Speak Up Storytelling: Erica Donahue

On episode #28 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up events, offer insight on Tasmanian Devils, respond to some listener emails about PTSD, and apologize for failing to record a new episode last week.  

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about the value of finding "worsts" in your life, then we talk about how to apply perspective to your Homework for Life in an effort to find more stories. 

Next we listen to Erica Donahue's story about attending college in rural Virginia as a fish out of water.

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The effective use of details in a story

  2. The broadening of stakes

  3. The power of contrast

  4. The avoiding of thesis statements

  5. The value of the slow reveal

Next, we answer questions about effective transitions and how and when to tell stories involving trauma. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

New York City Public Library appearance registration

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicks-subscribe

Your geographic opposite: 
www.antipodesmap.com

This Is Going to Suck:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3J4Q5c1C1w

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

A bittersweet moment for a storyteller, and a magical night for all of us

Thought I'd share this little moment of beauty with all you:

Last night I competed in a Moth GrandSLAM in Brooklyn. It was an evening filled with fantastic storytellers, a hilarious host, and a world class violinist, but the storyteller who stole the show was not on the stage at all.

After winning a Moth StorySLAM earlier this year and thus gaining entry into the GrandSLAM, one of the storytellers was deported after more than 15 years in this country as a result of changes in immigration policies by the Trump administration.

After living and working for years as a New Yorker, first as a student and then as a legal resident, this Iranian-born former resident of South Africa was forced to leave the country.

He's currently residing back in South Africa.

The Moth decided to allow this storyteller to compete despite his inability to attend the GrandSLAM. Instead of standing on the stage, he told his story via Skype to the theater full of people. Though none of us could see the storyteller, we listened intently to his story, and at the end of the night, the judges declared him the winner.

It was one of those evenings of Moth magic that I was so happy to witness firsthand.

That's the beauty of storytelling. Last night I competed in my 24th Moth GrandSLAM, yet it never, ever gets old. Magic can happen at any moment. A storyteller can touch your heart in ways you never expected. You can find yourself gasping or laughing or crying at the most unexpected moments.

And last night, we had the chance to listen to a storyteller from half a world away tell a story of beauty, pain, and hope.

It was one of those rare nights at The Moth when everyone's favorite story was the same story, and that was a truly beautiful thing.

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Speak Up Storytelling #4: Sam Carley [rebroadcast]

The combination of Hanukah and an injury (happily not too serious) to our son's foot has made it impossible to record a new episode for you this week, so please enjoy this rebroadcast of one of our most popular episodes ever.

Elysha and I will be back next week with a brand new episode. 

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On episode #4 of Speak Up Storytelling, Elysha and I talk storytelling!

We talk about about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life" and the importance of transformation in storytelling. 

Then we listen to Sam Carley's story about a challenging bus ride through an Indian desert with the possible girl of his dreams, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. The ideal arc of a story

  2. Describing human beings in stories

  3. Limiting unnecessary description

  4. Advancing time in a story

Next, we answer listener questions and offer recommendations.  

LINKS

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Speak Up storytelling: http://speakupstorytelling.com

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy:
https://www.netflix.com/title/80160037

Evernote:
https://evernote.com

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Speak Up Storytelling: Kathy Binder

On episode #27 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling alongside storyteller Kathy Binder. 

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up events, respond to listener comments, and offer another shout-out to our fans down under. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about a single word (spoken on episode #26 of this podcast) can amount to a Homework for Life moment, and how that might be used in a story (including how to frame the story)

Next we listen to Kathy Binder's story about breaking down on the Taconic Parkway on a frigid, winter night with a newborn. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The effective use of humor in storytelling

  2. The beauty if a story's imperfection

  3. Coincidence stories

  4. The preservation of surprise

  5. Maintaining important ideas throughout a story 

  6. Nervous as a part of public storytelling and speaking

  7. The importance of stating stakes early 

  8. Techniques for shortening stories

Next, we answer questions about hints to winning Moth and other competitive storytelling events and the responsibility of the storyteller and the audience. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

New York City Public Library appearance registration

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicks-subscribe

The Robbery: https://bit.ly/2DWczc2

The Promise: https://bit.ly/2zGe4au

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

Kathy Binder

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I’ll be speaking at the NYC Public Library Main Branch alongside storyteller Erin Barker… join us!

I’ll be appearing at the main branch of the New York City Library on Wednesday, December 26 alongside the great Erin Barker to talk about my book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

About the event:

We are always telling stories. In communicating with family and friends, we are constantly narrating events and interpreting our personal feelings and actions. We make choices about what to emphasize and what to gloss over. We tell stories to entertain, express ourselves, and make sense of the world. Elementary school teacher, author, and award-winning Moth storyteller Matthew Dicks believes everyone has a story to tell, and has tips and techniques for narrators of all stripes on constructing, telling, and polishing a tale. He will be in conversation with writer and editor Erin Barker, two-time winner of The Moth's GrandSLAM and the artistic director of science storytelling organization The Story Collider. 

The event is free, but register here to guarantee yourself a seat.

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Speak Up Storytelling [rebroadcast]: Renae Edge

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our listeners in the United States. 

Elysha and I are taking the holiday off and rebroadcasting episode #14 of Speak Up Storytelling, which features the joyous story of Renae Edge. 

We thought it would be perfect for a Thanksgiving Day listen. Maybe share it with your family. Find us a few new listeners.  

We'll be back next week with a brand new episode. 

______________________________________________

On episode #14 of Speak Up Storytelling, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using Matthew's strategy "Homework for Life," including moments that storytellers see but non-storytellers might not. 

Then we listen to Renae Edge's story about finding her voice for the first time, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. The effective use of backstory or flashbacks in a story

  2. The components of an especially effective beginning to a story

  3. Singing in stories

  4. Strong feelings about dream sequences

  5. Specificity of names

Elysha and Matt then answer listener questions about building a story with flashbacks and telling effective best man speeches. 

Lastly, Matt and Elysha each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

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Get Storyworthy for less than a dollar!

I am excited to announce that Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling is being featured in a special 99-cent Autumn eBook Sale, which offers 12 amazing eBooks, from bestselling authors like Shakti Gawain, Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., HeatherAsh Amara, and more, for just 99-cents each (in the US only), from now until Thursday 11/15!

Order here! http://www.superbooksale.com

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Speak Up Storytelling: Jenny Steadman (with special guest Danielle Dnes)

On episode #25 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks are joined by storyteller Danielle Dnes to talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up shows and messages received from around the world. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." Danielle recently reached the 100 day mark in her Homework for Life and shared it with Matt and Elysha. We poke through the 100 days to find some stories that Danielle didn't initially see upon first glance. 

Then we listen to Jenny Steadman's story about the pressures of playing golf with her grandfather and his pals. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. Effective character and location descriptions

  2. Planting seeds early in a story that will sprout later

  3. The best way to repeat a laugh line throughout a story

  4. Pacing and pausing 

  5. "The curse of knowledge" in storytelling

Next, we answer questions about a storytelling improv game that we use in workshops and is detailed in Storyworthy. We even play a round to demonstrate. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

How I fight crazy, strange, and beautiful people

Yesterday I wrote about my unusual Uber ride from the Jacksonville airport to Amelia Island.

In response to that post, friends and reader commented on how often I seem to meet such “interesting” and “strange” people and how my life can oftentimes seem more storyworthy than most.

This is not true, but I understand the perception. Two things make this so:

I open up a space for others to speak.

My Uber driver didn’t volunteer his conspiracy theories to me, and he didn’t launch into his misguided political diatribe unprompted. After getting into the car, I engaged in conversation. I asked him his name. I asked him if he drove for Uber for a living, which led to him describing his two other jobs.

Then I asked about those jobs. I demonstrated genuine curiosity. I learned a lot about the process of iPhone screen repair. I can now tell you the economics of mall kiosks in the Jacksonville area and the way that Apple ships parts to repair technicians. I can explain to you why repairing an iPhone screen is easier than repairing a Samsung screen, and I can explain how a nail salon can pay more than $200,000 in rent each year and still turn over an excellent profit.

All of this came from me asking questions and demonstrating a genuine interest in his life.

Then I asked him what he did in the little bit of free time he had. “Do have time for hobbies?” I asked.

“Do you like conspiracy theories?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’d love to hear what you think.”

This is how I ended up with a story.

I open up space for people to talk and tell me stories. Instead of staring at my phone for the duration of the ride, which would’ve been easy, I decided to leave the damn thing in my pocket and engage with a human being. I did the same thing on the four flights to and from Florida. On each leg of the trip, I opened up a space for my seat mate to speak.

The first was not interested. He was watching a movie on his phone, so I did the same.

The next one spoke limited English, making conversation impossible.

The third, a young woman, fell asleep almost instantly and ended up awkwardly draped across my chest (a story in itself).

But the fourth, a man named Dave who lives in Meriden, chatted with me for a while, telling me the story of his visit with his ailing mother and “impossible sister.”

Not exactly conspiracy theories and iPhone economics, but he shared a story with me before turning back to his phone.

I talk to people. Part of this is a learned behavior after spending 15 years with my wife, Elysha, and part of it is my desire to hear stories. Engage with people. Make the moments of my life more meaningful and memorable than a screen ever will.

I tell my own stories.

While in Florida, I told a story about a challenging time during my childhood to an audience of a few hundred. I was honest, authentic, and vulnerable. I spoke about things that many are not willing to speak about.

In response, at least a dozen people shared their own stories with me. Some told me deeply personal stories about their own childhood struggles. I spoke to one man about our mutual love for the Atari 2600 game Adventure (and have since downloaded the game using an online emulator). The general manager of a hotel on the island offered me a free room if I bring my family for vacation.

One woman told me a secret that she had been carrying for more than 40 years. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke to me.

When you tell your stories, others are compelled to tell you their own, and as a result, connections are made. Doors are opened. The chance for storyworthy moments increases significantly.

It’s true that my life has been filled with some unusual moments. My life has been saved by paramedics twice. I was homeless for a period of time. Arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. Carried from my childhood home in the middle of the night by a firefighter. Survived a horrific armed robbery. Been victimized by an anonymous, widespread attack on my character and my career. Fed my pet rabbit at Thanksgiving.

A lot of crazy stuff. You have some, too, I’m sure.

But eventually you tell all those stories. All those storyworthy moments from your past become known.

Then what?

When people say that my life seems more storyworthy than most, I point out my willingness to say yes to whatever opportunity crosses my path. My ability to see stories in moments that others do not.

But I also point out my willingness to listen. My desire to open up space and time for others to tell me their stories, and my willingness to share my own.

A storyworthy life is one filled with people. Connection and engagement. It’s about getting out of the house, turning off the television, lifting your face from the screen, and finding someone new. Doing something new. Opening your heart and mind to opportunities.

It means asking your Uber driver questions about his life rather than reading email or scrolling through social media. And finding out some disturbing facts about him in the process.

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Speak Up Storytelling #24: Erin Barker

On episode #24 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up shows and messages received from listeners from around the world. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about the value of preserving memories for future storytelling but also because throwing away memories is something we all do every day but inevitably regret later on.  

Then we listen to Erin Barker's story about finding her love for learning thanks to a man with an axe. Erin is a two-time Moth GrandSLAM champion and the Artistic Director of The Story Collider whose stories have been featured on PRX's The Moth Radio Hour and in The New York Times-bestselling book The Moth: 50 True Stories.

After listening to Erin’s story, we discuss:

  1. The effectiveness of a clear story arc

  2. The difference between a funny story and a funny story with real heart and meaning

  3. The humor of specificity

  4. The power and inherent strength demonstrated in authentic, honest self-deprecation 

  5. Embedding learning within a story

  6. Chekov's gun 

Next, we answer questions about starting stories with the word "So" and the economics of storytelling. 

Finally, Elysha and I each offer a recommendation.  

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

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Reach for the masses...

Back in May of this year, Elysha and I launched Speak Up Storytelling, a podcast about telling your best stories. Each week we teach strategies for finding, crafting, and telling stories. We also play a story previously told at a Speak Up event and use that story to teach lessons about what the storyteller has done well and what might be improved for next time.

Our goal was to produce at least 25 episodes in 2018. This week we published #24 and will be recording #25.

But in addition to sending 24 podcast episodes into the world and garnering thousands of listeners, amazing connections have been made.

Just this week, we have heard from:

  • A man in Africa who using is storytelling (including my book Storyworthy and our podcast) to “forge community connection between whites (westerners) and blacks (locals).”

  • A woman in Brisbane, Australia who’s read my book and listens to the podcast with friends who has been inspired to launch her own storytelling show in January.

  • A teacher in Chicago who is using my book and our podcast as part of her spring curriculum.

  • Two different podcast listeners in the Seattle area who have each shared some remarkable ideas and bits of art with me.

  • Just this morning a listener in Maine who hit her 100 days using my Homework for Life strategy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it:

Find a way to put your voice out into the world. Find a way to take your passion and turn it into something that reaches beyond the cozy confines of your home. Whether it’s a podcast or a blog or YouTube or Instagram, find a way to bring your expertise and your joy to the masses.

The potential returns are immeasurable.

We’re so fortunate to live in a time when each one of us can be writers and broadcasters with the potential for reaching millions of people. Less than two decades ago, gatekeepers kept the vast majority of human beings silenced. Reaching a large audience required enormous sums of money, technical expertise, years spent climbing the ladder and paying your dues, and access to networks controlled by a small number of businesspeople.

Almost exclusively white men.

Today you can reach the world with an Internet connection and a phone. A laptop and a microphone.

We forget how lucky we are.

Elysha and I are not special. We are not uniquely talented or especially well equipped for podcasting. Our operation is not a sophisticated one:

Once a week, we sit at the dining room table with about $200 worth of audio equipment and a laptop and try to record a podcast as phones ring, children who are supposed to be in bed interrupt us, and cats knock over microphones.

And our audience isn’t very large yet. We are finding listeners slowly, primarily in the United States but also in 49 other countries worldwide.

But relatively speaking, the audience is small but growing.

But when you receive an email from someone on the other side of the world explaining how your words are changing their life and the lives of others for the better, it doesn’t matter how many people are listening.

Just those few would be enough.

So find a way to put yourself into the world. Take the thing that you do well and find a way to share it with others.

A photo of your garden.
A blog post about the lesson plan that went especially well.
A YouTube video on the booties that you’re knitting.
A podcast of your cringe-worthy high school poetry.
A Twitter account specializing in your accounting best practices.

You have something to share. Find a way to share it. You never know what might happen.

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Speak Up Storytelling #23: Laura Terranova

On episode #23 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we discuss a brand new rule for The Moth's StorySLAM series. We also talk about why storytelling is a superpower and the many doors that being an effective communicator can open for you. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We discuss the possibility of incorporating Homework for Life into a daily to-do list, discuss Homework for Life advice from a listener, learn how a child is now doing Homework for Life, and review how a moment that didn't seem like much initially might be storyworthy after all. 

Then we listen to Laura Terranova's story about finding herself in a hospital bed, unable to communicate to the outside world.

After listening, we discuss:

  1. Elements of an effective beginning

  2. Outstanding transition strategies

  3. Character building throughout a story

  4. Elements of an effective ending 

  5. The power of a name in storytelling

Next, we answer questions about the dangers of dominating conversations when you have many stories to tell and how to handle the moment when you thought you were funny but the audience did not. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

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Many jobs with one important thing in common

It's been a strange and busy weekend for me.

On Friday night, my wife Elysha and I produced an unforgettable Speak Up storytelling event at Infinity Hall in Hartford. Our near-sellout audience enjoyed what might have been our best show ever, headlined by United States Senator Chris Murphy who told a fantastic story about an embarrassing moment he experienced while serving as an intern for Senator Chris Dodd. 

In addition to producing the show, I told a brand new story about one of my most embarrassing and shameful parenting moments ever.

On Saturday my DJ partner, Bengi, and I worked our last wedding of 2018 at the Webb Barn in Wethersfield. I coordinated their ceremony and reception, served as emcee for much of the evening, and played music for a bunch of happy and excited guests.  

On Sunday I traveled to Groton, MA to serve as minister at the First Parish Church of Groton while their full time minister was on vacation. In addition to delivering a sermon on faith, I also delivered a children's sermon, read poems and prayers (one that I wrote myself) from the pulpit, led the congregation in song, and even pulled the enormous cord that rang the church's famed Paul Revere bell, calling all to the service. 

I did everything a minister would do with a little help from the worship coordinator and musical director.

After lunch with the parishioners, I taught a storytelling workshop to interested members and some folks from the community before heading home and discovering that the DVR failed to record the Patriots game.

Quite the weekend. 

It seems like an bizarre combination of roles to jam into a three day period - storyteller, producer, wedding DJ, minister, teacher - but in truth, all of these roles rely on the ability to communicate effectively to a large group of people. The jobs may have been different, but in each case, the skill set required was essentially the same.

Speak. Connect. Engage. Entertain.  

I say in the last chapter of my book, Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling, that storytelling is a super power, and I wasn't kidding. Being able to tell a good story and engage an audience can open up all kinds of doors for you.

It can be the difference between being heard and remaining silent.

This weekend it meant sharing a stage with a US Senator, dancing the night away with a couple on their wedding day, and climbing the pulpit to tell a story and deliver a message on the age old struggle for faith.  

I was also able to help six other storytellers tell their best stories on their biggest stage of their lives and teach a group of folks in a church basement how to begin their own journey into storytelling.

Learn to tell great stories. It truly is a super power. You never know what doors it may open for you.

Speak Up Storytelling #22: Q&A catch-up

Episode #22 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is now available for your listening pleasure. On this week’s episode, Elysha Dicks and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We discuss how a moment can not only be storyworthy for the stage but might be useful in many other contexts in life.  

Next, we break format. Rather than listening to a story and critiquing, we decided to clear out the mailbox by dedicating this episode to listener questions.

We answer questions about:

  1. Telling other people's stories

  2. Storytelling etiquette

  3. Homework for Life best practices

  4. The verbal detritus than can sometimes accompany storytelling

  5. The importance of stories being relatable

Then we end the podcast from a remarkable clip from a popular Netflix series. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Speak Up #60 was a big night

Kind of an amazing night.

When Elysha and I launched Speak Up in May of 2013, we wondered if anyone would show up.

We wondered if our first show would also be our last show.

Our expectations were low and our vision for the future of Speak Up was dim. If some people came to our show and didn’t hate us, it would be considered a victory.

Last night we produced our 60th show at Infinity Hall in Hartford, and it may have been our best yet. The storytellers - four of whom were brand new - were outstanding. Filled with humor and heart. Our nearly sold-out audience ate them up.

And of course, the night was made even more special by the inclusion of United States Senator Chris Murphy, who I have been trying to get in the show for more than a year. Senator Murphy led off with a story about his time as an intern in Washington, DC. He stuck to our theme of “Walk of Shame: Stories of Embarrassment,” spoke from the heart, made the audience laugh, and honestly sounded just like any other storyteller onstage except for the fact that he’s a US Senator.

Just like the rest of the storytellers, he killed.

Prior to last night, we’ve only had a couple celebrity storytellers on our stage. Two years ago George Dawes Green, the founder of The Moth, graced our stage with a brilliant story, and we also had Catherine Burns, artistic director for The Moth, tell a fantastic story as well.

Though both of those human beings are luminaries in my mind, they are not nearly as well known as Senator Murphy. If you know and love The Moth, you know George and Catherine, but if you don’t know The Moth, you are tragically unaware of them and their remarkable work.

So last night was a big deal for us. The next time I ask a celebrity, politician, sports figure, or the like to tell a story for us, I’ll be able to say, “A United States Senator has told a story for us. Maybe you’d like to tell a story, too?”

There was a moment last night when Elysha and I were standing in the dark backstage, listening to the Senator tell his story, and I recognized how big a night this was for us. Someday, far into the future, when we are reflecting on some of the things we have done as a couple, we will remember this night with great fondness.

The night eight storytellers - one more than usual because of the last minute addition of Senator Murphy - took the stage and told stories that our audience absolutely loved, and one of them was the United States Senator who we love and support more than any politician in office today.

It was a big step for us, and as is always the case, I now find myself in search of the next big step. The next leap forward. The next moonshot.

Never stop looking for the next big thing.

What inappropriate things did I put in my mouth?

Tonight I’ll be taking the stage at Infinity Hall in Hartford to tell a story for Speak Up.

It will be our 60th show, stretching back to April of 2013 when we produced our very first show in an art gallery at Real Art Ways, and I have told a story at every one.

In addition, I’ve also told stories at all five of our Speak Up - Voices of Hope co-productions, as well as showcases for Unified Theater, West Hartford Public Schools, and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health,

That’s a lot of stories. In that time, I have only repeated stories twice.

Once accidentally, and once at Space Ballroom, our new venue in New Haven, CT, where we will be bringing stories first told in the Hartford area to a new audience.

Add to that the 22 Moth GrandSLAMs and 66 Moth StorySLAMs, half a dozen Moth Mainstage performances, and dozens of one-off shows. Some Moth stories have migrated to Speak Up, and some Speak Up stories have migrated to The Moth, of course, but it’s still a boatload of stories.

In all, I have told 116 different stories on stages around the country and the world.

“How do you find so many stories?” I am constantly asked.

My usual answer is Homework for Life, an exercise that first developed for myself and then began teaching. Add to that two other exercises that I detail in my book Storyworthy, and that makes up the bulk of my story finding techniques.

I also remember a lot. I have one of those memories for moments in my life. My sister is the same way. We simply recall more of our past than most people. Part of it has to do with the fraught, strange, challenging, ridiculous, and trauma-filled past that we both share.

If your life hasn’t been lovely and idyllic, you’re likely to remember more of it.

But also this:

I relentlessly look for stories. I seek them out. I turn over rocks to find them. So when I see this amusing carousel sign last weekend, I turn over a rock. I ask myself:

“What inappropriate things have I put in my mouth?”

Some have already been told onstage.

  • I swallowed a penny when I was about seven years-old, and I won a Moth StorySLAM with that story.

  • I choked on a bay leaf (and nearly had my chest cracked open by surgeons) about ten years ago. I told that story at Speak Up last year. I’m still waiting for the right moment to take it to The Moth.

  • I once drank spiked punch from a trashcan that contained a block of ice with roadkill at its center. I told that story at The Moth way back in 2011, failed to hear the timer, and spoke for eight minutes. I’ll need to re-tell that one someday.

  • I was once tricked into eating my pet rabbit by a girlfriend’s father. I won a Moth GrandSLAM with that story this year.

But then I thought:

  • I sucked my thumb well into third grade and only quit when a teacher shamed me, which led to me punching a kid in the head. That’s a story.

  • I once drank a mug of communal leftover drinks at a bachelor party and got so drunk that I started running around the VFW thinking I was being chased by evil men in bear suits. I also gave a guy a nickname that night that stuck for the rest of his life. That’s a story.

  • When I was a boy, I took communion at the Catholic Church, trying desperately to fit in but not realizing why I was even in line and what I was about to receive. The priest placed the wafer on my tongue, and I was so disgusted by the taste and the meaning of the ceremony that I spit the half chewed wafer into my hand and stuffed it into a Bible. That is a story.

  • At my best friend’s wedding, my friend, Scott, and I engaged in a stupid drinking competition which led me to drink 22 kamikaze shots over the course of eight hours and still lose the competition. That is a story.

  • Then I recalled the time about 15 years ago when my dog, Kaleigh, ate a Sudafed gel caplet. When I called the veterinarian (at 10:30 PM) to find out how serious it might be, she said, “You have about 10 minutes to get her to the hospital before her heart explodes.” That’s a story.

One sign. Five stories. Not bad.

Granted, the ability to craft these moments into full-fledged stories isn’t something everyone can do, but read my book, take a workshop or two, and start listening to stories like I do, and you’ll eventually be able to.

But the important part is to look for stories. Open your mind to them. Ask yourself questions. Explore your past. Until I saw that sign, I had forgotten four of those stories completely, and I hadn’t thought about the fifth in years. Even if I never tell them on stage, I’ve recaptured little bits of my life. I turned over a rock and found more of myself than I knew existed.

I love that. You will, too.

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Speak Up Storytelling #21: Don Picard

Episode #21 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is now available for your listening pleasure.

On this week’s episode, Elysha Dicks and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We discuss how a moment that didn't seem initially storyworthy can prove to be storyworthy with a little consideration. We also receive two outstanding Homework for Life recommendations from listeners. 

Next, we listen to Don Picard's story about his unusual family composition, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. Breaking longer stories into two or more shorter stories

  2. Encapsulating big ideas into small, specific scenes

  3. The funneling of a story from fast paced, episodic moments that advance time quickly to the specific heart of the story

  4. The purpose and effectiveness of summarizing unique, odd, and incomprehensible moments in story

  5. Preserving surprising by allowing your audience to draw their own conclusions

  6. The importance of maintaining time order to avoid confusion

Then we answer a listener question about what we do for a living when not working on Speak Up and our podcast.  

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Valerie Gordon

Episode #19 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week’s episode, Elysha and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We discuss how small moments with universal appeal can often make great stories.

Next, we listen to Valerie Gordon's outstanding story about a surprising encounter with Neil Diamond, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. Telling stories that include extraordinary events that are not specifically about or depend upon the extraordinary event

  2. The purpose and power of repetition

  3. The brilliant use of internal and external dialogue

  4. Breaking my "stories must be told in scenes" rule

  5. The power of uncertainty 

  6. Ending a story with heart

Then we answer listener questions about crafting rhythm in stories and what it's like to be married to someone who shares so much of his life with the world. 

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling: Ron Apter

Episode #18 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week’s episode, Elysha Dicks and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We discuss how the stories we find in a day can sometimes be the building blocks of much larger stories. We also hear from two listeners on how Homework for Life is changing their lives. 

Then we listen to Ron Apter's outstanding story about fatherhood, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. Building a story from a single moment

  2. Stories that take place in narrowly defined settings

  3. Strong beginnings

  4. Two strategies to create humor in storytelling

  5. Vocabulary choice

Next, Elysha and I answer a listener question about using swear words and racial, ethnic, and religious slurs in storytelling. 

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

Speak Up Storytelling #17: Robin Gelfenbien

Episode #17 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure.

We start by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We talk about the Homework for Life submitted by a listener, and I offer up three Homework for Life moments from the week and discuss why one is better than another.

Next, we listen to Robin Gelfenbien's story about finding love with the help of Marie Kondo, then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of this fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about storytelling in everyday life and offer some recommendations.

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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