As you continue to work with stories, people will come to you to help them with their stories. At this point you take on the role of the “coach.” However, unlike a football or volleyball coach where he or she is concerned about the team, the storytelling coach gears their session based not on a group’s need, but the teller. The term coach can also in some cases illicit bad memories of someone who berated another for their inability or inexperience. This is not the role of the Storytelling Coach. A Storytelling Coach assists the teller in finding new ways to improving the story.
What is required to be a story coach is that the coach is a good listener and the person is involved in the process. This is not to avoid coaching improves by working with other coaches, taking risks, reading about the work of storytelling and coaching, but the first real goal is authentic listening.
Some general guidelines need to be following when coaching storytellers.
1. All can tell/listen to stories. Regardless of age or ability, people can listen and tell stories. Every person starts at a different place in the process. You must decide at what point of "readiness" the teller is in when it comes to listening.
2. All can receive and give praise and constructive ideas. Ideas are new ways of thinking of old ways.
Tellers need to realize that coaching is a positive experience. It is a good idea of to model good coaching which is explained below.
3. People naturally love stories and want to improve when telling them. When others are telling stories they will ask their peers and their leaders or friends to help them. They will also ask you to coach them as long as tellers know that will receive positive feedback and constructive suggestions will be given and he or she will not be embarrassed by the situation.
4. The story is not as important as the teller. Remember you are coaching living people with real feelings.
Sometimes a person is not ready to be coached. Never force them to engage in a coaching session. Instead, wait until they ask you to help them. Tellers must feel that they are contributing to the coaching process and their feelings will not be neglected.
5. Sometimes the reason you want to hear the story is not the same as the student. Sometimes it is helpful to ask someone “Why are they telling the story?” Sometimes they will be telling it for their mother, for a special occasion, or because they like the character, it reminds them of themselves. From these questions, more coaching direction can develop.
6. Story is about Sharing. It is essential to remember the purpose of coaching a story or a teller is so that can have a good experience sharing their story. However, it must be an authentic experience. It is not to make them perfect, but instead explore new ways to tell or enhance the story.
When coaching others to tell stories, remember there are three methods that will work.
**When coaching younger students: Note depending on how young the child is you may want to spend more time just on telling before you rush into a coaching session. Often children need just to tell stories until they feel competent as a teller. Only then should you suggest coaching.
6. Teller to Whole Group—This is a good way to start. Before someone starts a story he or she will inform the group if he would like suggestions. However the suggestions only come after each person who wants to praising the story. If the story suggestions are coupled with praise, often the teller only hears the suggestion.
7. Peer to Peer Coaching–This is where a teller will listen to the story another person is telling. However, before the telling, a teller will ask for specific suggestion on various parts of the story or the telling. A teller might ask for a special focus on something in the plot or if a character sounds like a giant or a little girl afraid of the dark. However, remember praise always comes first. Only then can suggestions be encouraged.
8. Experienced teller to novice coaching--This is a time when a novice teller wants coaching from an experienced teller. Make sure to have the novice teller for the coaching have a designated time, usually an hour, can be provided with no distractions. This personal approach can really help build the skills of a teller.
When coaching to tell stories, one can follow these steps.
1. Begin by asking what the tellers would like to receive when the coaching has been completed.
2. Always give specific praise first. Merely saying “good job” does not give the student direction for improvement. Instead saying something like “I really enjoyed the sound that you made for the wolf and it was enhanced by the snarl.”
3. Delicately choose your improvement words. Tellers can be very sensitive when listening to coaching.
4. Stop when the teller says stop. The teller should control the coaching and have the latitude to quit the session if he or she is uncomfortable.
5. Encourage tellers that they can and allowed to make mistakes.
6. Let the teller walk out of the session with new direction for the next time they tell the story.
7. Remember there is no right or wrong way in telling, it can only improve with focus over time.
8. . Story creates community and if you know the story of someone, you begin to know him or her.
8. . Always leave room for new ideas.
Coaching is an enjoyable experience. You will soon find from proper positive coaching that students will not only be telling stories, but will be improving with each telling. Being a good coach makes a world of difference.
Please note in my over 20 years of coaching, I have developed more advanced methods that includes "entering the story" with the teller as he or she tells it. But the above work can really help start a coaching path that leads to better story focus and telling experience. For more developed methods you can check out my book Playing with Stories. There is also other viable coaches around the country and world. I value the works of Doug Lipman and Marni Gillard and others.
Seek out a story coach who knows the deep value of listening and you and your work will be heard. I wish you every success.
Share an idea, give a listen. We are listening. We would love to feature your work on this blog or feel free to post your ideas about story coaching. "Together we make a difference with stories." See you on the storytelling trail.