How to Win a Story Slam

Welcome to the story slam! You are excited to share some of your life stories. However, maybe you have seen some great storytellers at these events and you are not sure if you have the skills to compete. To help you prepare your winning presentation, here are nine tips from an Arizona Storyteller to help you win the big prize at your next story slam.

arizona storyteller how to win slam win1. Search Online for Videos of Other Winners and Losers.
Many storytelling event organizers are finally realizing the power of the Internet to spread the message about their production. The online world is now loaded with hundreds of videos of folks who have told stories well at story slam events. You can also find videos of many folks who really weren’t ready to be in a storytelling contest. Study the winners and losers. What skills and styles do you think made the difference between getting the prize or being the gracious runner-up sitting in the audience?

2. Attend the Event Before You Participate.
Unless the event you plan to attend is brand-new, try to attend a program at least once. Every slam and storytelling gathering is different from the others. Do they have a real stage, lighting and sound system, or will you be just telling in a dark corner trying to be heard? Does it allow folktales or only personal, true tales? Do the contestants speak their stories in poetic cadence and rhyme or is it only storytelling that is allowed? Is the audience encouraged to “talk back” to the teller or do the organizers only want respectful listening? If the event serves alcohol, how does this influence the flow of the evening? Because of that influence, will you need to be ready to tell to a “different” audience if you are picked last instead of first?

3. Clarify the Format: Is It a Story or a Spoken Word presentation?
While storytelling is actually a very specific art form, the use of the word “storytelling” is used today to mean everything from sitting in a library with children to selling dishwashing detergent on television. Be sure you understand how the venue where you want to perform defines “storytelling” and how they want you to share your story.

4. Outline or Write Out Your Story.
It is best to use a systematic way to create your story. Write, outline or draw out your story, episode by episode. Then, mercilessly take out any parts that really do not have anything to do with moving your story forward. Share your story with a friend or coach. Video tape yourself speaking and review the video to see how you might improve. For more information about “how to tell a story,” please see my website at or download my affordable Eworkbook at

5. Respect the Theme.
Think more about your audience than yourself. If you have the need to share “My Torrid Relationship With My Parents” with a group, but the theme is “Pets In Our Lives,” you are going to lose the contest when your story only barely relates to how your mom loved your cat more than you.

6. Stay Within the Time Limit.
You will talk faster than you expect. Laughter from the audience will slow you down. If your time limit is five minutes practice for a 4.5-minute story. Going over the time limit in live performance will usually disqualify you. Do not condition yourself to rely on any grace period the venue provides.

7. Use Emotion Without Manipulating.
Your story should contain some emotion to help the audience connect with your story. You can show laughter, anger, fear and sadness or any content-correct emotion. However, do not use emotion to try to manipulate your audience to “like” your story more. They will not and the judges will take away points for these controlling tactics used against the audience.

8. Be a Good Audience Member.
Sit in the audience and listen to others tell stories. They may be your competition, but you might learn something from their performance. If you are in a location selling drinks or refreshments, buy something. In many cases, your purchase is a “vote” that tells the venue owner, “This is a worthwhile event.” Applaud when others finish their stories. Do not boo or hiss unless you are in a melodrama.

9. Be a Gracious Winner or Loser.
Someone is going to win. Most participants will lose. It may be your turn to win or you might have a losing streak. No matter what happens, know that the judges do not hate you. Yes, sometimes, an audience favorite might be the cute new “kid” or the young fair-haired person regardless of her or his storytelling skills. Be kind to everybody. They could be your official judges in the future.

Story slams, done well, are echoes of the heartbeats of our society as we share those situations that make us all laugh or sigh together. If you are ready to take on some competition, do it for fun and entertainment. Bring some friends and enjoy yourself.

About the Author:
Arizona Storyteller, Sean Buvala, is a full-time storyteller who teaches the great art of storytelling in both the United States and Canada and has done so since 1986. He is the national director of the Storytelling Resource site of This article is ©2012.

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