more than 500 radio stations. Each show has a variety of stories relating to theme. Unlike most of the other events in this list, This American Life is not a live storytelling event. Instead, it has more of a broadcast feature news format. Episodes are available via the show’s website, podcasts, mobile phone apps and in other formats.
  9. Toastmasters — Toastmasters is an international organization dedicated improving its members’ confidence in public speaking while also boosting their leadership skills. Though this organization is not, strictly speaking, a storytelling organization, many Toastmasters Clubs exclusively focus on storytelling. Likewise, Toastmasters has an entire program dedicated to storytelling as a Toastmaster. Toastmasters clubs meet daily and are held as near as your back yard and as far away as Saudi Arabia.
  10. TED – TED is an organization dedicated to spreading powerful idea in the form of short talks —18 minutes or less— relating to science, the arts, technology and other topics. Though TED originated in Monterey, California, the event has proliferated. Now licensed TED events, called “TEDx,” are held globally. If, at $6,000 a pop, you can’t afford tickets to attend a TED event, you can access thousands of TED talks on the Internet.
  11. StoryCorps – StoryCorps is an archive on 50,000+ interviews with people of all types of backgrounds and beliefs, telling the stories their lives. StoryCorps Stories are available on NPR, on CD, and are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

As have not personally attended DC Nerd Nite, an event where self-proclaimed nerds tell stories about science, I cannot speak to it, but I look forward to attending this event soon. I likewise, look forward to attending ThirstDC. According to ThirstDC’s website, it is an organization that aims to create and foster thought leaders both on and off stage by crafting an informal environment where world renowned experts socialized, interact with and inspire attendees in a lounge atmosphere.

If you know of any other great storytelling organizations please feel free to let me know! I’m a frequent attendee and sometimes performer at many of the above events!

All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Jay Krasnow is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Brenda Dennis

Thanks for the shout out to Toastmasters! It’s the most fun you will have during your lunch hour and you will increase your network while learning. I was recently in the DC area and visited the High Five Toastmasters, what a fun group!

Profile Photo Becky Latka

Cool! Love the TED talks, and recently discovered Storycorps, but hadn’t heard of most of these others (except Toastmasters – we have a federal Toastmaster group in my building).