When a person takes to the stage to tell a story, preach a sermon or give a talk of any kind, the first words to come out of their mouth reveal a world of information about them. Whether you are nervous, distracted, funny, self-important, friendly, ready or not will be revealed in the words that greet the audience. If you do not plan what to say first, you will most likely say something pointless. And, that is certainly not the first impression any of us want to make! If you have your opening sentence planned and deliver it with confidence, the next sentence will come naturally and the story will follow.
It is not necessary to memorise your entire story. In fact, this can be detrimental to the story because it will lock you in to "remembering" it rather than "telling" it. Every time you tell a story well it will have been altered to meet the needs of the audience and the environment. Locking down the first sentence or two allows you to start with clarity and gives direction to the story. The rest of the story can be quite flexible as long as you know the characters.
Know your characters as if they were your best friend. Spend time developing characters by talking to them off stage. Ask any and every question you can imagine of that character. Imagine them answering it. What would they say? How would they say it? Then, when you share your characters with an audience, they will be believable and alive. If you are good with voices and body language, go for it. If not, don’t worry about it. Know the characters deeply and revealing them, in your way, will happen.
The next important aspect of character knowledge is to know who you will include and who you will leave out of the story. This is particularly true of stories from real life (or history) where there were many characters in, around and involved with the story as it happened. There is only room on stage for two characters and the narrator. Any more than two characters on stage at a time will create frustration for both the teller and the audience — it’s hard to follow. One of my favourite stories to tell is about a donkey and a farmer. It used to be about a donkey, a farmer and the farmer’s wife. Then, one day, as I was struggling to give the farmers wife more depth of character I realised why she was such a tough character to bring to life — she was unnecessary. I put her lines into the “internal musings” of the farmer and POOF! she was gone. (and good riddance!)
To be seen, stand up. To be heard, speak up. To be appreciated, shut up!
It seems like nonsense-talk to say, “When you reach the end, stop.” But, amazingly, vast multitudes of public speakers reach the end of their talk and then... keep talking. STOP!
This is why I plan my final statement ahead of time. I know the last sentence. When I hear that sentence come out of my mouth, I leave the stage. It’s that easy. And it’s so hard! I love to talk. I love using my imagination on stage. And when I get going, I hate stopping. So, having a clear moment in mind which is recognised when it arrives is very important. A planned ending is a powerful thing!