Yesterday I suggested ways to improve your storytelling skills through practice. Performing in public can be daunting, so today I’ll tell about my first experience telling a story in front of hundreds of people, being judged.
First, despite my anxiety before going up, I loved the experience, learned a lot, and without a doubt will do it again. I recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re scared, like I was. Here I am, telling my story:
The storytelling began with my friend David, with whom I swam across the Hudson River, originally told me about the Moth years ago, suggesting telling our Hudson River swim story when he heard the theme for Monday’s event was sports. We planned to do something perhaps for the first time — for two people to tell stories of the same event from different perspectives.
I’d attended many Moth events before and contemplated putting my name in the hat to compete, but was too scared. Now was my chance to overcome my fears with a friend I’ve had great results doing crazy things with.
How to tell a story for the first time in front of hundreds of people
First step: prepare. I always start with preparation if I can. David and I met a few days before to structure the stories, edit them, coordinate, and practice. We had to prepare that either one could be called first or only one might be called. We told our stories many times to each other and friends.
I wasn’t as nervous as I expected, mainly from talking to people there to make myself feel at home. Also from experience in front of groups and developing social skills, especially my series of social skills exercises.
I got called seventh. I was surprised at my calmness walking up, although I couldn’t concentrate on anything during the couple minutes after they called my name and before I went up on stage (the MC talks then while the judges deliberate on the previous storyteller’s performance, then announce their votes).
I had focused my practice on remembering how I wanted to open my story, figuring once I got started I’d be able to continue. Once on stage, the lights were so bright I couldn’t see anything but the mike and the lights. I felt like a star, but, as expected, forgot everything, taken aback by the dramatic environment, aware of how many people were watching me. The opening line came to me, I started, and my strategy worked.
On a couple occasions people laughed, which encouraged and emboldened me. I mean, I know the story has funny parts, but you never know if they’ll like them. And after rehearsing a few times you forget what’s funny. A couple things I knew would hit, like describing the riverbed like guacamole, and when they did it was amazing. Nothing compares with making a room full of people laugh at your joke.
I went slightly over the time limit and judges are instructed to penalize for that, so they gave me high scores, but not the highest — 9.0, 8.0, and 8.8. One group gave me its highest score to that point.
Each storyteller reaches into the hat to pull out the next name. By amazing coincidence, I pulled out Dave’s name, so he told his version of the story next, which the crowd seemed to like. His version described a cruise ship that looked like it was going to hit us, which I hadn’t mentioned, so the MC got a good laugh from pointing out he loved how I had left out the little detail of a boat the size of a small city almost hitting us.
Here’s Dave telling his story:
The last person to go up was an elderly woman whose story was so funny, genuine, and heartwarming, she won convincingly, over several veterans too. It was her first Moth storytelling too, but she said she has a stage name so maybe she had experience onstage elsewhere.
Anyway, now that I’ve told my first Moth story, I started looking for ways to improve from the other performers.
Afterward, I talked with a couple of them. I never realized how many were regulars. I guessed many were actors. They told me they wouldn’t have guessed it was my first time from how comfortable I looked and that the story inspired, so I felt great.
I overcame my fears, developed a huge life skill, and I’m definitely doing it again.
EDIT: check out my next storytelling experience in video.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book