You want to tell a true story or anecdote that others want to hear, instead of wishing they could get the last 10 minutes of their life back. Unlike Seinfeld, not everyone can make a story out of nothing. But most people do have stories that entertain, surprise, or make us cry.
So how do you know if your story is worth telling?
In an article called Storytellers Have More Fun, Refe Tuma says:
“Everyday storytellers weave the ordinary and spectacular into a larger narrative and invite us to follow along. Like a good stand-up comic, they’ve trained their eyes and ears to find meaning and humor in life—the inconsistencies, eccentricities, and injustices that make up our world—and to convey those observations in a way that helps us make new discoveries ourselves.”
Here are a few questions you can ask to see if you have a good story for the next party or open mic:
1 – Does it reveal something about you or someone you know?
Interesting stories reveal your vulnerabilities, faults, meanness, or anything that makes us all human. When you bring these aspects about yourself out, your audience identifies more with you, and you become more real and authentic. Don’t try to impress with your story, create an image of yourself, or hide who you really are. Likewise, don’t make yourself a victim and other people the bad guys. Just tell it like it happened, what you felt, and what you learned at that moment about yourself or others. And of course, what you learn about others is not a judgement or verdict on their character, but just your own perceptions.
2 – Were you changed by what happened?
Some of the most inspiring stories are those where you or others are transformed. You could tell a story about how a car accident sent you to the hospital, including the gory details of your medical procedures and rehabilitation. But that in itself is not nearly as interesting as if you were to tell us about how this changed your career plans, your love life, your mental state. And what did those changes ultimately lead to? What kind of a person were you before that, and what did you become after? What conclusions do you now have about that accident and how it affected your life?
You probably have at least one story that represents a crossroad in your life. A point where you chose to turn right instead of left, to stay or to go, to continue a relationship or break it off. Crossroads change us, or change the course of our lives forever. We may regret the choice made or celebrate it. Either way, the story of what happened at that crossroad, and how it changed you, can bring your listeners to new understanding. Here’s a moving story from The Moth, told by Ed Gavagan, about a life-changing event:
3- Does it tell a tale of survival, growth, or success against the odds?
Tales of how ordinary people overcame obstacles are inspiring and encouraging to an audience. What matters is not what the obstacle is, but what it means to you. At various true story nights, I heard these against-all-odds stories:
- A woman in her 70s packs up her belongings in her car, and drives from France to London, learns English and becomes a stand-up comic.
- A hairdresser and his mother escape his abusive father, a Colombian drug figure.
- A man overcomes his stutter.
- A young woman, intimidated by the athleticism of her boyfriend’s family, tries to hide her lack of physical fitness in various hilarious ways.
The challenges in these stories were very different, yet each one presented a learning moment for the audience. And while the situations may have been foreign to the listeners, they somehow struck a familiar chord.
4 – Does it show a side of a culture that your audience may not know?
People love to learn about other cultures. Something may have happened to you while travelling or getting to know someone from a different culture. What did you learn about the culture from what happened? What did this reveal about yourself? In telling the details of the events and your reaction to them, you can be the bridge between your listeners and that other culture.
An older woman once told the story of how she and her husband, decades earlier when they were living in India, decided to start a dairy farm. They moved three cows from Northern India to the South by train. The details of their journey painted a vivid, comic, sometimes harrowing, picture of the terrain, the people, and the obstacles they encountered in going after this dream.
5 – Is it scary, strange, an uncanny coincidence, or hard to believe?
Have you had an incredible escape from a frightening situation? Did you meet someone you know in a most unlikely place? Did you see your doppelgänger? Did you survive an animal or human attack? People love the thrills in strange-but-true stories, and terrifying tales the story teller obviously survived to tell. It doesn’t have to be a traumatic event to be in this category. I once told the story of how I sneaked aboard a cruise ship in disguise to surprise my ex-boyfriend. It was both strange and hilarious, fraught with the danger of being caught, and frankly pretty hard to believe. Thankfully, it had a happy ending.
Story Ideas: Did these questions spark a memory of something that happened in your life that was scary, life-changing, revealing, culturally enriching? Go make a list of these stories, and start thinking about how you might tell one in 10 minutes or less.
London Story Circle by Gigi Hanna is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.