How to tell a story

Happy Birthday to them: How giving your story as a gift will make you a better storyteller.

"Yes, perhaps an explanation is in order. Be a good chap hold this child for me whilst I fill my pipe." “Now wait just a darn second there, monkey boy. You said and I quote, ‘You have to tell your stories in ways that will make your audience feel as though they experienced them with you.’ And then you left us hanging like a pair of fuzzy dice.

“That’s the trouble with you so-called story experts, you all say that we need to tell better stories and what not, but you never show us how! Well, O. Henry, we're listening … how do we do it?”

Fair enough. Here’s a trick that will improve your storytelling right away: Think of your story as a gift to your audience. Literally.

Select the perfect story for your audience. Give them the story they want to hear, not the story you want to tell.

Make sure it’s the right color and size. A blue story might work well with the International Longshoremen’s Association, but others—say the Mother Teresa Society—may feel compelled to refuse it. As to size, no one ever complained about a gift story being too short.

Cut off the price tag. No one wants to hear you boast about your wonderful gift by laughing at your own story. If it was rich in humor, they will know, and they will thank you with laughs of their own.

And remember, the best gifts are homemade. Know your material but be animated and flexible with the presentation. A canned, plastic, one-size-fits-all story told the same way every time doesn’t mean nearly as much as a story that you made especially with your audience in mind.

Don't laugh ... at your own story. It's bad form, old boy.

"Stop me if you've heard me laugh at this one before." If you laugh at your own stories, you should stop telling stories. Really. Laughing at your own story is like driving your brand new Porche through your neighbor's front door. You've wrecked  something that could have been a lot of fun, and you didn't impress your neighbor at all.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what Mark Twain had to say about auto neurotic self-fixation.

"The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the 'nub' of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see."