Easy hack to make your stories funny

You know how you’ll have one or two short anecdotes that you LOVE telling? Or if you don’t, I’m guessing you know someone who does and you’re sick of hearing them? I’m about to tell you one of mine.

First: context.

If you’ve read, listened to or watched any of the storytelling lessons I’ve given, you’ll know that when you’re telling a story, you’re making a movie inside your listeners brain, and that MOST of that movie should be made of action scenes. (Didn’t know that? Watch this short video, where I explain it to you through the medium of re-enacting the Rocky Training Montage).

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is not telling the story in the chronological order it happened to you. Here, I talk about why not doing this ruins your stories.

But it also means you’re missing out on the chance for some comedy gold.

A few years ago, I was working with a client, Cathy Simpson, on her origin story, and we found a way to get a joke in early doors.

The thing is, the joke would ONLY work if she’s telling the story as if it’s happening in real time. Because this way, we get to laugh at Past Her (and Past Ourselves, because old tech is always funny). The story begins:


It’s 4 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, and I’m standing in a room full of people working on computers. Everyone is silent, because everyone is exhausted and fed up. I’m not on a computer, because my job is to be in charge, and I’m standing anxiously wondering if there’s anything else I can do. There’s still pizza from the last delivery. I can’t order more pizza… so instead, I just stand there.

Now we’ve started in the action, we can pull out and give the context.

It was 2001, and I was working on a revolutionary project for Universal Records. Some software that would allow you… to watch music videos….

…ON your COMPUTER.

At this point, Cathy usually gets a laugh. Because the idea that we ever couldn’t do this now seems absurd, but we also understand that in 2001, it really was revolutionary!! So this is where we milk the joke:

No-no…. ANY. MUSIC VIDEO.

From there, Cathy goes on to tell the rest of the story — about how somewhere, deep in the code, there’d been a mistake and that was why every computer genius they had was up late trying to find and fix it, then about how she subsequently discovered an approach to project management called Agile that would NEVER have allowed a catastrophe like this to happen, and about she and her brilliant team now show other people to use agile and it’s framework child Scrum.

Here’s why I love re-telling this story:

Every time I get to the “On your COMPUTER” and “ANY. MUSIC VIDEO” — I always get a laugh. And having people find me funny is my absolute favourite thing (I always identified more with Miranda than Carrie)(I think, even back then, I somehow sensed we were both queer.) But if I — or Cathy — had told this story from the point of view of where we are right now, it wouldn’t.

If she’d have said, “We were working on a piece of software that sounds, like, totally archaic now, but you have to trust me that, at the time, it was a really revolutionary thing, because at the time, the only way to watch a music video was on TV, but with this, you could watch music videos on your computer.”

Not funny, is it?

So this is my hack.

Always tell stories from the perspective of you in that moment.

Often, this is where the funny is.

One of my favourite longer-form examples of this came from Sally Hakim. She told a (9 min) story at my live show about discovering that she was gay. Most of the delight listening to her tell the story is the fact that we, as the audience, see her queerness from a MILE off, even as she still doesn’t. It’s why, as a storyteller, she gets away with something I usually don’t recommend: commentary. She gets away with it, because she doesn’t make a meal of it, just a couple of small asides — and because, by that point, it’s SO obvious to us, and so funny that it wasn’t to her.

Wanna see for yourself? Watch her story here;

 

 

As a side note, Sally hadn’t performed stories onstage before (I know, right??), but was a natural after our coaching session. Wish YOU could be a better storyteller? I’d love to help you — have a look at how I work with people one-on-one here, or if you work at an organization, you can find out how to get me in to come and do a talk or run a workshop (in person or virtually) by clicking here.

So, does this make you rethink any of your stories? Do you have some oldies you could wheel out, switch to present tense and make them funnier? Let me know in the comments under this post.

Thanks so much for reading. Do you know anyone who has a speech or webinar coming up and could use a storytelling tip? You can share this with them by using one of the round buttons below, or click HERE to share it on Facebook (and make sure to tag me, @yesyesmarsha).

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS I’d also love to hear any comments you have about Cathy or Sally’s stories. Lemme know and I’ll pass them along! Leave a comment below.

PPS If you want even tips and advice on how to tell compelling stories, plus stories and secrets I won’t put on the internet AND my free guide for the magic bullet for how to tell any story powerfully, come over and join the Yes Yes Family by popping your details in below*:

*you can unsubscribe whenever you like because, clearly, I am not the boss of you

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