Beyond Borders Storytelling

Stories for Wanderlusting Adventurers.


Storyteller Survival Guide
Will Spargur

Beyond Borders Storytelling specializes in the art of personal storytelling: Recounting firsthand experiences of events, places and people that shape our lives. Many of us can ease into a story quite naturally in conversation, but getting on stage to tell a story is quite a different feeling. Here are four fundamental elements to preparing and telling a story on stage.

Base the story around a question
Storytelling at its most basic is posing a question in the audience's mind and promising an answer at the end. This question-answer duality is called many things - risk/reward, conflict/resolution, and problem/solution. This quality is what will engage an audience, putting them on the edge of their seats wondering what happens next. When developing your story, ask yourself, What question am I trying to answer? What's the conflict? What are the stakes? If the answer or conclusion is obvious or predictable, the story will lack tension. Add a touch of the unknown or unexpected.

Beginning, Middle and most important of all, END!
I start all my workshops by saying 'a story has a beginning, middle and end'. Yes, I know it sounds simplistic and self-evident, but it is often easier said than done.

Use the beginning of your story to transport the audience to the time and place of your story. Make them forget they are sitting in a theater. Set the scene, introduce key characters. Keep it short, under three minutes.

The middle is your meat--where things happen. Build tension with action and dialogue. Don't give summaries of what happened. Instead, describe things as if they are happening right now. Recite dialogue of conversations. Keep it moving.

Finally, the ending, answer, resolution or whatever you call it, follows from and connects everything that precedes it. If your exit plan is to simply stop talking and walk off stage, you don't have a story. "Thank you", "That's all folks" do not count either. For many people the ending is the hardest, most elusive part of their story. I have found myself telling a story over and over, thinking 'what has made this story so sticky in my mind?'. When I find the answer, I have found my ending.

Justina Wu, co-founder of Beyond Borders Storytelling, has the following recommendation - There are many ways to end a story, and how you end it is unique to the story you're telling. Whatever you choose, the ending should answer the question or resolve the conflict you've presented. Your ending serves a secondary purpose as well: to let the audience know you're finished talking. You can end by tying back to something you mention earlier in the story, by delivering a punch line, by stating a moral or takeaway, by revealing a surprise or twist, or countless other tactics. Finally, no shy endings. Don't end by saying, "And that's my story about the kindness of strangers." Nail your ending, and the audience will instinctively start applauding because they'll feel you've given them what they came for.

Be Yourself
Our biggest fear is rejection. We dread telling our story and seeing people yawn, check their phone or talk with their neighbor. Many people think a story must be funny, about a life-changing experience, or recount an exciting adventure. Being kidnapped by pirates is a riveting story, but the best stories are often about the little surprises that pepper our daily lives, or familiar yet relatable experiences. Meeting your significant other, your first trip alone or discovering the truth about Santa Claus are all fodder for engaging storytelling.

As for being funny, don't try. The audience will surprise you. They will not laugh at things you thought were hilarious, but breakout in gut wrenching laughter when you least expect it. Go with the flow. If they don't laugh, move on. When they do laugh, pause to let them savor the moment. But most of all, be authentic. Audiences are very supportive. They appreciate the courage it takes to put yourself out there.

Just do it
I teach windsurfing. I can talk for hours about how to stand on a board, hold a sail and carve into waves, but you know nothing until you get wet. Storytelling is the same. The best way to learn is to do. Yes, it's scary. It's intimidating. Practicing in front of a mirror or to your cat is helpful, but storytelling must be done in front of live people. You might not think you can do it. But we've seen all sorts of unlikely candidates do something they never thought possible, and the sense of accomplishment they get from it is immeasurable.