Bill Murray on storytelling
October 16, 2014
If you are any kind of fan of Bill Murray at all, then you will enjoy this interview he did with Howard Stern last week. Murray, who is famously hard to get a hold of, does not do a lot of interviews like this, so it was a rare treat. It's not a performance. This is just two guys talking, but there are some gems in there and even a few bits relevant for presenters and speakers of all types. You can listen to the audio here, but I highlight two of the more relevant points for presenters below.
On story and storytelling
At 18:55 in the audo track above Howard asks Bill how it is that he makes people laugh? Were there any secrets for making people consistently laugh? You and I may not need to make people laugh the way a comedian must, but for us we could frame the question more something like "how do you make people feel something? How do you make them care?" As for being funny, Bill says the key is having the ability to tell stories.
Howard Stern: "Who teaches you to tell a story? Is it something you are born with?"
Bill Murray: "No, I don't think you're born with it. You have to hear stories and you have to live stories. You have to have a bunch of experiences and be able to say 'Here's something that happened to me yesterday....' And if you can make people laugh by telling them what happened to you, then you are telling the story well. So that's what I learned in improv...." But you have to live to have the stories, says Murray. You need the experiences.
The more you do it, the more relaxed you become
Howard Stern says he is amazed at how Bill Murray is able to seem so relaxed. Being relaxed and natural is something that is very engaging as a performer or communicator in general, but how do you do it even when you are nervous? How does one get loose and relaxed? Stern asks Murray if he was nervous the first time he was on Saturday Night Live (SNL). The stakes were high and the TV audience of millions was live. Surely a young Bill Murray was nervous. (Discussion begins at about 23:40 in the audio).
Bill Murray: "The more relaxed you are, the better you are. When you get on the stage...you go into like a professional state. Your state changes. You get higher."
Bill Murray says he learned how to be loose and relaxed through his early improv work at Second City and on National Lampoon Radio, performing in an off-Broadway show, etc. He had the confidence he could do it because he had done it before, albeit on a smaller stage. There is a lesson in there for us, of course. If you want to get good at being relaxed, natural, and comfortable on stage or speaking to any kind of group as part of your work, the secret is to give yourself opportunities to gain the experience over time. It will not happen overnight, but over time—including both success and failures—you can develop into a master.
Public speaking and improv should be part of our education. It should not just be for a few students in the speech class or the even fewer students in the drama department. All of us can learn from the experiences with improvisation, and with performances such as plays and music, etc. This idea of "state" is very important. Over time, with experience, you learn to put yourself into a different state when communicating before an audience. This is something that even experienced teachers do, perhaps without even thinking about it. Step by step, with experience, almost anyone can become much, much better.