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Beyond Borders Storytelling

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Preparing to Tell a Story on Stage
Will Spargur

Preparing a story for the stage can seem so daunting that many people think they cannot do it. They feel their stories are not interesting; they worry they will forget; they fear being on stage. They think storytelling is a mystical power you either have or you don't - like a Jedi.

Over the last six years we've trained nearly two hundred people to perform in our bi-monthly shows. Many people see storytelling as a valuable skill, but they are terrified of telling a story before an audience. The good news is, by following the process outlined here, anyone can tell a great story in just four weeks

WEEK 1: Rough out your story

There is no one-size-fits-all method to developing a story. I know great storytellers who will write it out, while others create an outline and some just start talking. I have tried all three methods. For me the best method depends on the story.

Once you have a draft, practice it out loud. A story might seem great when it is in your head or on a piece of paper, but there is nothing like hearing your story out loud that helps you zero in on weak points.

WEEK 2: Practice your story with a group of friends

Once you have a rough outline tell it to a group of three to five friends. You want feedback from a variety of perspectives. Your story doesn't have to be perfect. Tell them you're developing a story for stage and you want their comments. Give them guidance on the kind of feedback you want. Is the story easy to follow? Are there parts that they wanted to hear more about? Are there details that are unnecessary or distracting? Record your story and your friend's comments to review later.

WEEK 3: Revise and memorize

Review the recording you made with your friends. Try incorporating the comments your friends gave you. Save the ones that work and toss out those that don't.

Practice your story without notes. Don't memorize it word-for-word, you will sound like you are reading a script. You want your story to flow from your actual memories. I call it reliving versus recounting. Telling a story like you are reliving it makes people feel like they are in the middle of the action. Recounting is like watching the news on TV - they see what's happening but feel detached.

Create a roadmap to help guide you through your story without memorizing it verbatim. Identify four to five key points and memorize them. Those points become guideposts, while your memories fill in the details.

WEEK 4: Get comfortable

Now that you have your story down it's time to work on how you tell it. Stories are told best when you are being genuine. Don't try to be a comedian or act like a character in a play. Be yourself. Trust the audience - they will surprise you.

Nerves can get in the way of even the most perfectly crafted story. When we get nervous, we talk faster, we forget, we freeze up. You want to get as comfortable as possible telling a story in front of an audience. The best way to do this is to tell your story before several audiences: friends, family and co-workers.

Before each show I practice on as many people as I can. I ask my brother, my wife, and friends. At lunch I'll round up a bunch of my co-workers and go to a conference room. It may sound unorthodox, but they are nearly always curious and say yes. Tell the story like you are in a show. Stand up front, pretending you are behind a microphone. This will help make you feel more comfortable telling your story in front of people and your stories will begin to flow naturally. Eventually you will be able to tell it like you are shooting the breeze with friends over a beer.

Now you are ready for the stage!