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Make Your Family Stories Come to Life

Goyer: Family Storytelling

— Courtesy of Amy Goyer

I'm lucky to have a strong tradition of storytelling on all sides of my family, and I'd bet you do, too. Storytelling traditions are common across all cultures and ethnicities. Through stories, we can share family history, talk about things that are difficult or scary to address, and share good or even sad memories.

Everyone has stories to tell, and we all need to tell them. Some people, like my Granddaddy, seem to be natural storytellers, some are even professional storytellers. But you don't have to be either one to be a good storyteller.

Keep it simple, make it fun, paint a picture with your words and actions, and let the stories tell themselves!

Here are some tips on how to share your family's stories:

  • Have fun and don't act your age. Humor helps people connect, especially when you tell a story about yourself. Everyone needs to be able to laugh at himself/herself now and then, and you can model that for your family.
  • Share your story instead of lecturing to make a point. You've got something great to share with, rather than instruct, your audience. People are more open when the lesson is subtler.
  • Move your face and use your voice. I used to work with young children, and I noticed they especially loved listening to one of my coworkers. When asked why that was, they replied, "He moves his face when he talks!" Exaggerate your facial expressions, speak softly and loudly as you tell your story; it grabs people's attention.
  • Use props and tools, such as pictures, music, keepsakes. Stimulate your family’s imagination by using any object nearby as a prop. Build in fantasy. Stories don't all have to be totally realistic.
  • Get your audience involved. Ask them questions, get them to act things out, ask them to hold the props; make it their story, too.
  • Address tough topics through stories. There are many subjects that are difficult to talk about, especially for children. Don't be afraid to talk about fears and challenges through stories about making choices and what happens as a result.
  • Mind the attention span. A good story can vary from a short anecdote to a nightly bedtime story with many segments. The key is to match the length of your story to the attention span of your audience. Sometimes less is more.
  • Listen. Especially with children, give them a chance to share their stories, too, and they will be more receptive to yours. Storytelling is an exchange, not a one-way street. Enjoy the stories you hear and the ones you tell.
  • Document your family's stories. I'm lucky because I have audiotapes of my grandfather telling many of his stories, and I have videotape of my parents. And now, there are great resources for digital storytelling. Don't waste any time: Record your family’s stories while you can, so their stories can live on.

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