Sunday, January 24, 2021

Author, Speakers, Creative: There are 3 steps to building your heart-centered, integrity-based business (pay your bills, breathe freely, secure your future) with good financial stability and an even deeper impact on the world around you. Stop playing games with the whole "starving artist" mindset.

1. Identify, define, and focus on just who you want to serve and why.

Get focused- your "everybody" plan is keeping you from being the heart-centered teacher, coach, communicator you want to be.

2. Create a marketing plan that speaks to how your creative expression helps them solve a problem.

Build relationships. Offer value. Be the source.

3. Apply your marketing plan with daily consistency.

There has never been a better time than now to reach new audiences. Ever.

Want to know HOW to start to do these things? Learn more at

Sean Buvala has a blog. This is a good as any. :-)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Float. Reinvent. Pivot.

Folklore is filled with stories of people who come to a fork in the road, often met by mysterious and maybe dangerous creatures.

As you move forward in the world still firmly held in the grip of a pandemic, you've got some choices.


"I hope that everything goes back to normal." That is probably not going to be in our future. The wisdom stories of the world tell us that this rarely happens once we encounter a monster. You can hover and try to wait out the storm.


Perhaps what you have been doing all along is never coming back. There are pain and grief in that, but also a great opportunity. In the "way things are," are you excited about seeing new ways to serve customers and interact with your brand, even if you don't yet know what those ways are?


We are moving to a virtual world where brick-and-mortar and direct services might not be the right choice. Is there a new way to still deliver your product or service? You customer will still love you, and you will find new ones, too.

Are you at a crossroads or fork, blocked by a creature of doubt and fog? Look that beast in the eye and, rather than running scared, address it and ask, "What is your lesson for me today?"


Sean Buvala helps entrepreneurs and business owners find, craft, and share their seven unique stories to grow their businesses during these "what if" times. Visit to schedule a call.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Authors: Three Things for Better Public Speaking

Do you have to have the cheesy motivational=speaker vibe in order to be a good speaker? Nah. I work with lots of people for whom Speaking™ is not their career but rather a part of their work. Authors, I'm talking to you. Here are three things that make you a good speaker...

Sean Buvala has a blog. This is a good as any. :-)

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

San Diego Navy Pier Sunrise (December 2019)

Lest anyone think I have faded from the world and this blog, I am still here. We've moved most of our discussions to and, but we're still active.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Journal for Tweens: You Wake Up One Morning

Sean Buvala talks about the latest creativity journal from The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group. 50+ prompts to get the creativity of the young people aged 10-13. Lots of creative pages for journals, drawings, art, graphic novels, dot grid, and more.

You Wake Up One Morning: A Kid's Prompted Journal to Create Great Stories in Words and Art!

You Wake Up One Morning. . .

. . .and there's a tiger in the corner of your room.

. . .everything you wish for comes true.

. . .you are only 2 inches tall.

What Would YOU do? Create Your Answer in Words and Art!

This journal has dozens of fun prompts all about "waking up one morning" and so many different blank pages just waiting for creative thoughts and art: boxed pages, journal pages, college-ruled, storyboards, graphic-novel style layouts and more!

Choose and Start!

Take a look through the prompts and find one that gets your brain-juice flowing. Then find a page that lets you write your thoughts or make your art...whatever you want to do! There are no "right" answers in this journal, no correct way to be creative. Go for it!

A Great Gift!

Hey Parents, Grandparents, and All Caregivers: Give the gift of mind-engaging, screens-down creativity! Take a look at this journal for the growing writer and artist in your world. With plenty of room for self-expression in this backpack-perfect sized book (7x10 inches), you probably have at least one "big kid" somewhere in your life who would love a journal like this.

The prompts in this book have been chosen to perfectly fit the fresh "abstract-thinking" mind of the preteen kid

Saturday, December 01, 2018

StoryRise Goodyear: What Is StoryRise

"The intention of StoryRise is that it's a 90-minute experience of contemporary storytelling for adult audiences. So, that means what you'll hear here is everything from traditional stories to more of the slam poetry style pieces. Our tellers range from people who have been doing this for a long time, I've been at this for 30 years, some people with lots of experience to some people that were trying to grow up, to bring them into being able to perform more. So the range will be pretty good. Each night has a theme and a workshop so it's not a kiddy thing and that's probably the most important thing, it's not for kids. It's an adult experience.

And if you want to find out some more information, where could they go?

You go to StoryRise, one word,"

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Selkie and Her Children

The Selkie and Her Children: A Story by Sean Buvala


The man looked out toward the beach and there he saw a bonfire and around it were dancing the silhouettes of a woman and her children and as he looked about he saw that there was a pile next to them and so he figured that these must be selkies and that pile was their pelts. He knew that if he took their pelts away from them, they could not return to the water and that he could tell them what to do and so while they were dancing silhouetted against the flame, the man snuck up behind them, grabbed the pelts in his arms, and held them tight.

Immediately, the woman knew that their pelts had been stolen and so she turned to the man and she said, "Sir, please give us those pelts back. We must have them."

He said "No, you are on my land. This part of the land here is mine and you have trespassed upon it. No, you will do as I say."

And she said, "Sir, please, the seas from which we come are rough and dangerous for my children. We need to come here."

And he said, "No. I have told you. Here is what I am going to do. I'm going to take your children and lock them away. You will become my wife and you will do as I say."

She begged the man to return the pelts but he refused. And so, she reluctantly agreed to his terms.

He took the children and he put them in a cellar. There in the cellar, they could not hear the sound of the ocean. There was, however, a window high at the top of the cellar. When he would come back every day bring food to the children, he would open the window and leave it open for an hour. He would then close it, He would leave the cellar, lock the door behind him, leaving the children behind. He forbid the selkie woman from ever going to see the children, lest he take them away in secret to a place she would never know.

He took the pelts that he had stolen from them and he put them in a chest, keeping them under lock and key. The selkie woman, meanwhile, became his wife and, as you can imagine, she was miserable. She did not give him any children of his own. Every day, she would go to the edges of the ocean, sit upon a rock, and simply lament the loss of her sea children.

Watch the video for the entire story.  CC video.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Where to Find Stories (Basics)

"I don't have any stories!" I hear this from newcomers rather often. Where will you find your stories? Let us look at some ideas.

1. World Folktales

Simple tales such as Aesop's Fables are fantastic starting points for gathering stories and you will find these especially good for business and non-profit settings. You'll also find a variety of tales from the Grimm Brothers or Joseph Jacobs that can be adapted to almost any situation.

2. Online Collections

I mentioned to you last week the repository of stories you can find at my site or even through searches through websites such as YouTube. Although you do not want to pick up these stories word for word from other artists, these stories might inspire you to research more stories.

3. The Past: Yours and Others

Although story-gathering from other people is a skill in and of itself, you might be surprised at the family stories that are lurking in the minds of your relatives and friends. If you have a particular subject matter in mind, ask your friends to think about keywords. Do they have stories in their past? For example, if you are doing a talk or presentation on "family dynamics," ask your friends about how they got along with brothers and sisters when they were a child. Ask about quirks they thought their parents or grandparents might have had.

This really can work well for you. People are naturally inclined to share stories. At the very moment, as I wrote this lesson for you, I was sitting in a popular coffee shop. Across from me, two women were regaling each other with stories of their childhood, talking about their sisters. Folks have plenty of stories; they just need to be asked.

When you are using this method, please note that it may take some time for people to pull up stories from their mind. Often, it's better to say, "Tell me about a time when your sister made you crazy" rather than "Tell me stories about your childhood."

By the way, never use a person's stories without their permission!

As a storyteller, you never need to run out of stories. They are everywhere. Start gathering today.

Here is Your Homework!

1. This lesson really is a reminder to do your homework. Storytelling is an art form that requires constant attention, just as any art does. You can't be a watercolor artist if you don't paint.

2. In your own journal, dig for stories from your own mind by answering these questions;

Can you recall a time in your job or career that something was truly accomplished?

When did you first know that your siblings could also be your friends?

Can you remember an emotional moment with a pet?

Did you ever have a dream come true?

3. Try the story gathering with a friend. Choose a simple subject and spend time together recalling memories. Outline the conversation in your journal.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. He is the publisher at The Small Tooth Dog Publishing Group LLC.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Take Away the "Take Away."

May I Suggest: Don't always tell people what to think about your stories.

As a Storyteller, you might need to learn to trust that the relationship between you and the audience is something that develops. First, it grows because of your ability to be open and accessible as a teller. Secondly, it grows because your audience is full of competent, life-living human beings. In all actuality, our role as storytellers is to help the audience discover for themselves their own understanding of the subject that we're talking about.

It's easy sometimes to think that when we finish telling a story, and this is especially true in telling personal stories, that we need to tell them why we have talked about the story that we just presented. It's as if we can't quite trust the audience to figure out for themselves what our story might mean in their own lives.

You know this essential truth: our stories must be appropriate for the audience that we're speaking to. If you practice this careful selection of well-crafted tales, then the audience won't struggle with the story that you told them. The time to be concerned about whether or not the audience understands why you are telling a story is in the crafting process. The time to be sure the audience understands is not at the end of telling the story, it's before you stepped on the stage.

When your story connects to world-sized Truths, there is no need for "here's the moral of the story" lecturing. Telling an audience what to think, what to "take away,"  rips the audience out of the transcendent experience of the story. It turns the teller into a preacher or teacher, not a storyteller.

Now there are times, of course, when you are telling stories in a teaching situation. In those roles, your stories will tend to be more didactic, and it's okay to walk the audience through a discussion about why you told the story the way that you told the story. And I would always encourage you to engage anyone who, after you telling, says, "Can we talk about that story?"

 However, I think that for most performance pieces, open-mic storytelling events, or personal storytelling nights, this "take away" habit that people are falling into now (explaining why they told the story) is really detrimental to the art form, to the storyteller and, I believe, to the audience.

Frankly, if you get to the end of your story and you feel you have to explain what the story is about, then you're not doing your deep work in crafting your story in the first place. It's simply too lazy to get to the end of your personal tale and then tell the audience what they should take away from your story. It falls back to, "Show, don't tell."

Let's be clear, your role as a storyteller of personal tales is to be the student of the experience you are describing. You are walking with the audience, not shoving them forward. Be ready to engage with audience members after your story, but start with what in your story resonates with them.

I'd invite you to work more intently on creating well-crafted stories so that the need to explain yourself the end of the story really is not existent. Facilitate understanding, don't preach. You'll be shocked how much you learn.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. My thanks to the very talented Mark Goldstein for the picture of me performing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Inappropriate Folktales Podcast

I have a little side project posting both freshly and brand-new recorded folktales as well as recordings dusted off from my archives. Gosh. I have archives. I am old? Come listen. Subscribe on all the normal places like Itunes and GooglePlay, too. I'd love to have you listen to something inappropriate.

We're at should you wish to wander about.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Six Stories You Need in Your Storytelling Repertoire

"Do I have enough stories for the work I want to do?" is a common question I hear. The number of stories you need changes based on where and when you will be using your stories. That's the short answer.  Generally, you need three times the stories you think you will need. A one-hour concert is best served with three hours of available content.


As a coach, I like to think of the question a bit deeper. I think it's important to recognize the type of stories a teacher or teller needs, not just the volume of stories. I'm not referring to the question of folktale versus personal tale, but the bigger idea of the how an artist processes the stories they know (or will know)  in their repertoire.

Here are the Six Stories I think you need. All of this is flexible, with and ebb and flow of where your stories fit. I also think that these concepts apply across all the situations where you use oral storytelling including business, education, entertainment or inspirational settings.

You Need:
a picture of the number six on a child's playground

Stories That Promote Change

"With great power comes great responsibility." –Spiderman's Uncle

Let's start with the most obvious type of stories, recognized by grifters and preachers alike. Why be an artist (or trainer) if you don't want to make an impact? Your stories well told will move an audience in some manner. Sadness to joy, inaction to action, dying to rising, there to here are all changes that you can facilitate with your stories. Embrace the catalyst you have in the stories of your collection.

Stories That Inspire Awe In You, The Storyteller

"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." –Eden Philpotts

While there are many situations where you will use storytelling, you will always have "that one" story that summarizes some of the transcendence you feel in your life and work.  The arts inspire, motivate and create wonder. As an artist, as a communicator, you will need these stories to remember that you are using an art form that moves beyond the surface, that connects on deeper levels when you are overwhelmed with the "why am I bothering to do this" moments.

I've seen this "one story" with all my coaching clients. Perhaps you use storytelling in healing settings and your story centers around one patient or client and their journey. Maybe it's a story about something you as the teacher learned from the student.  In a business setting, your story might be about how your work actually made an impact on your customers.

Stories That Are Workhorses

"Do…or Do Not. There is no try." –Yoda (Star Wars)

The working artist, from stage to staff room,  is working a job. Communication, storytelling and teaching are often jobs. While the fresh-faced artistic apprentice (of any age) might get caught in the inspirational or transcendent storytelling, the specialist knows the routines and pacing of when stories are presented and repeated.  I have malleable stories that I nearly always tell, enough to create varied presentations even for the same audience in the jobs I hold (and am honored to have) as their presenter.  Don't be afraid to have many workhorse stories. Their reliable presence in your artistic "day job" makes it possible to tell the previously mentioned stories that inspire awe.

Stories That Are Funny

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.”  -Oscar Wilde

Similar to the workhorses, you need stories in your collection that are simply entertaining and funny. Funny stories gather groups, break tensions and build relationships.  I've never known of a setting where a funny or lighter story couldn't be used. This is a very broad category of stories that requires cultural sensitivity and a light touch. The days of the public-speaking "tell a joke first" are gone. In its place are full stories that are fully crafted and deftly told.

Stories You Don't Tell Anymore

"…the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity." –Calvin Coolidge

We all must develop and change. Cultures change, from the overall norms of society to the microcosm of your school or business. Your story repertoire is a mix of fallow and planting, composting and reaping.  As an artist, you will find that a story that once made sense (and may have been a workhorse) no longer fits your viewpoints. As a communicator, you must abandon stories that are no longer appropriate for a changing world.  I have been at storytelling for more than three decades. When I look at old set lists, I find story titles that I don't even recognize or titles I remember but think, "nope, I'm done with that."  New growth as an artist requires the compost of the old journey.

Stories You Won't Ever Tell

"The better part of valor is discretion; in the better part I have saved my life." –Shakespeare

There are stories you should not tell to an audience. Your deepest stories of pain or conflict are best shared among your closest friends or therapists. Don't drop your problems on your audience. Don't reveal everything.  In an age of oversharing, you might struggle to recognize the stories that need to be reserved for only the most particular of circumstances.  Knowing that all artists have these stories and recognizing your own untellable stories is a sign of maturity as a person and artist.

Whickety Whack, Six Stories in Your Sack

I hope, in these Six Stories, you find a better understanding of your work with story. I'd be interested in hearing from you if you have a category that isn't covered by one of these six settings. Need some more tips? Take a look at my Tips Book at

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

So You Went to A Storytelling Festival...Now What?

So, you have been to a storytelling festival. What now?

Storytelling festivals and major conferences come in all shapes and sizes.If you have had the fun of attending one, you might be wondering "what now?" I have some suggestions that I think might help you explore the art of oral storytelling just a bit more. Below the picture are some notes and then a few specific items that might apply to you as a future "pro," should you be interested in exploring that option.

You can also listen to this post by the link at the end of the article.

1. Open your mind. Every festival or event has its own flavor, lens or world-view

As the director of, I can usually tell when an event with a large attendance has completed and the audience has started to arrive home. How? I start to get Emails. Folks search the internet, find and want to learn more about storytelling. Many times the questions in the Email are a variation of "How come there isn't (more about some subject) on"

I've been a featured teller at many gatherings and festivals. I have produced both large and small events. I can tell you this for sure: every event has its unique flavor, its own unspoken (usually) way of understanding the world. No matter how intently the event bills itself as "international," "national" or "fill in the name of the state or region," the event you were just at was driven entirely by the audience that attended the event. Everything about the event was planned for that audience. The festival or conference served those people- and you were one of them. Fantastic! Thank you for supporting the art form!

There's nothing wrong with this audience-based focus. It creates an invitation for you: go to more events!  You just dove in, you took the plunge and you found something new and exciting. Now, go find more. Travel, listen, tune in to the many and undeniably diverse expressions of oral storytelling in gatherings large and small. Attend the events that gather professionals that you will sit and watch. Attend events where everyone gets to be the teller and you (yes, you!) might have a chance to tell. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about yourself and the world around you when you open your mind to the breadth of oral-storytelling events.

2. Explore the variety of tellers that make up the oral storytelling world.

Many other Emails I receive contain a thought that is something similar to, "Your site doesn't feature Teller XYZ on the front page, the greatest storyteller on the planet!"

While we at have featured many storytellers and have hundreds of articles, stories, podcasts and more from these tellers, it's important to remember that storytelling takes on many forms and sounds throughout the world. While one listener might believe that Teller XYZ is the source and summit of all things storytelling, there are thousands of other people who have not heard of Teller XYZ but yet are very much inspired by any of the other gifted and talented storytellers in their own city, state, region or country. The oral-storytelling world is still very much composed of many big fish in various little ponds.  You'll find that most of the big fish are actually very gracious and humble about their own work and would also encourage you to go about exploring other ponds. 

So, go do that. Dig around; find out just how much talent and craftsmanship there really is. Travel some distance in both mileage and philosophy. Be comforted and discomforted.  Take some risks; hear someone new across the city or across the country.

3. Support storytellers you like via events and products.

When you find storytellers you like, engage with them as much as you can. Join their newsletters, buy their books and CDs, and attend their workshops. It's not easy to make a living as an artist but yet you can give energy, love and support back to the artists you enjoy.  Visit their website, join their Email lists. Just engage. As an artist with many books, workshops and recordings, I am truly grateful for every bit of support given by my audience.  Please know that even just sending an encouraging Email (or posting an online review of their book or event) to the teller means much, too. You'll find that most oral storytellers are very accessible people, just like you.

However, maybe you have been inspired to pick up the mantle of "storyteller."  If you are looking to tell more stories in any setting, then here are a few more thoughts:

1. Read books and blogs. Go to workshops.

Immerse yourself in learning. Find the great books and training (if I say so myself) that can help you become a better storyteller. Here is a good start. Here is another. Here is a tips book. Here is another tips book.

Never stop learning. I've been at this art form since 1986. I still go to workshops and webinars, looking for at least one nugget of wisdom in each that will make me say, "That is why I came to this." Invariably, I find that nugget in every event. Imagine how much knowledge you can gain if you are just starting out!

2. Support other performers.

You will learn the most about storytelling at the events of other storytellers. Is there a local event happening and you aren't a performer?  Go to that event. Sit in the audience. Listen and enjoy. Be polite. Support the arts. If you are on the program at an event, stay for the entire program. Sit in the audience, don't hide backstage.

3. Gradually ramp into your professional status.

Good professional storytelling looks very easy to do. It's not. It's a craft and an art, perfected over time and practice. Before you launch into a new business of being a "professional" teller, be sure you have spent a good amount of time honing your craft in smaller events and venues. Get coaching- real coaching that gives you honest and clear feedback. Learn the Five B's of professional storytelling on any stage: Be prepared. Be good. Be heard. Be gracious. Be done.

You've been to a storytelling festival. That is wonderful. Now, keep on growing!
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Picture from Library of Congress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Apples for the Princess (Children's Book Trailer)

Hello all! Here's the "official" trailer of our new *our first* book for kids! "Apples for the Princess" adapted from the Grimm's "The Griffin." We are very happy to finally get this out to you. Also known as, "why I have been so quiet lately." Come get your copy.

Promo: Explore the values of kindness and honesty with your kids. Featuring hand-cut collages from watercolor, acrylic, cloth and paper. Three brothers set out to help the princess, will any of them learn respect and manners? Enjoy our children's book trailer with some examples of the art work.

******The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: Toss Out Expired Stories

A story that was perfect for you once doesn't have to stay perfect for you forever.

Digging through my refrigerator and pantry the other day, I came upon some expired products. These finds are not a unique experience for most of us; there always seems to be that one thing in the back that we just forget about. While some products do well when they age for a bit, others really do become useless.

We store tales, anecdotes and story bits in our mind, too. Have you dug through your stories lately? Take a moment to clear out your own story-storage.

Do you have some stories that have expired? They could look like some of the following.

Do you have stories that you "borrowed" from other artists for which you intended to get permission to tell but never got around to it? Maybe when you started out in your storytelling career, you usurped borrowed these stories while you developed your own.  Now is the time to let go.  Don't eat the last remains in the crusty jar of home-made strawberry jam your friend gave you some time ago. Toss out that perished sweet and learn to make your own. It's not difficult to learn to make your own jam or stories.

You might have some stories you don’t really remember well. Some left-over meatloaf in your icebox can be used to create a fine sandwich, but when you have to ask yourself, "Wait, when did we make this?" it might be time to let go of the loaf. Most storytellers in any setting have bits and pieces of stories they may have told once or twice. Either make a feast with them (my book on that subject) or let them go and clear out some space in your mind. If you like the metaphysical aspect of discussions of storytelling: know that a story might choose you. It might choose to leave you, too. Don't hang on.

Do you have stories that (in a once-upon-a-time stage of your life) fit your lifestyle and beliefs but now when you tell them they just leave you uncomfortable? Like expired food in your fridge, do these old stories still pass the "sniff test?" Old chicken and old stories can both poison you.  Toss them if they aren't right. You can always get more poultry just as you will always get new stories.

Some other expired stories in your life might also include:

  • The personal stories (family or life-event stories) that you tell but yet you know (deep in your artist's soul) that the story really isn't a story.  You created the story just to fill time, perhaps, but in truth it is stilted and forced. It's probably expired, toss it. 
  • The stories about the lives and hijinks of your family members might also be expired if you tell them without the family member's permission.  Your stories of your cute kids might come back to bug you when those cute kids realize you've been yacking about them just to make a buck at a school show.
  • Any story that uses any type of cultural stereotype unless it is of your own cultural heritage and you are guiding the audience through to a better understanding of that culture. This includes, most likely, anything you have ever heard from a youth-leader who had a book of "101 Great Campfire Stories."
  • The stories in your life that manipulate your audience. Take the hint: that spoiled can of chicken soup you feed to your guests will make them retch after a while.
Stories do expire. Toss them out of the pantry of your repertoire. Don't tell every story you know.

et cetera: For more about "borrowed stories," see Lynn Ford's good article regarding permission at this link here. For more about salvaging cheesey personal stories (if you really want to save them), see my workshop/book here. Mark Goldman also has an interesting take on "leftovers" from his newsletter, too. For more in my "hardcore storytelling practitioner" series, click this link now.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Storytelling Slams: Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope

Like me, a calliope is sometimes full of hot air.
A bit of personal reflection: "Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope" is the new way that I am understanding the ongoing evolution of the Story Slam.

There's been, in my little circles, some discussion by the oral storytelling community (both online and offline) about story slams. I've been reflecting, mostly for myself, on my evolving image of the story slam.

Story slams, henceforth just called "slams," vary in style, quality, rules, and process but most are built around telling personal tales that are supposed to be true. The sharing of personal stories has probably already existed since people learned to speak. Really, aren't slams just the extension of gossiping with your neighbor over the backyard fence in olden times, like 1970 or some such date? Slams, if nothing else, create self-selected communities when we are too busy to know the people who actually live in the homes next to us.  If you need to know more about slams, I've written about them here and here and always-teaching here.

In the most popular cases, these storytelling events usually are almost always held with food and drink (hence, "cocktails and canapes") for the audience. It seems, from my experience, that the best-attended slam events have these two elements. I'm wondering if this is unique to this version of storytelling (as a performing art) as I can't imagine that most folks go the ballet with a table of highballs and mixed nuts.

New Words
Lately, I am seeing some positive shift in the quality of these events.  I know that "quality" is subjective and personal, as for some people every word uttered on the slam stage should be applauded while others shun the entire reality of slams. However, balance is important.

I used to describe slams as "karaoke storytelling".  "Karaoke" was once the cocktails-and-canapes version of "everybody's-a-performer" event before slams started to take over. For many of the events I saw at the beginning of the story-slam trend (1998?), "Karaoke storytelling" was the right description in my mind. People readily understood the model: get up and talk (usually in anecdotes and not really in stories) about one of the big-three subjects of sex, drinking or nakedness (with a smattering of  "how crazy my family is") and you could get an ovation. Much like karaoke singing an off key-version of "Midnight Train to Georgia," you would at least get applause for your efforts and (important) your telling would embolden others to share their voices.

However, in the last year or so, I am seeing a positive shift in the quality storytelling at some slams. I'm replacing my use of the word "karaoke" with "calliope/Calliope."

first, it's a calliope
Let's start with the calliope with the small-c. A calliope is a loud, offkey, hot-air driven musical device that is used at circuses and state fairs. It's blustery, attention-seeking and, for a few moments, can be fun to watch. They are a novelty for music; they are not something I want to listen to all the time. Sadly, there is still some calliope-style storytelling going on at slams. While you can get a "ringer" who truly understands how to tell a story, there are still some storytellers who are new and loud. Worse yet is the storyteller who is not new, just lazy (untaught?) in story-crafting. This happens often in "draw the contestants' names from a hat" shows. These are the calliope storytellers. You will have some fun, but you will get tired of listening to these tellers after a while. There is much noise and distraction coming from these calliope tellers.  In fairness, we could say that there is some serious butchering of world-tale story in the traditional presentations, too.

Choose Your Muse.
Calliope drops knowledge on Orpheus
Choose Your Muse: Calliope
Importantly, we also have the capital-C Calliope. She is The Muse of Eloquence and Epic Poetry.  With the slams that insist on coaching or curating the presenters, there is often better personal storytelling going on as well as the sets of inspired, touching, relevant and eloquent tales. Seemingly touched by Calliope herself, some of the storytellers in these slams create a wonder to hear and feel.  These Calliope[1] storytellers elicit a room-wide guttural sound of agreement or appropriate laughter from the audience immediately before they begin applauding. These good tellers are now the ones who inspire others to share their voices.

Take Some Action
Thinking that you want to be more on the Calliope side of things? Here are four actions you can take for improving your storytelling. First, get better coaching or (as a producer) offer coaching at your slams. Then, be more intentional about the stories you are telling. Also, be sure you have rehearsed your story with others who will actually give you authentic feedback.  Finally, explore some more options and educate yourself about how stories are actually crafted and created.

While the forms of both traditional and slam storytelling have their mixes of calliope and Calliope, I am happy to say that I think that more slams are evolving to the Calliope stage.

[1]Or...go ahead and blow my alliteration by using the name of her son Orpheus should you need something more masculine.
Photo Cred:
calliope: By Neochichiri11 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Calliope: Alexandre-Auguste Hirsch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: What Does 'Show, Don't Tell' Mean?

Storytellers use too many words...sometimes.

In this next "Hard-Core Storytelling Practitioner" post, I am talking the concept of "Show, Don't Tell" (written as Show or Tell in this article) that is prevalent in the "sacred" texts (giggle) of many who practice oral storytelling.

This is all Show. You would need some
Tell to understand this pic, huh?
I've been noticing lately in the audio recordings of our storytelling events that some of my stories might seem to be "missing" parts when listened to. However, I am not too concerned since the parts that are missing are the parts that I am "Showing" the audience the story rather than "Telling" the audience the story.

Adding to my reflection this week came Cassandra Cushing, who serendipitously asked on Twitter, "Storytellers, what does 'show, don't tell' mean to you? Do you like this phrase/concept?"

You can see most of the friendly conversation between Cassie, Tim Ereneta and me in this link here. In the debate for meaning and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. But, don't use too many words, Show some words instead. Use too many words and, like extra salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt.

So, for me, the question comes down to this: what does "Show" mean?

My Understanding
In the debate for meaning of "show, don't tell" and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy for me: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. They also need to do so in front of a live (present with them) audience. Because of that unique requirement of audience presence, the storyteller is free to Show the story through simple gesture and characterization.

I have a choice. I can Tell you a description of every character and how they are reacting to the world around them or I can Show how they are feeling and reacting in their story world.

Use too many words and, like excess salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt. Tell the story, give enough narrative, walk with the audience towards the full realization of the story you are Telling. Use Show much more liberally. Watch your audience as you are storytelling, trust them to "get it." If they don't, maybe they need more salt in their soup?

Let's look at one character in one story, as an example of Show. When I tell one of the original Grimm versions of "Cinderella," the step-mother is clearly unhappy with Cinderella's ability to outsmart her. As she speaks in my story, demanding even more dried peas be picked from the ashes, I see her in my mind's eye. I Show that to my audience: my body straightens, her speech becomes clipped and she does the "plastic smile" at Cinderella. Her gestures become staccato and she unconsciously picks at her fingers, rubbing thumb to side of finger as she holds one hand in front of her. I am Showing the character to the audience. Step-mom's persona lives in me in these subtle ways.

Each character has their own "way of being" that is Shown in my way of bringing the character to life. This is so much a part of my telling that, in order to write this for you, I had to briefly tell the story to myself, so that I could remember the nuances of the character. I had to figure out how to tell you all those words to describe Step-mom in this article. Whew! Thank goodness I don't do that for actually storytelling.

Some Ways to Show
As a storyteller, you have a full pallet of ways to Show a character. You will be using hand gestures, facial expressions, gaze, and body posture and body position. Your tone of voice might change between characters. You will be being giving attention to your pacing, pauses and your eye contact. Incorporate the character into your being, Show the characters to your audience.

I am aware that for some audiences that may be visually challenged you may need to add more words to your story, using Tell more liberally. Also, for audience members on the Autism spectrum or others who have trouble with interpreting social cues, a more direct approach to "The Step-mom was angry, trying to control her voice…she sounded like this," might be a better choice. As storytellers, we always put our audience first. What do they need?

 But what about oral recordings?
These concepts of Show and/or Tell have different rules in a recording, particularly in an audio recording such as a CD, mp3, radio or podcast. Storytelling performances recorded in audio (or video) are not storytelling. They are records of a storytelling event, no matter how entertaining they may be. For example, my current version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale is of a tiny man of few words, but with a very expressive face, head gestures and lingering eye contact. That Showing simply does not translate well to an audio recording. To record it formally, I would have to change the balance and techniques of Show and Tell.

A story designed for recordings (audio) is closer to "voiceover" than storytelling.

Tl;dr or My Conclusion
Here is what I am practicing and using these days: Showing and Telling are both important parts of oral storytelling. Showing in a story is the whole body, subtle and nuanced, expression of a character or place in live storytelling. Telling is where the narrative takes over the story or the characters speaking things that move the narrative forward. I prefer that storytellers; Show me nuances of the character.

Edit April 10: Cassie Cushing has posted more on this subject on her blog linked here

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Journeyman Storyteller: Ready for the Next Step?

Journeyman 1: The Oral Storytelling Realities

I've written a post that has a very specific audience: for those that are making some part of their livelihood as a working artist. Since it is more "insider" than other posts on this blog, I have published the entire article over at

Here is an excerpt from the long article. Please come take a look if it is of interest to you. Thanks. 

"There is a space in the arc of the careers of all performing artists where one transitions from wide-eyed beginner to being an effective, talented Master.  In between those two stages is the important step of Journeyman. . .

This article is very specific to the oral-storytelling journeyman. You have passed through those first apprentice-based stages, taken some of the good myths and standards of the art. Now you are stepping up into the day-to-day realities of making some of your income as an artist.

Here are a few of the myths (both implicitly and explicitly taught) that many next-level storytelling artists have found they have to work through:

1. Everyone is a storyteller!

2. Stories choose the storyteller.

3. Your storytelling should always make you feel good about yourself.

4. Do what you love and the money will follow.

5. If only X would happen, then I would be successful!

Finally. . .

As I write about these five very popular myths, I am more aware of one thing. . ."

I've also recorded this post as an audio file. Visit the page linked above to hear it. 

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Ringmaster Not Roustabout: Those Basic Basics in the Storytelling Tent.

 circus clown ringmaster speaks with youWhy, hello there, storytelling newbie. I didn't see you standing there. I've been so busy lately over on other shows that I haven't had near enough time to speak to you.

Nonetheless- do you have a moment? Oh, very good.

Welcome to the show. And what a show it is. Storytelling is the mother of all art forms. An idea forms from the substance around us. That form then becomes narrative. That narrative becomes story. People share those narratives together and the story becomes storytelling. That storytelling inspires artists of all types.

Since you have walked into the Oral-Storytelling tent with the rest of us, let me welcome you inside with a few tips.

1. Use a microphone. If we can't hear you, your story has no value to us. Sitting with friends and entertaining them with your story is one thing but if you are going to stand up and speak to all of us: we need to hear you, no matter how confident or pumped you think you are.

2. Stay focused on the story. Some people will tell you that a storyteller is supposed to just be a vessel for the story, but that's pretty much metaphorical talk that is far away from where you are now in the art form. But here's a problem: that cool thing you do with the broad acrobatics and grunting (or guitaring or balancing plates on your head…whatever) isn't helping with the story. If at the end of an experience of oral storytelling we're talking more about your antics than the story you told, then something went wrong with your storytelling.

Let me clarify that I am not in the be-still-all-times storytelling camp. Your intentional movements that keep the story clear are just fine. Keep first in your mind your story and the connection it creates to and with your audience. Be ringmaster not roustabout.

3. Learn your story in parts. I see new storytellers try to recite stories they have memorized. They get lost and confused. So, do storytelling instead. See the story. Break it into parts. Tell us the parts you see rather than the words you have stored. Cool phrases and "crafting" (you are going to hear that word a lot) of the story will come later as you internalize the story. For now, go unplugged-style and just tell us the story you are seeing.

4. Get coached. If you are going to be serious in any art form, you need to take some classes and get some input. Tell me, how many sports stars are self-taught? None of course. You can be sure that every other artist in this tent (regardless of their skill level) has voices they seek out for guidance.  If you are telling jokes in the bar (not storytelling anyway), then you can go it alone. If you want to communicate, you need training and coaching.

So, I am glad you are here. We need new voices and new understandings of our very specific art form. Come grow with us who have been at this for a while. I love it when I get to say, "I learned something from this new voice today." That is so cool.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Getting the New Year in Focus

Heads up: this post is a bit more personal than what I normally post here. I'm writing more about the "artist" than the "art."

You might be tired of the New Year's posts, but I just wanted to share a thought that was new to me. It's not an idea that I thought up as I first heard it in a workshop from Trish Gillam at Gangplank Avondale. I've seen a mention or two since then in other places.

I'm not a fan of resolutions, even if I have written about them in the past. I find that people either "do" or "do not do" projects and ideas in their lives. However, I do like the idea of having a "theme word" for a year. As professional performing artists, I know it's easy for all artists to see grand possibilities about the future but forget that such possibilities need a firm foundation.

Now, my  2014 "theme word" is "organized." I let too much of 2013 get past me, for many legitimate reasons. At other times, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by ideas and goals and then, in that mess of possibilities, I ended up not making anything happen.

This is not to say that 2013 did not have some good projects and surprises. 2013 did indeed have some unexpected-yet-good events. However, in being honest, I found that I lost momentum by not keeping a better reign on the structures of my work and art. In that, this was a rare year for me.

So, in this year as an artist, coach and family man, I will ask myself a question about the projects I choose and the activities I do: "Will this help me be organized?" An organized (not compulsive) working artist can achieve many goals and get projects done. This is not solely about being "neat" or "housekeeping;" rather it's about being together in mind and purpose.

My word for 2014 is "organized." No lofty resolutions in that one word but rather a need to see the top of my desk again, the transcendent side of my work as an artist expanding, books and projects completed, my calendar better filled with bookings, and my family still moving forward. There is no order to that list as I see it as an overall way of being rather than a list of  resolutions.

I hope this makes sense for you as a fellow artist or entrepreneur. If you chose a word that would describe your goals for 2014 what would your word be?

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Story for Solstice: Calling Out a Rising Sun

Altered-Art Solstice by Michelle Buvala
Well, Winter is here in my part of the world. Happy Solstice to You. Here's a story I wrote some time back. It first appeared on my "Calling Out a Rising Sun: Stories for Teenage Guys" CD back in 2006. It was originally written for a multi-mode arts project on "addiction and recovery."

While that project never came to be, some of the stories remained. You can listen to "Calling Out a Rising Sun" now in .mp3 audio when you click on this link here.

Happy Winter to you all. And, Hot Happy Summer to my friends on the other 1/2 of the globe. Peace be upon you.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The "Talking Turkeys" Story.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my USA friends and family.

For those who don't know, Thanksgiving is a traditional US holiday that focuses on gratitude, family and food. It is much like harvest festivals in other countries. Turkey has been the usual centerpiece dish. is your Turkey Story of the Day, told by me to you.

Click here now to hear "The Talking Turkeys" in an .mp3 audio.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: How to Use Stories in a Short Presentation

On Friday I had a follow-up coaching session with a student from one of our Executive Speaking Training Workshops (EST). In these follow-up sessions, I often work with workshop students directly in creating their presentations. The private session is part of the package of the EST registration.

As part of my recent binge of hard-core storytelling-practitioner blog posts, I thought I might share a white-board illustration with you that I created while my client and I were working. She found it useful. I did not intend to use this drawing as a blog post, so you are getting a raw piece of my mind here. Be gentle with any comments about my scribbling drawing skills.

how to tell a story in a presentation illustration
The scribbles in the middle read "facts."

My student, who works in inventory control in a large international business, was trying to create a 10-15 minute presentation. I showed her a model that I sometimes use in my own public speaking. It uses either two or three stories to "bookend" or support factual content.

As you can see from the drawing, I suggest that stories serve two purposes in a short presentation. They are the first high points that bring the energy of a presentation back up. They also serve as frames (or hooks or nets- however you want to read it) for the presentation of facts during her discussion. There is a typical ebb/flow level of energy in presentations as you can see in this white-board picture.

There can be either 2 or 3 short stories in this presentation model. The first "bookend" flow (as drawn on the board) uses two stories and is seen as:

 Story A - Fact Set 1 - Story B- Fact Set 2 - Story A.

This second appearance of Story A is either the same type of additional illustration from Story A or a reminder from a lesson suggested in Story A. So, in a perfect white-board illustration I might have written A1 and A2.

Another way to do this presentation is to have a Story C at the end of the presentation that ties together the other stories and facts. I have noted that in the picture with some after-the-fact text added to the drawing.

Story A - Fact Set 1 - Story B- Fact Set 2- Story C

Of course, you will add your own introductory and closing comments, but for our meeting, we didn't need to write these on the board.

Other thoughts: I assume that you already understand that the stories would be connected to the content presented in the facts, perhaps to illustrate the reward or consequences of paying attention to the facts in the two sets. Also, the stories could be a mix of "real life" stories and a world-tale. One story, especially Story B, might be more of an anecdote and not a full story. It depends on your skill and your situation.

This is a good model for a short 10-15 minutes speech. You would adjust the process based on the time you have to speak. I have written about some other presentation models in the past as well.

I hope this is helpful.

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Written right out of our offices at Gangplank Avondale.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Storytelling Practitioner: How Does Pacing Work in Oral Storytelling?

I am spending some more time in the hard-core storytelling practitioner mode. My next thought: There are two ways to describe the pacing of your story.

First, pacing refers to how fast your story unfolds. Do you spend more time on some parts of the story and less time on other parts?  You may want to spend more time on one episode, piece or interaction in your story than another. Your audience will help you determine this. Although you may be telling the same story, the differences in your audience will help you to know when to focus more on part A or part B.

For example, when I tell my version of the "Fisherman and His Wife" to children, I will spend more time on the "funny" parts of the tale such as the fisherman and the fish speak to each other as well as the characteristics of how the wife reacts to each new change. When I tell the story to adult audiences, I will spend more time with the relationship between the fisherman and his wife. Since my stories are in episodes rather than a script, it is easy for me to change the pace at which each segment is revealed.

There is a second way to describe pacing in storytelling.  How fast you speak while telling the story? Mastering intentional pacing can help you create nuances in your story.

When you speak with a slower pace, you might be conveying the ideas of fear, anger, disbelief, astonishment, or awe.

When you speak very quickly you may also be sharing the emotions of fear, anger, excitement, energy, joy, surprise.

You will notice that I listed the words fear and anger for both slow and quick pacing.  Think about the following questions. What (or WHO) makes the difference in how those emotions are conveyed? Does it make a difference in who is being addressed? Does it make a difference in where the action is taking place?

Overall, most new tellers don't think about the ideas of pacing. They simply tell their story, with their pacing based on whether they are having trouble remembering the episodes (slow pacing) or just trying to get all the words out of their brain (fast pacing).

 Rather than just let your words fall randomly from your mouth, make intentional choices about how fast your characters speak

Sean Buvala is a storytelling coach and practitioner. He's the creator of the Storytelling 101 Elearning kit.