Snugglers, Small moments and Sneaking it in: Lessons from WDS 2017

Happy Marsha on the stage

Even as she was walking up to me, I didn’t break my stride.

I was game for talking to people, but I had an hour to get EVERYTHING done – and I was freaking out a little.

Marsha happy at the stage

In July, I was in Portland, Oregon for World Domination Summit – a conference where, contrary to its villainous name, do-gooders come together to try and make the world a better place.

On the Thursday morning, I was running an Academy (a three-hour workshop for 150 people) on storytelling. I was really excited, and bloody nervous.

The afternoon before, I’d run a small ‘meet-up’ in the park, to help people who think they hate networking figure out how to enjoy it.

(The main secret: stop thinking of it as ‘Networking’ and start thinking of it as ‘Making Industry Friends’)

Afterwards, I’d chatted to a few people, then had begun to walk in the direction of a handful of stores where I had to buy supplies for my morning workshop. I had an hour. That was when she found me.

The lady came up and said, “Hi, I was just in your meet-up – do you mind if I walk with you?”

I replied – in honesty, “Not at all – but I have a ton of errands to run, so we’ll have to chat while I’m striding along at high-speed.” I’m always happy to chat to people who’ve enjoyed a workshop I’ve run, maybe answer a few more questions and give them advice. But I really didn’t have time to stop. “Does that work for you?”


She told me how she’d enjoyed the workshop, and we talked about WDS. I asked her the question people often ask here:

“Are you here because you’re building something?”

She nodded. “Yes,”

Then she made my mind melt.

“I’m a full-time Professional Snuggler.”

I stopped short and stared at her through my eyebrows.


She laughed, “Yes.”

I tried not to hyperventilate. “Omg omg omg. I! HAVE! SO! MANY! QUESTIONS!”

Thus, we come to the first of five lessons I learned this year at WDS:


Lesson 1. Be open to being pleasantly and totally surprised.


I had thought this was going to be post-workshop extra question-answering with a fan.

Instead, it wound up being me practically interviewing her and asking all my burning questions (“what happens if they get a boner? And does everyone ask this?” “Yes they do, and not much – I just ignore it, or ask if they want to move”)

Then – as I still had to run around getting things before the stores shut, I asked our Snuggler – Sam – if she’d be game for traipsing around the shops with me. She was! I grilled her some more, then gave her a bunch of free coaching on how to get the attention of press.



Lesson 2. Small stories are often the most mighty:


After three hours, I was nervous to ask the question. If nobody came back with a good one, weeks-worth of work could feel wasted.

It was 11:45am on the Thursday morning. From 9am, I’d been running my workshop, “How To Tell Captivating Stories” for 150 people.

This was the biggest-deal workshop I’d done all year, and I’d put HOURS of effort into it. I’d hired someone to teach me about theory of teaching, so I could make sure my workshop was full of interactive exercises, that appealed to every kind of person – and that REALLY taught these concepts to participants, so they left with new skills.

Or at least, that was the theory. I was about to find out whether or not it had worked.

Marsha Workshop

At the beginning of the workshop, I got everyone to tell a thirty-second version of the story of their journey in that morning. I’d picked something intentionally pedestrian, to show how you can bring a story to life. As they learned each new concept (include details; tell your stories in action scenes), they applied it to this story.

Now, it was the end of the workshop, and I was asking a couple of people to share them.

One lady near the front raised her hand. I pointed at her, and a volunteer handed her a microphone.

I asked, “What’s your story?”

She smiled, picked up her piece of paper, and read, “As I sat, enjoying my toast, I looked across the hotel breakfast room – and saw the man I’d been eye-flirting with the night before.”

149 people held their breath.

“He looked up, saw me and smiled. I flicked my eyes away, excitement bubbling in my chest, as I took another bite of toast. I could feel him looking at me. Eventually, I looked back. As he caught my eye, this time I smiled – and felt energy rushing through my arms and legs.”

She got to the end of the story, and we all CHEERED!

The best stories aren’t always the ones that have the most pizzazzy narrative. Sometimes, small stories are the most mighty.


Lesson 3. We like getting vulnerable and talking about deeper-level stuff – we just need to feel comfortable doing it.


I had an hour to get 100 people talking, and I wanted it to be good.

On Friday, I held a meet-up called “Practise telling stories with Yes Yes Marsha.” While I’d built in some chances to practise the lessons I was teaching during my workshop, I wanted the opportunity for participants to use their skills out in the wild – and to introduce some people who weren’t there to how powerful storytelling can be.


I got everyone’s attention with a knife on my glass, and smiled.

After introducing myself, I explained to them why storytelling is so powerful.

“Lack of empathy is the root of all evil. You can see in what’s happening in this country and my home country how true that is. When we tell stories, our brains literally respond as if we are inside the story ourselves – which is empathy with POWER. So let’s tell some stories!”


I got them into groups of three or four, and asked them to answer some or all of these questions (that I’d found in various places online):

1. Before making a telephone call, have you ever rehearsed what you were going to say? When and why?

2. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

3. If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?

4. When in life have you felt most alone?

5. What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you? When have you used that advice?

6. Have you ever totally changed your mind about something? What was it and what changed it?


For the rest of the hour, I wandered around, observing how passionately people were talking, and how hard the rest of their group would listen.

Afterwards, I asked, “Who went DEEP, quickly?” and about a third of the room put their hands up.

I see this again and again. On the whole, people like getting vulnerable and talking about deeper-level stuff. We just need to feel comfortable doing it.


Lesson 4. Even within big stories, we must find the small moments:


Saturday afternoon was, as always, an intense, human production line for me.

I coach the ‘Attendee Storytellers’ Attendee Storytellers – anyone who attends WDS can pitch to tell a story onstage on Sunday. My job is to help them get those stories down to one minute. Sixty seconds. It is NOT a lot of time.

Each storyteller brought something epic:

Naser initially got refused a visa after he told the immigration officer he was coming to “THE WORLD DOMINATION SUMMIT.”

Yvonne’s dad was in a coma at the hospital when doctors went on strike and discharged all the patients.

Michael spent months camping and protesting at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

And Uli travels the New York subway, trying to bring us together through our love of books.

And with each storyteller, together, we pulled out one moment. Naser in the line up for customs. Yvonne on the phone to her stepmother. Michael taking photos of his friends preparing to peacefully protest, as a row of armoured police vehicles gets ready to approach.

Uli watching a man get on the subway whom everyone was afraid of.

It was these details that made each story compelling. Even within big stories, we must find the small moments.


Lesson 5. Sometimes, a small, fun story is the perfect way to build trust – so that your listeners are open to hearing hard truths.


Sunday was my highest stakes WDS day ever.

Usually, I have nerves and excitement for my Attendee Storytellers – but this year, there was even more riding on this day.

I’d been hired by Jolie Guillebeau – WDS’ official Voice Of Reason – for her first ever WDS Mainstage Keynote.

This year, WDS’ theme was “Team Everybody.” They knew that speakers would be covering some issues that might feel sharp to people in the audience. When we’re confronted with our privilege and the fact that we may have benefited at the cost of other people’s suffering, it’s hard to hear.

Jolie’s job, in her keynote, was to address this. To address that it is hard, and give ideas on how to deal with this pain, and move through it so that we can take action and fight our broken systems.

She and I knew that if she came out of the gates saying this, it’s likely that some people would shut down. Just like when I wrote about what I learned that I need to be doing around the Black Lives Matter movement and started with a small story about my niece and I having a bath, Jolie and I knew we needed to begin her talk with something that would make the audience feel welcomed and warm.

Going through my ‘story excavation’ process, we found the perfect one – a fun, sweet story about the first ever WDS, when Danielle LaPorte was on stage, and Jolie was in the back, pacifying Fire Marshalls who wanted to evacuate the building.

It was light and warm and everyone laughed. And by the time Jolie began talking about more challenging things – her experience of learning about Alabama’s history with racism, and how that relates to our lives today – everyone was on board.

If you need to tell hard truths, try starting with a small, light story.

(and if you want any help doing that, I’d LOVE to – find out more here:, or book a free chat HERE).


So, to review, my five lessons were:


1. Be open to being pleasantly surprised

2. Small stories can be powerful

3. Find chances to get vulnerable and ask and answer deeper-level questions

4. Even in big stories, find the small moments

5. Need to dish out some hard truths? First build trust with a small, fun story


Thanks so much for reading! Which of these five can you most relate to? Have you experienced any of them already? Let me know in the comments below! And if you know anyone who’s been to WDS – or who has some stories to tell! – you can share this with them using one of the round buttons below, clicking HERE to share on Facebook, or HERE to share on Twitter..


You rule!

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 credits: all


  • Angie Cole

    Reply Reply August 16, 2017

    I’m a big ‘old “Y”!!

    Love reading your tales and tales of tales. Thanks for making things that are fun and helpful.

    See you soon at Camp GLP!!!

    -Angie Cole

  • Anne Gage

    Reply Reply August 16, 2017

    Once again, so much value in this post, Marsha. Full-time Professional Snuggler?! That raised my eyebrows. :)

    I’ll be looking for the small stories and small moments (in the big stories) to improve my speaking. (Y)



    PS I hope you’re fully recovered from that concussion now.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      It raised mine sky-high!!

      Love hearing that you’ll be looking for the small stories, and LOVE having you in the Yes Yes Family :)

  • Craig

    Reply Reply August 19, 2017

    I was at the workshop, it was AMAZING! Right from the get-go you had everyone’s attention and you really lived your message. Your stories were entertaining and memorable. You have a skill in bringing up the right one at the right time. And the teaching method by creating a story out of what we did that morning was brilliant. It worked so well and really hit home the message that there are amazing stories everywhere if we pay attention and tell them in an engaging way. I also loved reading what WDS was like from your perspective and your lessons. Terrific post!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Craig!!! What words, thank you so much!!

      Absolutely THRILLED to have you in the Yes Yes Family :)

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