If you’re in a hurry, scan down, because that first 5 lines of Wild Geese might be something you really, really need to hear today.
Before then – a short, excellent story along with something that’ll make you want to punch the air and take to the streets. Seriously, it’s one of the best things you’ve ever heard.
It’s national poetry month, so here are two of my favourites.
1. A big hero of mine, one of the most charismatic, articulate and smart…
It’s a bit of a wonder I’ve survived.
Last Friday evening, I sat in the cavernous hallway of a room that had built in 1933, underneath a giant gold mosaic, and cried…
“I hear what you’re saying.”
He pressed his lips together, and squinted a little in suspicion. “But why? Isn’t that just Misery Porn?”
I was working with my friend Chris on a story he was going to tell at my live show. Chris (who I’ve written about before, here and here) is one of my favourite storytellers of all time, and I’d been excited to sit down with him.
The story is about him reading to his dying mother in hospital. He’d done a version of it at another storytelling show a few weeks before – and there, had played the whole thing for laughs.
As we sat down and talked through the story, I convinced him to pull in the sadness of the situation. To mire us in the grief that he felt, before the funny reveal comes.
Now, he was asking why.
One of the things…
“So guys,” he said, from the front of the large room. “Try this, and you can get to the root of your issue.”
I was on a table right down at the back, so he couldn’t see me rolling my eyes. Jaw set in fury, I looked down at my paper.
It was the Sunday before last, I was at a business retreat, and I was very, very angry.
This year, I’m in a group program, run by Jonathan “Good Life Project” Fields. I’ve been following him for years, and he’s always steered me right. Under his guidance, my business went from doing okaaaaayyy to suddenly making a living doing the thing I’m best at and most enjoy. Working with him again seemed like a good idea.
On this afternoon, 70 other people and I were in a session led by productivity coach, Charlie Gilkey. I’ve hung out with Charlie before – just that morning, he’d been telling me about his recent trip to Hawaii. We get on well and I really like him. I know a lot of people who’ve been coached by him to wild success. He’s a charismatic, clear and powerful speaker.
But, right now, I was cross with him. Furious, actually. Seething.
Or – to be clearer, I wasn’t so much angry with him, as with what he was asking me to do…
“My stomach was in a tight knot as I walked up to the front door.”
If you want people to really care about your stories, and be inspired to take action, there’s one element you MUST include… and yet, I see people leave it out all of the time.
What is this magic bullet?
Consider the difference between these two stories:
‘I walked up to the front door.
For thirty seconds, nothing happened.
Then, the door opened, and Sally appeared. I took a deep breath, and said, “Hello.”’
Now, read this one:
‘My stomach was in a tight knot as I walked up to the front door.
For thirty seconds, nothing happened.
I started panicking. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, I thought. Maybe I should stay out of it.
Then, the door opened, and Sally appeared, smiling. Nervously, I took a deep breath, and said, “Hello.”’
Which story do you care more about? Which one makes you want to keep reading? Which has the strongest effect on you?
I’m guessing it’s the second one. The difference between the two?
In the second, I told you how I FEEL.
Emotions make your story more powerful for five reasons:
(1) We invest in your story
In the second version above, did you wonder WHY I was so nervous – and what might be about to happen?
Telling us how you feel builds tension in a story. Suddenly, there are high stakes, that might not otherwise exist. Researcher Paul Zak discovered that tension is an essential ingredient to keeping us interested in a story.
(2) We trust you more
Have you ever got nervous…
“But that sounds nice! No?” I asked, holding onto the handrail as the cab turned a corner.
I couldn’t see much of the driver’s face. One of the small glass windows was slid open, and through it, I looked at his eyes in the rearview mirror.
He glanced at me and shook his head.
“Nah,” he said, in his South London accent. “It’s pathetic.”…
We sat in the lobby of the conference hall. Janne had told me I could be brutal. “I’m Dutch”, she’d said, “I can take it!” But now, I wondered if I’d gone too far.
And then, she burst into tears.
“Oh my goodness!” I cried. “I’m so sorry!”
“It’s ok!” she said, smiling. “It’s a hard thing to do this, because it’s important to me that I get it right. But it’s ok.”
I’m the Storytelling Coach at the Portland conference World Domination Summit (think less Lex Luther, more do-gooders, trying to make the world a better place). Each year, Attendee Storytellers are invited to go onstage and share their stories.
This summer, hundreds of people applied on Saturday morning to tell a story. On Saturday afternoon, Jolie (the conference’s “Fixer and Voice of Reason”) and I combed through the entries, chose five.
Then, I had just half an hour with each, to pull the story out, and figure out they could tell it in one minute. A process I’d usually spend two or three hours with each person for.
Janne’s story was particularly tough, because she wanted to talk about…
“I told her,” Barbara spat, in her thick, Polish accent. “‘You leave your underwear here? Get out of my house!’”
She stuck her chin out in defiance, while I pressed my lips together and tried to look concerned. This was the third time I’d heard this story today. I wasn’t even sure it was true.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I was volunteering at the day centre for seniors with dementia. When I’m there, I help with the mechanics, but mostly I come so I can sit and keep the clients company. The range of dementia they suffer from is pretty broad; some can barely string a sentence together. Others seem mostly to be all there – like Barbara.
But she did love to repeat stories about her family.
As well as the niece who got thrown out, we’d hear about her sister – who she’d only refer to as “The Beetch”. As in,
“The Beetch called me today. She thinks she can come and stay with me. Ha! I don’t want you here! Get a hotel!”
I am famously a wildly positive person. I have the word ‘yes’ tattooed onto my finger. My business is called Yes Yes Marsha. I usually have no truck with cynics.
Sitting in the circle of 30 people, I scanned their faces and tried to read them. My chest felt fizzy; a rampant mix that was equal parts excitement and utter terror.
I was in New York for a weekend workshop on coaching. It was directed at people like me at the time – those who only recently learned that coaching was even a thing – to give us some basics and help us decide whether or not we wanted to make a career out of it. I was excited because this felt like a job that had been invented for me; in one way or another, I’ve been coaching (for free) my entire life.
And I was terrified, because of all those people.
What if they realised I had no idea what I was doing? What if they thought I wasn’t cut out to be a coach? What if they knew I hadn’t had a proper job for months?
And, deep down, another question:
Full disclosure: I had planned something entirely different for you today.
But then… something happened last night.
A friend sent me a link to one of New York magazine’s “Ask Polly” columns, just with the words, “This is so good”. I read it, then wanted more. And more, and more.
In every single answer, she seems to be not just helping the person with their specific problem, but helping ALL of us with EVERY problem. And the theme that keeps coming up, over and over again, is the same one that drives me to help you tell stories, and to beg you to tell vulnerable ones:
No one – NO ONE – has all of their sh-t together, and you are not alone.
Here are some of my favourite quotes from some of those I read last night (plus links to each column).
“[Our] darkness and messes will…
Page 1 of 10