"So we're here to play a game that is somewhere between Dungeons & Dragons and improv theater. What makes this work is a few things:
"First of all, say 'Yes, and…' - build on what the other players are saying, don't destroy it or shut it down or ignore it.
"Second of all, if you're stuck, say the obvious thing! What's obvious to you might not be obvious to other people, and what's obvious is often a better building block on what's come before than a clever twist you have to spend a while coming up with.
"Saying 'no' and being 'clever' are both good ways to stall our progress and make the story go nowhere."
Somewhere along the way we noticed that some players couldn't help looking at their phones while others were contributing and telling them not to do that became part of the talk too. Then I was about to add something about people getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of someone else's scene when I realized all of this story game advice I was giving came down to one thing: listening.
So for the past year or two my pre-game talk goes more like this:
"So we're here to play a game that is somewhere between Dungeons & Dragons and improv theaters. And the main thing that makes this work is listening to each other. If we're each in our own little worlds telling our own independent stories and clinging to our own ideas the whole thing will fall apart, but if we take what other people contribute and build on that then we can surprise ourselves.
There are a lot of ways to listen, besides the obvious one of staying off your phone."
And at this point I'll usually just pick one idea or technique to talk about. Maybe it'll be "yes, and"; maybe it'll be "don't be clever"; maybe it'll be reincorporation; maybe it'll be "make the other player look awesome"; maybe it'll be "hold on to your ideas loosely; allow yourself to be changed"; maybe it'll be "when someone establishes something about your own character accept it as a gift." I figure if someone has just one piece of advice on a given night they're more likely to remember it then if they're deluged with a bunch.
And what about "say the obvious thing?" I usually only mention that if we're playing and someone seems stuck. I deliberately don't phrase it as "say the first thing that comes to your head" anymore. While the first thing that comes to your head and the obvious thing for the story might be the same, it's also quite likely that the first thing that comes to your head is something silly that could torpedo the story for everyone else.
But that's just the first half of the intro. The other half of the intro is about safety, and that's a big, personal topic that I'm going to save for another blog post.