Pressure Drop: 5 Tips to Performing Better Under Pressure

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Tips for performing Better under pressure Twitter size

Not long ago, I was chatting with a woman at a cocktail party when the conversation turned to work.  I mentioned that I’m a storyteller and the woman smiled.

“That’s great,” she said. “Now, tell me a story.”

I froze.  I made an excuse about having too many stories to tell, but the woman wouldn’t have it.

“I want to hear a good story.  Please, just one!”

I dabbed the sweat from my forehead and told her a short anecdote about my day.   She looked confused.  As we parted ways, all I could think about  were all the stories I could have told had I been relaxed.

Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever needed to tell a good story or be creative on the spot, either at a party or in the office?!?

To help you find inspiration and self-expression under duress, here are “5 Tips to Performing Better Under Pressure.”  With a little practice, you’ll be as cool under pressure as Fonzie on water skis.  

1. Breathe.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the easiest way to focus your mind is to first focus on your breath.  The key to doing this is abdominal breathing.   Abdominal breathing slows your heart rate and improves the flow of oxygen to your blood cells, sharpening focus almost instantly.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly ideas and stories will come to you.

2. Move Your Body.  Shake our your limbs and stretch.  The movement returns blood to your extremities, which in turn tricks your mind into believing that your body is relaxed.  Once your body is relaxed, your mind will focus along with it.

3. Use Your Environment.  One of the easiest ways to find inspiration is to look around you and link, or “daisy chain”, your ideas.  As I write this, rain is falling outside my window.  The rain makes me think of biking in the rain, which reminds me of the time I nearly avoided death on a bike ride in San Francisco.  I now have a story just from looking out the window.

4. Go “A to C”.  If your environment just isn’t inspiring enough, this is a great tool.  In improv, going “A to C” means thinking of word associations and using them to drum up ideas.  For example, the word “table” makes me think of “table tennis”, which makes me think of “paddles”.  I’m now thinking about stories involving (a) water; (b) boating; and (c) fraternity initiations.  And the best part?  You can do this in under twenty seconds.

5.  Take Your Time.  Once you start telling performing, be patient with yourself even if you’re not completely sure where things are going.  Patience instills confidence in your audience, allows you more time to think on your feet, and (as a performer) seems to slow down time.

Pretty cool, right?

You Say You Want a Resolution: 3 Steps To A Great Ending

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Over the last few years, I’ve taught dozens storytelling workshops to people of all ages.  Without fail, the most common question I hear from students is: How do you find an ending to your story without lapsing into cliche or resorting to “And that’s how I learned…” or “The moral of the story is…”?

The answer is simpler than you think.

To begin the week, here are “3 Steps to a Great Ending” that will leave you feeling more confident about resolutions.  

Step 1: Determine the moment of crisis

All stories involve a character struggling with a significant problem.  The first step to ending your story is to figure out the point of highest tension. This is also the place when you are most vulnerable in the story.  Maybe you were face-to-face with the Rottweiler that ate your brother.  Or maybe you had to confront your boss about his embezzlement of company funds.  

Once you find the moment of crisis, make sure you understand the stakes of the situation.  The bigger the stakes,the more invested the audience will become.

Step 2: Find the climactic moment  

Once you identify the moment of crisis, find the climactic moment.  The climactic moment (climax) of a story is the moment when the tension in the story finally boils over.   It’s the moment when you wrestle the Rottweiler to the ground and it licks your nose, or the moment when your boss finally admits to stealing money.  You finally have an answer!

Remember: The climax offers the audience the relief they are waiting for, so don’t cheat them of the experience or draw it out for too long.  Don’t be coy!  

Step 3: Show us the consequences  

The final step to ending your story is to answer the question: what are the consequences to resolving the problem?  What happens?!?  

One way to show the character change is to return to the opening scenes in the story.  For example, the first time you saw a Rottweiler, you ran as fast as you could in the opposite direction.  But in the end, when you see a Rottweiler for the final time, you snarl at it and it backs away.  

Show the audience transformation and they will reward you will applause.  How’s that for an ending?

Local Stories is taking submissions…

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The holidays are fast approaching and we want your stories!  Local Stories is taking submissions for our November and December shows, so send us your stories and pitches!

The theme for the November show on Monday, November 26 is THANKS A LOT, stories of gratitude and regret.  Remember that time your uncle taught you how to box, only for you to end up getting pummeled by bullies?  You get the idea.

And if you’d rather save your amazing stories for our December show on Monday, December 19, the theme for that evening will be HOLIDAYS, stories of vacation and travel.  Asthma attack in the mountains of Jordan?  Robbed at gunpoint in the slums of Mumbai?  We want to hear your stories!

Send your stories and pitches to bklocalstories@gmail.com and put the show you’d like to submit for (November or December) in the subject line. 

Local Stories is taking submissions…

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We’re looking for submissions for stories for our November and December shows!   Do you have an awesome story about whiling your life away as a janitor at Harvard while secretly working through complex mathematical problems at night?  Does your dark past keep you up at night?  Is Mimi Driver’s innocently cute smile the only solution to your woes?  We want to hear from you!

The theme for the November show on Monday, November 26 is THANKS A LOT, stories of gratitude and regret.  Maybe you followed your uncle’s advice never to back down from a fight, only to get pummeled by bullies.  Or maybe your best friend gave you an Etch-a-Sketch for your birthday and it inspired you to become an artist.  You get the idea.

If you’d prefer to wait until it’s cold out to tell a story, the theme for our December show on Monday, December 17 will be HOLIDAYS, stories of vacations and trips.  Robbed at gunpoint in Mumbai?  Car broke down in Kinshasa?  Send us your stories!

Please send submissions and story ideas to bklocalstories@gmail.com and specify which show you’re interested in doing. And if you really worked as a janitor at Harvard, we should definitely talk.