How to tell a funny real-life story

story Have you ever started to tell someone about something hilarious that happened to you only to end feeling silly and having to say, “I guess you had to be there”? I’d like to help you never to be in that position again. The trick is to tell the story in a way that puts the listener right there with you… so they feel like they were there. Here are some tips to help make that happen.

Tell the story with confidence.

Assume that your listener is interested in what you have to say. That they aren’t picking apart every sentence. People like to be entertained. They don’t want your story to stink! It’s a waste of their time. They’re on your side. If you will start with that assumption, your storytelling will improve right off the bat.

Do not relate to them, but help them relate to you.

Storytellers sometimes feel their stories failing because they’re working hard to relate the story to the person they’re telling it to. What they should be doing is trying to help the person relate to them. Again, I think confidence comes into play here.

Rather than starting a story with, “Hey, remember that time that rock fell on your head… no? Oh. Well, this is like that.” You’d probably rather start with, “The other day I was talking with Susan on the phone, when out of nowhere a rock comes flying out nowhere!” The difference? The first one ruined the punch line of the story for the listener. They knew that your story was going to be like theirs… they may feel like they’re hearing it twice. The second beginning puts the listener in a place where they want to relate to you. Something like that happened to them… they’ll want to make sure to listen so they can tell you about how it corresponds or differs from their own experience.

Have your story ready to tell.

Nothing is worse in the world than someone telling a joke, only to forget the punch line… or the electricity knocking out right before the end of a mystery movie. The same can be said for a story where the teller has to constantly stop and remember details. Especially when those details are unimportant.

You don’t really need to practice your story… but at least make sure you remember the basic elements. Ask yourself:

  • What happened? In what order?
  • Who were the people in the story? What details about them are important?
  • How short can I make it without losing anything?

Remove any unimportant details in advance. Does it matter that it happened the year your sister graduated from High School? Does it matter that your husband worked at a Harley dealership? If it is of value, by all means, keep it in… but useless details subtract from your main point… to make someone laugh.

Elaborate more, exaggerate less.

It is okay to change minor details of the story in order to maximize the humor. My basic rule is elaborate all you want, exaggerate less than you want. Elaborations are enhancements on actual happenings where exaggerations are new details added that probably didn’t happen at all. Depending on your story, exaggerations are probably going to keep people from enjoying your story as much as they should. Half the fun of a real-life humorous story is that it’s unbelievable, but it really happened.

If you were run over at the mall by a large man… then make him a giant man. He wasn’t just walking fast, he was sprinting like a rhino ramming a safari van! Those are elaborations. But it was an accident. He didn’t use his hand. You don’t know that he had a personal vendetta against you. Limit the exaggerations.

Save the good stuff till the end.

Telling a funny story is like telling a good joke. You save the good parts till the end… and you don’t take forever to get there. Don’t start your story with the ending: “The other day I got knocked over by this huge guy at the mall… let me tell you about it”.

Start–with of all things–the beginning. Tell it as it happened. Preface it as little as possible. Don’t be afraid to switch from first person (what you saw) to another perspective (what someone else must have seen or thought). The reason this story is funny to you is because when it happened, it was unexpected. Let your listener experience it the same way. Surprise them with your conclusion.

All that having been said, remember to tell stories your way! It’s yours after all! But if you will apply these methods, I can guarantee you’ll never have to say, “I guess you had to be there” ever again.

Do you have any story telling tips? Leave them in the comments. Remember we’re always looking for good stories to tell on Nobody’s Listening as well.

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