Storytelling in the Video Age

By Leslie Slape

If you’re a storyteller with a webcam, you can record your stories and post them on-line. It’s remarkably easy. Since July I have been busily recording stories and songs, making up for years of talking myself out of it because of the expense, the time commitment and my nervousness in front of the camera. Now the videographer is me, the venue is my own home, and telling to the webcam is as natural telling in front of a mirror.

Videos are a way to reach a far, far wider audience than you ever dreamed. Through my presence on, ProfessionalStoryteller.ning, Facebook and, most of all, YouTube, I have told to people in unexpected places such as Qatar, Croatia, Argentina and Indonesia. I have also forged new friendships with other storytellers. I absolutely love it.

My camera is the iSight, built into my iMac. I can’t speak knowledgeably about other webcams, but I’ve been told they work in a similar manner. The iSight is used in a program called “Photo Booth,” which takes pictures and videos with the click of a mouse. Don’t like the result? Delete!

On YouTube, where I post all my work, I’ve been seeking out videos from other storytellers. I’m a member of the YouTube group “The Ancient Art of Storytelling” at Most storytelling videos are shot with a videocamera during a live performance. Some are shot by professionals in a studio or at a live performance. Hardly any tellers use a webcam (although a lot of non-storytelling YouTube videos are made that way). Paradoxically, webcam videos come across more like a live performance than a video of an actual live performance does, probably because the teller actually seems as though he or she is making direct contact with you, the audience. Also, there are no distracting coughs, chair squeaks or heads in the way.

Here’s what I have learned about filming videos on my computer:

1. Choose a short story. YouTube limits videos to 10 minutes. Shorter is better, because some people are too impatient to wait for a longer video to load. You can split a long story into two parts, but there’s no guarantee viewers will watch both parts.

2. Use a tale you have told many times before, or rehearse your new one well. This is not the time to wing it.

3. Conjure up an audience in your mind. If you’ve ever told on the radio, you know how to do this. It’s one of the reasons I suggest using tales you’ve told often, because you’re not so dependent on the audible audience reaction to get in the zone.

4. Make eye contact with the camera.

5. Lighting: Because all my telling is in front of my computer, my lighting options are limited. I experiment and pick what feels best. I achieved a campfire effect for “Bloody Finger” with two candles under my face just out of camera range. I suggest using more light than you think you need, because my videos appear darker on PCs.

6. Sound: My computer has a built-in microphone but I’ve been told that my quieter stories are too faint on a PC (they’re fine on a Mac). I boosted the input volume and I’ve set up some sound equipment of camera range. I’m looking for a good microphone with a USB plug.

7. As soon as I have it in the can, I watch it all the way through, and if I like it I upload it to YouTube. It takes several minutes to upload, so go make yourself a cup of tea.

8. Include your name in the title of your video so when people are Googling you, they’ll find your work. Example: “Leslie Slape, storyteller – The Tale-Teller.”

9. Tag your video with words that will make it come up as “related videos” to other storytelling videos (whenever you finish watching a video on YouTube, you’ll see a list of related videos). Suggestions: oral tradition folktale spoken word storyteller storytelling.

10. Add your video to “The Ancient Art of Storytelling” (you’ll have to join the group first).

11. If you have a Web site, Blog or any other Internet presence, embed your videos there (YouTube gives you the embed code). E-mail the link to everyone in your storytelling database. And put your YouTube site on your business cards.

Happy videotelling!

Leslie Slape’s videos are at

1 Comment

  • By Carolyn Stearns, January 25, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    Thanks for the lesson in a nut shell. Hmmm I have all the components here, now fire in the fireplace and lantern a glow and a good story. Sounds like a good project for this week! Thanks Again, Carolyn

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