This is something a lot of my clients tell me. Public speaking is not just pitches, presentations, lectures, or event speeches. Often it looks like sharing a joke or anecdote with peers at the pub or a party. Do you lose your train of thought, feel embarrassed if you fluff a punchline, or avoid being the centre of attention in social situations? If so, you are not alone.
It's called 'conversational anxiety' and it stems from the fear of rejection by our peers if we are not entertaining or clever enough. Sometimes we carry the fear because we've had a bad experience when we've tried to tell jokes or stories in the past. Perhaps a friend, family member or partner told you you weren't a good storyteller? Or maybe you are in a relationship with somebody who is very entertaining and you've taken on a more passive social role? There are many reasons why people feel hesitant to speak up. What you may not realise is social storytelling is a skill that can be learned and developed. You don't have to be a 'natural.' Read on for y top 4 tips. . .
Tip 1: STRUCTURE. If you find yourself losing track of your own story or joke, you can't expect your friends to follow it. Sit down and write it out. It may feel weird to write down a story from your own life but this is the best way to make sure that people will be able to follow. Remember; a good story should always have a beginning, middle, and an end. If you want it to be funny, you should include a punchline at the end. Recalling to earlier bits of the story can help with your punchline. Or simply ending on a humorous image can be enough. For example, if your story is about the time you accidentally stole someone else's umbrella, your structure could look like:
Beginning: Rainy day. Caught unawares. Bought beautiful new umbrella on way to work.
Middle: Went to office, distracted by office crush. Tried to play it cool. In flustered state, accidentally went home with office crush's similar looking umbrella, Office crush sent out group text asking if anyone had taken umbrella. Too embarrassed to confess.
End: Unfortunately bumped into them at weekend whilst carrying umbrella.
Tip 2: DETAIL. All the best storytellers add texture to their anecdotes with details. It keeps it interesting and helps your listeners to picture the scene. So, if we are using the above example, tell us the umbrella had orange and blue polka dots, rather than just saying it was a nice umbrella, Tell us your office crush had an adorable gap between their top teeth rather than just saying they were good looking. You don't need to overload with detail but a few choice images will improve your story, especially if the details are surprising. I once had a client who told me about their experience of graduating from a prestigious university. They described how all the students had to line up and lift their trousers, so an official sock checker could make sure each student had the appropriate socks to graduate. That image has always stuck in my mind because it is so unusual.
Tip 3. PRACTISE. Again, it might feel strange to practise telling a story from your own life but the best treatment for nerves is familiarity and a sense of ownership. Enjoy crafting your story. After all, it's your life, you get to decide how to shape and reflect on your own experiences. Once you have a structure you are happy with, practise it until you know it inside out. This will make you more confident delivering punchlines. Decide which details to linger on and where to quicken the pace. Once you can tell the story easily without looking at notes, focus on making it seem natural. Some of the best comedians in the world are so natural in their delivery, it feels as though they are making their entire set up on the spot. The reality is, unless they're an improv comic, they've probably rehearsed it a bunch of times. Watch your favourite comedians as reference points.
Tip 4. TRUST YOURSELF. Once you've gotten used to telling your story a few times, you can loosen up. Try adding new details in the spur of the moment, embellishing, or responding to comments from your peers as you tell it. You may find that you stop needing to structure or practise new anecdotes in advance as your confidence grows.
Tip 5. If you'd like more help, book a session with a professional. I am a Public Speaking Coach with years of experience helping clients to build confidence for all public speaking scenarios. If you'd like to know more about how I can help you improve your social storytelling, book a free 15 minute discovery call today: