Want to find your best stories? Do this in restaurants.

People in a restaurant

I’m breaking a rule by writing to you today.

This week – last Friday until today – I was supposed to be in New York. On the final trip of a spate that has lasted almost three months, I was going to be hanging out with my mum, who had a week-long job there. But then her job got cancelled, and so I decided to do something I’ve never done before:

Take an internet break.

Email and social media. Not because I’m in the woods, not because it’s Christmas, just… to see what happens.

What’s happened is that…

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When you meet new people, do you ever just irrationally HATE them?

people gathered in a restaurant

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but here goes:

A few weeks ago, I locked my bike up outside this juice bar in Portland, a tight ball of nausea in the bottom of my stomach.

I was at WDS – the conference World Domination Summit, where do-gooders (like me) try and make the world a better place – and arriving at my first ‘meet-up’. These are impromptu gatherings thrown by attendees. I had my own one the following day, a short workshop on How To Tell Compelling Stories. But this one at the juice bar was a storytelling meet-up being thrown by someone else – a lady I’d never met before, and was a bit scared of.

Two days before, I’d (finally, very last-minute) decided to put on my own meet-up about storytelling. As I scrolled through those other people had posted, I realised that there was already one happening on the same subject. Gutted at first, I then looked into the details and decided it was ok for both to exist. This one, by a lady called Sara Hunt, was going to be about how to figure out which of your own stories to tell. Mine was more about how to tell your stories. Also, hers was already full, so I figured it was even more ok to put mine on.

But I am a perennial people pleaser, and I was still worried that she’d be annoyed. So I sent her an email.

In it, I explained what I felt the differences were between our two workshops, and told her I’d love to meet her at some point – which was true; from her website and blog, she seemed cool and interesting. Then, I asked whether, if there ended up being a free spot, I could come along to her meet-up.

It took me about 20 minutes of writing and rewriting to compose this last question.

What if she thought I was just coming along to steal her ideas? What if she was annoyed that I was running my own storytelling meet-up and it made her not like me?

My fears were trumped by how much I wanted to go, so I asked. To my relief, I got a reply saying she’d love to have me along.

But now, I was actually here…

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WDS: Five Storytelling Lessons from Coaching the Attendee Storytellers at World Domination Summit

People on a stage

I stood up, feeling the fizz of excitement under my skin, and started looking around the empty lobby of the conference hall. It was evening. I knew that most people had left, but I needed to be certain.

Yep, I was definitely alone.

I walked to the space where there were no chairs. Then, silently and frantically, I began leaping up and down, alternately punching my fists in the air, before ending on a little stationary run.

It was Saturday night, and I had just finished coaching the Attendee Storytellers for World Domination Summit.

WDS is a conference where, once a year, several thousand do-gooders descend on Portland, to get inspired and try and figure out how to make the world a better place. Along with TED-style informative and inspiring speakers, every year, they have a number of “Attendee Stories” on the main stage – where people from the audience can apply to get up and have a go themselves.

I told a story a few years ago – you can hear it here – and, since then, I’ve become the Official Storytelling Coach for World Domination Summit. Which sounds like loads of fun – and is – until you know that I have just one afternoon to help all the storytellers get their 20 or 30 minute stories down to one minute.

One.

Tiny.

Minute.

It’s brutal but, every year, I do it – and, every year, the challenge makes me feel high as a kite afterwards. Hence the silent, solo leaping around.

Here are five things I learned from coaching this year’s attendee storytellers at World Domination Summit

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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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This is easy, makes people feel INCREDIBLE – and nobody does it

food court

Walking into the food court, I looked over at the Greek place and saw that the man wasn’t even there. Relief flooded my chest.

That solves it, I thought – but then, I noticed him. Not behind the counter but in the kitchen area at the back.
As I passed, I could tell he hadn’t seen me. Pushing my way into the dingy washrooms, with the grip of anxiety in my chest, I began my internal battle.

Don’t bother. He doesn’t even know you’re here. You’re scared of talking to strangers, and it’s not a big deal.
The tension released a little.
But, Marsh, it’s the nice thing to do. You’d like it if you were him. And the tightness came back.

Three days before…

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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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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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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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