Beyond Borders Storytelling

Stories for Wanderlusting Adventurers.


Stage Fright - Taming Your Inner Beast
Will Spargur

You are super excited! You have the perfect story. You've been working hard writing, editing, and rehearsing with friends. Tonight is your night to shine. The MC calls your name. You walk on stage, but something feels funny. It's like your legs are made of rubber. You grab the mic stand to steady yourself. Sweat pours from your forehead. Your voice is so shaky you wonder if the audience can even understand what you are saying. Fear floods your body with hormones which are great if you have to run or fight but have absolutely no value standing behind a microphone - damn mother nature! Welcome to stage fright!

You are not alone, way back during World War II, Allen Funt, the creator of "Candid Camera" hosted a radio show where GI's talked about their daily lives. Unfortunately, as soon as the microphone when live these guys would freeze up. They were more scared of a microphone than a hail of lead from an enemy machine gunner. National Public Radio recently did a hilarious podcast here (

When you're at a party or having a beer with friends stories seem to flow with ease and confidence. If we could only tell our stories that way when got on stage. Here's a couple tips to tame the beast that is fear.

I'm So Excited

The last show I MCed I could feel the jitters coming on at the start. My heart was racing and I was sweating. I told my co-producer Justina Wu, 'I am feeling nervous' She told me that when that happens she tells herself, it's not nervousness it's excitement. By reframing the feeling in her mind she redirects the energy into a positive vibe to take over the stage.

Take A Breath

Often on stage I fear pauses because I think they make me look like I forgot what I was going to say. It's a mental thing. If I am standing behind a mic - I got to be saying something. If I stop, the microphone will explode. Unfortunately, that makes me rapid fire words even when I don't know what to say.

Instead of instantly launching into talking, the first thing I do is take a breath and count slowly to two. Two seconds of silence. Not only does it let me collect my thoughts, so my mind and mouth are in sync, but I also see that nothing bad happens if there's a short silence. In fact, the audience just thinks it's part of the act.

It's Not What You Expect

A lot of beginning storytellers, they want to be funny, they want to be dramatic and loved by the audience. As you build up those expectations in your mind you are building up artificial pressure on yourself. When the audience doesn't react as you expect the pressure builds. You might think, 'That's a great joke! Why aren't they laughing?' so you explain the joke. You exaggerate your movements trying to coax out a laugh - crickets. You get more stressed out. You start to wildly flail your arms. Now there's laughter but not the kind that feels good. It's a nervous laughter as people wonder, who is this crazy on stage?

One of the best things you can do to relieve self-imposed stress is to have NO EXPECTATIONS. You are not a comedian, you are not a professional performer. Just be yourself. Audiences can be unpredictable; they won't laugh at parts you think are hilarious and they'll suddenly breakout in riotous laughter where you least expect it. Be ready to go with the flow and be authentic. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how the audience reacts.

Relive, don't Recite

Another big stressor is the fear you'll forget your lines. We do lots of practice before a story jam. We want to hone our story to the perfect amount of polish. When you put in that kind of work uou feel like you have to memorize it exactly as you wrote it. Unfortunately we can get so focused on the words that we lose the feeling. Stories are not about flawlessly execute phrases. In a good story you engage with the audience. And the story begins to take on a life of it's own. Soon you and the audience get so wrapped up in the action it no longer feels like you're in a theater.

I always imagine a story as a journey and the major events or turning points are the guideposts. I only need between 3-5 guideposts. If I hit my guideposts my story is strong. It's easy to paint in the parts between. All I have to do is recall what happened, what people said, what I was thinking and what happened next. It can be as simple as that.

For many of our storytellers our story jam is the first time they have ever told a story on stage. Dealing with nervousness is what we do. With the right coaching and preparation we have seen even the most introverted storytellers be pleasantly surprised with what they can accomplish. It's not magic, it's a process and anyone can do it.