Late for your plane? Try this

A guy sitting with a bottle of water

I caught sight of him and my heart sank. I had about twenty seconds to decide whether or not I could hide – then realised that there was no way.

I bloody LOVE airports. Sometimes, after I land (especially in a UK airport), I just hang around for a bit, to soak up the atmosphere.

“Hey, you!!” My friend Talib waved, from three rows ahead of me on the plane. “Are you going to WDS??”

World Domination Summit is a yearly conference in Portland, where several thousand do-gooders getting together to make the world a better place. I go every year – and am now the conference’s Storytelling Coach.

“I am!” I said, waving back. “Let’s chat when we get to Calgary!”

I’d met Talib a few times before and really liked him. He’s smart, articulate, funny, and it’s always a nice change to find a man working in my very woman-heavy field, of coaching and personal growth.

But I love travelling alone. LOVE. And I worried that, him being here was going to cut into my special airplane solo time.

Five hours later…

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Worried your stories aren’t exciting enough?

True Stories Told Live Zoe McKnight

“I don’t know if my stories are worth telling…”

If this thought has ever crossed your mind-threshold, I have great news:

Good stories mostly aren’t about content. It’s about the way they’re told.
Think about it: we all know that one person who can make ANY story sound amazing. And we’ve all been stuck at the party with that other person, whose story you can tell has exciting elements, but dear god WHEN WILL THEY STOP, because this is mental torture.

If you need a little further proof, here is a wonderful story, about something not totally life-changing.

Added extra: this story (from my live show True Stories Told Live) was told by a journalist, who asked to come and be coached by me to tell a story, and then tell it, purely because she has a crippling fear of public speaking, and her editor wanted her to write about it.

What you can learn from that? If you’re well prepared and have a great story, you can totally fake your own confidence. Here she is, doing just that:

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The MOST important part of any story (it’s probably not what you think!) (5/5 in the story series)

I put the CD into the player and felt my stomach fizz with excitement. After months of stillness, finally, I was going to bring the room to life! I pressed play and looked up, expecting to see all the seniors bopping along. Instead: nothing.

No movement. One old lady eventually looked at me and furrowed her brow.

“This is The Beatles?” she asked.
“Yes!” I replied.
“Huh.”
She went back to her newspaper.

I was volunteering at the day centre for seniors with dementia, and I wanted to move them with music. But they had other ideas…

That’s one way to begin this story. Here’s another:

This is a story about the power of music, and surprising yourself – about the time I made a CD for the seniors that I work with, thought they didn’t like it, and then got shocked by an old lady, who danced the jitterbug with me like she was 16 again.

It all started when I first put the CD on. After months of stillness, finally, I was going to bring the room to life…

I ask people (during client calls or storytelling workshops), “Which is the most important part of any story?”
Here’s what they usually guess:

The narrative
The detail
The ending
The climax

In fact, the answer is…

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How to edit your stories but still make them compelling (4/5 in the story series)

As I opened the email, my heart started racing. It was even more exciting than I’d anticipated!

Two months earlier, I’d booked my ticket for Portland’s World Domination Summit – a conference full of do-gooders trying to change the world (like me!). I’d never been before, but knew WDS was a big noise in my industry.

The month before, they’d put out a call for Attendee Storytellers. By this point, I’d been running my live storytelling show for about a year and a half (and coaching all of the storytellers), so I figured I had a good shot. After all, there were, what, 500 people at this conference? So probably 30-odd would apply, and they’d choose around 25 of us.

They needed an inspiring story with a message. I wondered what I’d ever done that was inspiring… and then remembered. Oh yeah. My solo marathon. Two years before, after Hurricane Sandy led to the cancellation of the New York City Marathon that I was due to run, I’d made up for it by running one on my own, in London.

I pitched my story to WDS – starting in an action scene – and sent it off.

“CONGRATULATIONS!” came the email. “You’ve been selected to tell an attendee story on stage!” This was nice to hear, though not unexpected. BUT THEN:

“Hundreds of people applied, and you were one of only twelve selected!”

Well, THIS was exciting! Immediately, I jumped onto Facebook, to my local business group of business ladies.

“GUYS!!!!!” I told them, “Hundreds of people applied to tell a story at WDS, and I’m one of 12 selected!!! I’m going to be telling my story to 500 people!!!”

“Dude,” one of them replied. “The WDS audience is THREE THOUSAND”.

Oh.

Crap.

After getting over the fear of speaking to a room that enormous, I had another problem:

I had to get the whole story – Inspirational Message included – down to one and a half minutes.

As I talked about in part 1 of this blog series, when you’re telling a story, you need as much of it as possible to be action scenes. And, as I told you in part 2: action scenes require detail.

So how do you get the narrative of a very eventful 42 kilometer run – that, in the end, took over 7 hours – into a minute and a half?

First…

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You’re ruining your best stories. Here’s how to stop (3/5 in the story series)

Kneeling on the floor next to her armchair, I lay my head in my Granny’s lap. As the thick wool of her skirt skritched against my cheek, she stroked my hair, and sang to me in Russian.

“Mne nekuda bolshe speshut!
Mne nekovo bolshe lyubit!
M’sheek, ni gani, loshadey”

Three years earlier, when I was 18, my…

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Make every story captivating, using this Hollywood tip (2/5 in the story series)

The young man looked at me, his eyebrows raised in a question. He was handsome, though surely fifteen years younger than me. Stood below him, I flushed, and felt the small grip of panic in my chest. I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how to tell him.

“S-s’il vous plait…” I stuttered, taking a deep breath…

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The ONE thing you must know, to tell powerful stories (1/5 in the story series)

The night that the doctor told us my granny was dying, my mum and I lay mattresses down on the floor of her room.

We wanted to be near her. For practical reasons, so that we’d be there if she woke up and needed us. But also for primal ones. We’re Russian. We have a strong herd instinct. It was the end, and we needed to be close. So we lay our mattresses down to sleep.

Except – I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, “What if …

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How to Combat Facebook Envy (and Save Lives)

We all walk around, all day every day, thinking that everyone else has their sh-t together.

We all think that everyone else has a normal background, and normal parents, and a normal, successful career and successful relationships.

Then we get on Facebook and it compounds it. “This person’s getting married!” “That person has a happy family with kids!” “this person doesn’t have kids and so they went on vacation to Costa Rica!” “That person’s making six figures in her business!” – and it just COMPOUNDS that feeling of, “Everyone else has their sh-t together but me”.

That feeling is shame. And what shame does, is builds this metal fortress around you, cutting you off from everyone else.

But then, someone…

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What REALLY happens when you disable your Facebook account

“A year ago, I shut down my Facebook account.” One of the things my clients often worry about, is that their story is not exciting enough to be told. They believe that, for anyone to want to keep reading or listening, there has to be HIGH DRAMA  – life-threatening illnesses, helicopter chases and/or bears. My…

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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…

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