How to tell a great story – onstage.

I’m comfortable telling stories online.

I’ve got no problem sharing stories with friends over coffee.

I feel good about my storytelling skills on Skype, on podcasts, and on the radio.

But telling a story… onstage? Live? In front of an audience who can smell your nervous sweat droplets and feel your trembling energy while you’re baking under a spotlight and trying not to fidget and fuss with your bra strap?

Uh, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

In a few days, that’s exactly what I will be doing. (Well, hopefully not the bra strap part!).

This Saturday, I’ll be telling a true story – onstage – in front of 400 strangers along with 4 other storytellers. (It’s called “The Mystery Box Show.” You can get tickets here if you like.)

I feel “nervcited” (nervous + excited) but, fortunately, I’m not completely freaking out. Actually, I feel fairly prepared! That’s because I’ve had some great coaching from Eric and Reba, the two producers of the show. (They’re lovely and so smart.)

We’ve had just a few meetings together, but I’ve already learned so much.

Here are 3 things they’ve taught me…

1. Don’t hesitate or apologize for existing. Just start your story.

If you’ve ever attended an open mic night, you’ve probably seen a shaky storyteller shamble up to the microphone and begin with, “Uh, wow, hi, I’m Alex, uh, lots of people out there [nervous exhalation] oh, gosh, so, anyway, here’s my story, I guess, and I hope you like it [awkward pause]…”

Try not to do that. Don’t apologize. Don’t stammer. Don’t re-introduce yourself.

March up to the microphone. Take command. Begin with a strong opening line that draws the audience right into your story. Like:

“It was my 16th birthday party and I’d never been kissed.”

“I came home to find all of my belongings packed in boxes.”

“It’s never a good sign when the ER doctor says, ‘This might hurt a little’.”

2. Memorize your first and last lines. But not the rest.

Memorize the very first line of your story (“It was my 16th birthday party and I’d never been kissed.”) and the very last line of your story (“… And that’s why I will never eat fondue again.”)

Those two lines are your “anchors,” giving you confidence as you stand onstage. You know where you’re beginning – and you know where you’re finishing. That always feels good!

But in between those two lines? Let your storytelling be natural and somewhat spontaneous. Yes, there will be a few key points that you want to talk about, but you don’t need to memorize every single phrase of your story – that tends to sound overly “slick,” rather than honest and truthful.

Just nail your first and last lines, and let the rest be… whatever it’s going to be.

3. Remember that the audience is on your side.

All of those people in the audience? They paid for tickets. They drove. They parked. They showed up. They want you to be amazing and entertaining. They’re rooting for you to succeed – not fail. They’re on your team. Remember that.

Eric and Reba say, “Pretend the stage is your home – and all the audience members are your guests.” They’re not annoyed at you – they’re excited to hear what you have to say!

It’s just like a dinner party, except you happen to be standing in front of a microphone.

I hope my “dinner party” this Saturday night goes really well. If you happen to be in the audience, please clap jubilantly… even if I suck! Ha! I won’t. I hope.

And if you’re speaking onstage sometime soon, I’m sending you a round of applause in advance. It’s not easy to do, especially if you’re telling a true, vulnerable story, but it’s such an incredible experience for the audience – and for you, too.

You never know how your story might inspire, activate, or move someone deeply.

Who knows what kind of ripple effect your story will create?