The number one thing that makes live storytelling so much more powerful than other forms is the authenticity of the storyteller. For the audience, having a live person looking into their eyes, expressing themself with genuine feeling, openly acknowledging the human reality of the moment and the shared wonder at the story, is a compelling experience. It creates intimacy and community.
But we are cautious about opening up to others, and for the storyteller it feels scary to be truly open and honest. We are cautious enough in everyday life about revealing our true thoughts, and instinctively modify what we say, so as to seem acceptable to others. We hardly realize we’re doing it. But with the added scrutiny of having a focused audience, and the task of sharing a story that we probably care about, we tend to harden our social defences. That often means trying to present a slick, fluent image of a polished performer who knows what they’re doing and saying.
The reality is more messy: we have our attention drawn by not only our story, but our audience, our environment, and our anxieties. One solution is to script the story rigidly, rehearse it to death, and avoid noticing that the audience is composed of real people. That, however, is the opposite of good storytelling, and your audience will feel the difference.
What they really want, whether they know it or not, is to feel that you are real, fully present, and at ease with them. They want to feel trust so that they can come with you on the story’s journey, rather than watch you go on it. They know that you have real inner thoughts and feelings along the way, and can spot a mile off if you hold those back in order to present a polished mask.
Being authentic isn’t a technique to pick up, it’s a genuine desire to share yourself as part of sharing your story. But you probably feel that your self is too flawed to really bare to the world. Everyone hides to a degree. But the journey to storytelling mastery requires constantly choosing the path of love instead of fear. That’s hard! I’ve seen many professional storytellers smoothly trying to conceal that they still have some way to go. There’s always a seemingly good reason to hold back.
I’m not suggesting that you choose a style of babbling out your every bit of mental noise. Instead, allow people to share and see your deepest truth (including discomfort!). That creates a deep trust so that your audience can experience more depth to your story, through seeing your authentic relationship with it and with them.
This is a big subject, and a big part of how I train storytellers, so I’ll stop here before going into all the practicalities. If you’d like to think through the psychology of it all, there’s a useful and long Psychology Today article here on authenticity in general, called Dare To Be Yourself. Meanwhile, what do you think? Comments please!