The one (fun!) thing you MUST do to become an excellent storyteller

It’s very important to understand THIS about the culture of the London Underground:

It’s not just that the passengers don’t talk to each other.

It’s that they don’t communicate IN ANY WAY.

Even when you’re smushed right up against your neighbour, your head jammed into the gap between their face and neck, the custom in London is to do everything you possibly can to act as if you are the sole occupant of that subway carriage. Casually check your phone. Read your book, even though it’s three inches from your eyes. Listen to your music on full volume, the tinny sounds trinkling out of your headphones. It’s surreal. But it’s What We Do.

On this particular morning, I had a seat – one of the advantages of living quite far from the centre. I had my headphones on, but there was no music, and the voice that I was listening to was quiet and calm – which made it even easier for everyone around me to imagine that I wasn’t there.

Suddenly, I gasped – and with the sharp in-breath, a loud, high-pitched noise escaped from my mouth before I clapped both hands over it.

Everyone in the carriage – EVERYONE – jerked their heads to look at me.

For three months, all I’d listened to was this one podcast. The Moth is a live show in the US, which I’d been obsessed with for about a year. I’d discovered it through This American Life – the first podcast I’d ever heard (and still one of my favourites). Though that show – specifically through Mike Birbiglia’s story, Sleepwalk With Me – I’d discovered The Moth’s own podcast, and hungrily listened to every one they had. I’d never encountered this idea before – people telling true stories on stage; sometimes funny, like the stand up comedians I’d been working with for years. But often, moving, tragic, or – as was the case with the episode I’d been listening to on that packed tube carriage – really, really shocking.

On a visit to New York a few months before, I’d gone to a live Moth Show and been knocked sideways by it. I bought the CDs – you could only buy them in sets of 10 – and then spent the next three months listening to as many as possibly could. I started wondering what my Moth story would be. Then I started thinking that surely there must be a similar show in London.

This led me, eventually, to find True Stories Told Live, and then to tell the story of my granny onstage – the one you can watch and hear here – and, finally, to start my own branch of the show in Toronto.

Here is what you need to do if you want to become excellent at telling stories:

Listen to people being excellent as they tell stories.

Here are some places to do that:

The True Stories Told Live Toronto Youtube Page – I’d suggest starting here, here or here.

The Moth podcast (which is free and still going strong!) – subscribe on iTunes here, or Stitcher here. Or listen to my favourite Moth stories here and here.

This American Life – although a lot of the stories are in documentary format, they also hand-pick some of the best Moth stories – plus Ira Glass almost always starts with a little story of his own. Here’s the first one I ever heard, featuring David Berkeley (the guy whose music is in all my Yes Yes Marsha videos)

Be aware of it out in the world. When you hear someone – a friend, a server, your chiropractor – telling stories excellently, start to notice what it is about the story that made it so compelling. My money’s on the fact that it’s probably not the content, but the way they tell it. Start to notice what it is they do.

If you want to be an excellent storyteller:
you have to listen to people telling excellent stories


I learned how to be a powerful story coach by working on myself, partly from birth (I am Russian, so storytelling is currency in my family), but mostly from 15 years as a music radio DJ, where I had to cut my stories from 20 minutes down to twenty seconds.

But when I really honed my skills?

It was because I was listening to as many excellently told stories as I could. Please do the same.

If you feel you need a little more help crafting your story, this is literally my favourite thing to do.

I’d love to do this with you – find out more about how I can help you tell your story on stage or on screen here:, or tell your business “Why” story, here: length hands on hips
So tell me, where do YOU hear excellently told stories? Is it somewhere online? Or from a particular family member or friend? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks so much for reading! If you know someone who wants to hone their storytelling skills – or would just LOVE a list of places to find great stories – please send them to this blog by sharing it using one of the round buttons below.



xx (Yes Yes) Marsha



PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo Credit: brownpau via Compfight cc and Connie Tsang – who is my favourite person on Instagram – you should follow her, here:


  • Lia O'Donnell

    Reply Reply March 23, 2016

    Marsha, did you know that excellent storytelling is a key to success for nonprofit fundraising? There’s a huge market of fundraisers who want to improve their storytelling skills to help communicate to donors in support of their organizations. Just thought you might be interested in connecting to folks this way too.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply March 23, 2016

      LIA! I did NOT know about this conference!

      Thank you so much! Now very much on my radar. My hero!


  • Nigel Thomas

    Reply Reply March 23, 2016

    As a Londoner, I loved this update Marsha! It’s 100% accurate as well, the times that people do talk to people are usually through the late night revelers, especially on the Victoria line.

    Thanks for reminding me of The Moth – I’d read the book version of that a couple of years ago, I must look at some of the other new videos though, yours was brilliant. It’s all inspired me to look at new ways of story-telling in my song-writing – I’ll keep you posted.

    Nigel. X

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply March 23, 2016

      Oh i LOVE the idea of you bringing new ways of storytelling into your song-writing!

      And yes — the Disco tube DOES being people together :)


  • bdubz

    Reply Reply March 23, 2016

    I love podcasts so much I get so lost in them. It’s a 45 min walk to and from work. That’s an amazing (and precious) 1.5 hours a day, 5 days a week to escape. I’ve laughed out loud and also bawled my eyes out.

    The Moth and This American Life are brilliant (Fiasco! is a favourite episode that I listen to at least once a year, just looked it up and it was first played in 1997!). Also worth checking out for storytelling is The Monti and Westchester Storyslam.

    Death, Sex & Money is a current fave (the Ellen Burstyn ep is delicious), but I love Criminal too. First season of Serial blew my mind (can’t quite get on with the second) and Savage Lovecast is good to dip in and out of.

    Oh! Freakonomics is brilliant too!

    (I think I can now be known as parenthesis girl – it’s some kind of super power)

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply March 23, 2016

      bdubz! i LOVE these suggestions! I got into podcasts when I used to commute 1-3 hours a day and, even though I don’t miss the time I lost commuting, i DO miss how many podcasts I used to listen to.

      And if you’re (Parenthesis Girl), may I be your trusty sidekick — Em Dash Woman — ?


  • Heather Dale

    Reply Reply March 24, 2016

    So love your newsletter and your posts Marsha. You emails are about the only ones that I have subscribed to that I open without fail – entertainment value is everything!!! Loads of value in them apart from the entertainment factor – if other people are like me they might intend to open to learn – really they open to be entertained.

    I have been meaning to share something with you for a while – it doesn’t relate to this post – I meant to comment on something you posted ages ago and then the moment passed and now I will probably struggle to find it. I so loved your post about going to the beach and getting all sandy and having to wash off in the airport.

    We are renting an old cottage on a farm in Portugal and in the bathroom next to the loo we have something that I assumed was probably for filling up the mop bucket!!! Now I know better – love love love the concept of a bum gun – this just made me laugh out loud.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply March 24, 2016


      First of all, THANK YOU for those lovely words about the emails! They are my favourite thing I do in the week, so that means so much!

      Secondly – i LOVE this story!! For anyone else reading and interested, Heather’s talking about this story here: That’s so hilarious that it illuminated your tap!

      DELIGHTED to have you in the Yes Yes Family :) :) :)

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