Public Speaking – A Storytelling Odyssey
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about presenting at Ignite. To recap, Ignite is an event that happens in more than 100 cities worldwide on a regular basis. Participants get up on stage in front of an audience and speak for five minutes on a topic they’re passionate about.
At Ignite, you speak to the accompaniment of a 20-slide Powerpoint that you create beforehand. But you don’t have control over the slides – one of Ignite organizers runs the projector.
Well, after doing a couple of Ignite presentations, the above no longer seemed daunting. I was looking for a bigger challenge.
I found it in the form of a chance encounter at 2nd Saturdays Downtown, a monthly event here in Tucson, Arizona. A local group called Odyssey Storytelling brings its Story Cart to big happenings, and curious people are invited to stop and tell a tale.
Jumping into Telling Stories
I stumbled and fumbled through a story about what happened when I was bicycling around the United States and stopped at Jimmy Carter’s house in Plains, Georgia. Of course, I didn’t have an invitation, but surely the former President would be interested in meeting someone whose goal was to ride through all 50 states. My attempts at charming Carter’s gate guard were met with hard stares and terse sentences. I took the hint and rode off in the rain.
Well, the Odyssey people thought that story was just great, and they encouraged me to audition for one of their monthly events. So I did.
Each Odyssey Storytelling event has a unique theme, and I chose the September 2011 edition as the launching pad for my tale-telling career. The theme, “Guess What? Stories of the Unexpected” was tailor-made for a favorite family story. It was about my Aunt Jean and the President of the United States.
That President was Herbert Hoover. My aunt met President Hoover while he was running for re-election in 1932. My story recounted the severe effects of the Great Depression on the United States, the public’s growing distaste for Hoover, and the friendly reception that he probably expected while visiting one of Aunt Jean’s neighbors.
Unfortunately for President Hoover, his troubles continued during this brief social visit, and, no, I’m not going to give away the punchline. You’ll just have to hear me tell this story live.
My audition consisted of e-mailing a one-paragraph description of my story to Odyssey’s event organizers. After they green-lighted my topic, I set about doing two of the things I love best:
- Writing. In this case, the script for my story.
- Talking with Aunt Jean, who’s now a landscape painter in northern Vermont. Getting the details of the story right – and rehearsing it – consumed several phone calls. Which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Learning to Live Inside Your Story
Over the course of several weeks, I went from getting each fact and word in the script right to memorizing it so that my delivery was letter-perfect. I wanted to be as polished a storyteller as Spalding Gray or Garrison Keillor. And I wanted to be as confident on stage as Barack Obama. Never mind that these guys have been honing their craft for decades. I wanted it all – right now.
You have to get into your story – live inside of it and make it yours.
Then came rehearsal night. And thank goodness it wasn’t a dress rehearsal, because my presentation wasn’t even close to being ready for the stage. Neither was anyone else’s.
My takeaway from rehearsal: It’s not enough to have a razor-sharp script and a polished delivery. You have to get into your story – live inside of it and make it yours.
With only one week left until the live performance, I had to wean myself from that script in a hurry. So, I called Aunt Jean and gave that performance script-free. She liked it, but then again, she’s family so of course she’d like it. But there was no guarantee that an audience would.
More practicing. While doing my weekly walk around Downtown Tucson, I gave my presentation to a railroad underpass. None of the other walkers gave me a second glance. At home, I practiced in the shower. No way I could take a script in there.
Let the Story Pour Out
Then came performance night at Hotel Congress. This is one of the premier venues in Tucson, so it was time for Martha to put on a first-class show.
I was the second storyteller of six. A very deep calm settled over me when I took the microphone and faced the audience. I wasn’t at all nervous.
The story just naturally poured out. I could feel the audience coming along with me. They laughed at all the right places. And my allotted 10 minutes story flew by.
Then I sat down and watched the other storytellers. What a difference a week made! Everyone’s story was polished to a sheen, and I couldn’t help but be impressed.
Career Benefits of Storytelling
So, now I’m hooked. I want to tell more stories. Starting with my bicycling in America stories.
And I think that you, my fellow freelancers, should give storytelling events a try. Yes, it’s just you, a microphone, and an audience. There’s something very pure about that – no computers or projectors to get in the way.
Here’s how storytelling can help your freelancing career:
- Quite often, freelancers are solitary creatures who work at home on computers. Getting up in front of an audience will expose you to a wider community. Who knows, you may find a new friend or even a client out there.
- Words are very powerful tools. And words presented with flair are even more powerful. Politicians and religious leaders have known this for a long time. It’s something that freelancers would also do well to learn.
- People who speak publicly are perceived as experts. As successful people. And brave. Did you know that public speaking is the most feared activity? So, if you look for speaking opportunities, you’ve already separated yourself from the rest. Such courage will spill over into many other areas of your life.
- If you persist, there will come a time when people pay you to speak in public. Which opens up a whole new profit center for your freelancing career. Not to mention the spinoff sales of books and recordings.