Tyler Stahle | Jun 28, 2017

3 Tips to Make You a Great Storyteller

This is the first of a two-part series exploring how to tell your family story in an effective, engaging way. Read part two.

The thrill of genealogy is in the discovery. And no, I’m not necessarily talking about the discovery of a record or photograph, although these things make every family historian giddy. I’m talking about the joy we experience as we discover who our ancestors were, what they did, how they overcame difficulties, and the legacy they left behind. As we discover these truths about our ancestors, we discover who we are. We begin to see ourselves in a new light. We understand how to better deal with life’s challenges. We feel gratitude for the sacrifices of those who have gone before. Ultimately, we feel increased love and compassion for those around us.

It’s this type of discovery that inspires genealogists, from the beginners to the experts, to seek out their family history and discover their own story. Then, after learning their family’s story, a family historian is anxious to share it with whoever will listen.

Developing the ability to share our family story is the goal for each of us. For many, it’s the reason we travel to the annual RootsTech conference—a place where we spend four days honing our storytelling skills and interacting with the latest technology that can bring these stories to life like never before.

Becoming a great storyteller is a lifelong pursuit. The following suggestions can be helpful as you work to tell your family story in compelling and engaging ways.

Talk about What’s Difficult

It’s common to focus on the positive aspects of our family story; we naturally want to put ourselves in the best possible light. However, sharing only the stories of family success or prosperity doesn’t paint a full picture. As you tell your family stories, don’t shy away from talking about the tough times as well.

“We have to talk about what’s painful, what’s difficult,” said renowned author Bruce Feiler at the 2016 RootsTech conference. “What stories have the ability to do is teach resilience. . . . When we know that we have high points and difficult points, then that story really becomes a teaching tool for the children that we’re telling them to. It lets them know that when they hit difficult times, they can get through it. They can still succeed.”

Engage Your Audience


The best storytellers tell stories in such a way that the audience leaves feeling as if they’ve experienced something. This is done by making the story interesting, visual, and compelling. For family historians, this means resisting the temptation to show lots of family tree lines to your listeners and instead show them interesting photos or artifacts that build connections between your audience and their ancestors.

“There’s nothing worse than just having boxes, lines, and charts,” said Liz Alzo during her RootsTech 2017 presentation. “If you’ve ever been to a family reunion and you’re the genealogist and you bring out your long family tree chart, most of the time your relatives will humor you and say, ‘Oh, that’s really nice,’ but they’ll walk away unless you have something to grab their attention and engage them.”

To read a few ideas on how to make family history interesting to the rising generation, click here.

Apply the Lessons from the Past

Our family histories should help us learn who we are. The stories of our ancestors shouldn’t be something we hear once and then forget. Talented storytellers know how to take the inspiring stories from family history and use them to enhance the lives of their audiences.

“People are realizing that we do need to look to our grandparents and our great-grandparents and know their stories,” said Carissa Rasmussen at the 2016 RootsTech conference.


Look for parallels between the struggles of your ancestors and the struggles of today. Perhaps you had a great-grandparent who suffered a devastating financial loss. How did the family deal with this situation? What can you learn from their experience? Maybe one of your ancestors raised seven kids. What can you learn from that parenting example that can you apply to your life?

As you look for these parallels, you’ll be surprised to find that the things our ancestors experienced aren’t that different from what we experience today. There truly is a strength that we find from looking and learning from the past.

How have you developed your storytelling ability? Tweet us @RootsTechConf to join the conversation.

Tyler Stahle

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