This last year I have returned to doing storytelling shows around Chicago, as well as doing private coaching for some really talented storytellers. And guess what? I am having so much fun doing both. (Please don’t tell anyone).
Not only is the storytelling community in Chicago super supportive and nurturing, similar to how the improv community was when I first started improvising, but I’ve also found that many of the skills I’ve developed in improv over the years can be applied directly to storytelling as well.
If you are interested in storytelling, or even if you have to do public speaking or presenting at work, here are three things I have found that can help you make a better connection with your audience.
- Use Humor
As improvisers, we understand how important humor is in connecting with the audience, but unfortunately, many storytellers and public speakers don’t. Even if you are telling a serious story, it’s important to provide some laughs along the way. Why? Because just like in improv, our job in storytelling is to reflect life, and even in the most serious situations, there is some comedy. Laughter creates a shared experience between the storyteller and the audience. Even if you are not laughing yourself and just hearing other people laughing, it doesn’t matter, you are having a shared experience. Humor is the most effective when you are using it to make fun of yourself, which in my book is the true definition of having a sense of humor. Also, I have found that if a story has some laughs throughout, the conclusion to the story came be even more impactful.
- Be Honest
To me, the Holy Grail of storytelling is to get to something that is both honest and funny. When I was working with Del Close in the late ’80s at iO-Chicago, we would sometimes tell monologues as the opening of a Harold. I loved telling monologues because I could always just get up there and tell the truth and get a laugh. For me, it always worked better when my story was somewhat revealing. I remembering one time I came out on stage as a slovenly 20-something and saying, “I don’t like Christmas, because I don’t like to give,” and getting a huge laugh. I was taking a risk by revealing something about myself that I was afraid to reveal. When you admit one of your faults or shortcomings, the audience can relate to you, and even if you get a groan instead of a laugh, you’re still making a connection.
- Use Emotions
Think about why you go to movies and plays: to feel. When you see a character get upset or excited or cry, you typically don’t remember what they said, but you do remember how you felt in the moment watching the scene. As an audience, we want to connect with the storyteller on an emotional level. So when you are telling a story, talk about the time you were so happy because someone you had a crush on asked you out, then show us how you felt. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but the audience wants to share with you in that experience. Although it’s usually great to show and not tell, it’s also important to include your emotional reaction to what you’re talking about. For example, I might say: “When the nurse handed me my daughter for the first time, I was shocked. I had never seen a newborn baby fresh out of the oven before and they were scary.”Sometimes writing it on the page like that can get me in the state and I can later drop “I was shocked” and sometimes it stays in. Either way, I have added some emotions into the story so I can make a deeper connection with the audience.
If you’ve never tried storytelling before, I highly encourage you to check it out, even if you just do it once. I think you’ll get a lot out of it, and if you’re like me, you’ll notice that it will help your improv as well. And if you’re interested in working with me as a storytelling coach, please let me know!