Storytelling Tips

Here are some tips on what we're looking for in a story:

  • Put yourself in the story. It's important that you're telling your own story, and not somebody else's.

  • Tell us how you changed. The best stories have a transformational arc, even if it’s small. Show us how this experience impacted you. Consider dividing your story into a beginning (status quo or buildup), middle (conflict and climax), and end (resolution). It also helps to think about the stakes in the story. What do you stand to gain or lose?

  • Show us your humanity. Don't be afraid to get intimate and tell us about your doubts and flaws. Nobody wants to hear a story about how you’re perfect, or a superhero!

  • Be descriptive. Please share sensory details. What did you see, hear, feel, taste? Audiences don’t want to be told what to think. They want to have an experience. To go on the sensory ride with you.

  • Don’t read off a page. Spoken word and writing are very different arts. Stories that sound like essays being read aloud are less likely to be considered. Flowery language, which may work well in prose, tends not to translate well to live performance. So put your script away and pretend you are telling the story to a group of friends over the dinner table!

  • We welcome comedic stories. If your story is serious, please try to include at least one moment of humor/levity.

  • Target length is 5-10 minutes. Remember, our storytellers do not use notes.

  • You can hear examples of successful stories on our podcast.

  • More tips on live storytelling form the New York Times here.

  • Have fun!

A word on confidentiality:

If you decide to include patients and their friends/family as characters, a good rule of thumb for preserving confidentiality is that your characters should not be able to recognize themselves in your story. Some ways to achieve this: don't include names or dates, consider changing key characteristics (e.g. if a hat or backpack was a key feature of your patient, make it a scarf or a necklace), and don't make diseases too recognizable (e.g. lymphangioleiomyomatosis should be changed to "lung disease"). Alternatively, you can obtain a patient's written permission to use HIPAA-protected information in your story. For a quick review of this issue, check out this article and this article.