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Story Circle 101 – Getting Started

A Story Circle is an event as old as human history, a time and place to share ideas, offer comfort and guidance and strengthen and support ideas.   More than just entertainment for children, shared stories are avenues to deeper conversations and can serve as the foundation of important discussions.

Most Story Circles meet once a month or twice a month for approximately 2 hours.  A meeting usually takes place with people seated in a circle, includes light refreshments and is open to anyone who is interested in telling or sharing stories.

If you’d like to start a Story Circle decide if you would like to connect it to organization such as a school, community center of place of worship.  Will it be a private Circle or open to the public?  Whatever you decide inviting people to learn about a Circle and feel comfortable attending will be important.

If the circle is open to the public, press releases online and in the paper will help stir interest.   Check online to see if your geographic area has a storytelling community.  If so they might know of people who would be interested in joining a Circle.  (Links to storytelling resources are available on this site.)

A Circle can be held in a public facility like a church hall or library, but don’t rule out using private homes with members taking turns hosting a meeting.

The first meeting is informal with refreshments and a chance for people to introduce themselves and talk about why they are interested in joining.   Groups of up to 15 members are the most manageable and attendance will always vary according to personal schedules.

Set a specific day for the monthly or twice monthly meetings. It is easier to schedule if you designate a specific day such as the first Monday of every month as the meeting day.  It is less confusing to remember.

Establish some ground rules.  Those rules ensure that everyone understands how the meetings will run and honor both the stories and the tellers. The story always belongs to the teller and their ownership must be respected. If the group decides certain topics and language is not acceptable that should be stated so the guidelines are clear. 

Designate someone to be the circle leader, however, this should be a rotating role.  That person starts the evening and helps people keep to their allotted time.

Set a time limit for telling a story.  A time limit allows the largest number of people to tell at a meeting.   10 – 20 minutes is a good span and the time keeper should give a warning shortly before the teller’s time expires. 

After a story is told, the teller may or may not ask for feedback.  If they don’t, respect their choice and give a minute or two before someone else begins.  If a teller does want responses from the listeners, be respectful and thoughts in a positive manner with phrases like, “I want to know more about………” or “I got confused when ……………..”  A story develops gradually and when getting started sometimes all a teller needs are careful listeners.

Have fun! The art of telling stories is within the reach of almost everyone.  While the topics might be challenging, the act of gathering together to tell and listen to stories should be an enjoyable and informal time. 

Stories are found, not made.   Getting started telling a story is easier if people are anchored to a specific memory.  Stories reside in the recollections of people, places and events.  By focusing on one of those areas it is possible to start a search for a story. 

Here are some prompts:
  • Introduce the group to a person who was an importance influence in your life.
  • Describe your first job and what you learned while you were employed.
  • Talk about a souvenir you have from a special trip or event and what it represents.
  • Tell about a place you once visited and hope to return to someday.
  • Introduce the group to a person you almost married but didn’t
  • Tell about the most important teacher you ever had
  • Tell about something you did but for which you never got caught.

Pick a Theme.  If the group agrees to the idea suggest that a meeting be devoted to a specific theme such as childhood fears, moments when life changed forever, special people you knew for a brief time, holidays, love found/love lost, friends.
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