“What’s the One Thing?” series – tips for telling a story on stage

Last week, I got a chance to sit in the audience and watch The Moth Grandslam in Washington DC. Ten winners of the monthly storytelling shows that have taken place in the DC area get to tell another story at the historic Lincoln Theater to over 1000 people. I’ve been in a Grandslam before. It’s a nerve racking, phenomenal experience. Of the many things that a storyteller is doing to get ready they are making plans for how to deliver their story. That brings us to this week’s tips about how to tell the story on stage. These tips are useful for storytelling shows, stories in speeches, and just public speaking as a whole. From my training as an instructor, I’ve learned that when we communicate, the impact and understanding of a message can be broken into these 3 parts:

  • Words = 7%
  • Vocal Tone and Inflection = 38%
  • Body Language = 55%

If you aren’t practicing how you deliver your story, the impact of your story may be diminished. What are some tips to improve the delivery? Here’s just a few: 

  • Practice your story – Sean Buvala (https://seantells.com/9-tips-for-storytelling-in-any-situation/)
    • Yes, I know this one sounds so basic. So overly simplistic. Storytelling, like many forms of public speaking, gets better with reps. A recommendation I add to this is to try to replicate the actual conditions you will be performing your story. Standing or sitting, big open space or small area will help give you a feeling of “I’ve been here before”. 
  • Know the story, don’t memorize it – Book “How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to memorable Storytelling from The Moth”
    • To go along with the tip above, you want to practice your story to know it really, really well. But that doesn’t mean memorizing it. Trying to remember your story word for word may lead your story to a screeching halt if a distraction happens during your performance. Instead, know the major parts of the story. Keywords and phrases in the story. It will be easier to stop and start during your story if you need to. It will also help your story to seem more conversational.
  • Exercise your voice – Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Storytelling Bootcamp Instructors 
    • A few weeks ago, I and other alumni from the ASAP Storytelling Bootcamp spoke with current students. They are preparing for their graduation showcases (see here for grad show information) One of the things brought up is that they will do warm-up exercises prior to performing. Think about it; you may be talking all day, but you are rarely taking for 5 – 10 mins uninterrupted (lord help you if you are!). Doing things like tongue twisters, controlled breathing, and even stretching will help calm your nerves and get your voice ready to deliver your story.
  • Use gestures and body language – Toastmasters (https://www.toastmasters.org/resources/public-speaking-tips)
    • As many people speak, they tend to do some level of movement. Remember, 55% of communication is body language. Be sure to add yours when telling your story. Just like the story of Goldilocks and the Three bears, work on the amount so that is not too little or too much. Just enough to bring to life a word, or phrase, or emotion.

These are but a few tips about telling a story on stage. Some of the links in this post will lead to other tips. I’m sure searches in other books, classes, and the internet will bring more results. The storytellers I listened to at the Grandslam no doubt worked on what their delivery would be that night. Be sure that you do the same so you can deliver your story, on purpose.

Published by Nick Baskerville

After years of being an instructor in the military and the and the fire service, I realized I needed to improve my delivery. My students needed me to improve delivery. But how do I improve my delivery? Simple. I finally took a member of Toastmasters up on the invitation to come to a meeting. It wasn't long until I joined. Along the way of improving my skills at delivering a message, I came to understand that of all the ways to get a point across, telling stories is the best way to get it done. Around this time, another friend from Toastmasters told me about The Moth monthly story telling shows. What better way to test out my theories on storytelling. It's in my travels there to the shows that I found more and more shows, and classes, and events centered around storytelling. Despite how many people know about the storytelling world, not many people know about the storytelling world. So now, I'm out to tell the world about storytelling.

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