Matthew Dicks is an elementary school teacher from Connecticut. His friends challenged him to tell a story at a Moth StorySLAM. After two years of delaying, he finally put his name in the hat for an opportunity to tell a story on the stage in front of an audience. His got picked. He finally told his story and won the competition that night. The experience changed his life. He started telling more stories. Six years later, he had won 34 of 53 StorySLAM competitions and is a five-time GrandSLAM champion.
After his interview on the Art of Manliness podcast #462: How to Tell Better Stories, I decided to get his book and see if I could be a better storyteller.
Why be a better storyteller?
We all have moments where the spotlight is on us. Maybe we are asked to give a toast at a wedding or a presentation at work. it could even be amongst friends around the dinner table. Too many times I have been in that situation. My nerves would get the better of me. My train of thought would fall of the cliff into the chasm of awkward silence. The points I wanted to make would never make it to its intended destination. I’m sure you have been in similar situations. It is embarrassing and uncomfortable. It can also be prevented. Learning to tell a great story is a craft. And if told well, it could leave a lasting impression on those who hear it. Therefore, we should all become better storytellers.
- The purpose of a story is to reflect how you changed. It is not just anecdotes or memorable moments. It is transformational. As the author states, “You must start out as one version of yourself and end as something new.”
- Homework for Life. This is a storytelling collection system employed by the author. At the end of each day, he writes down five possible stories from the day. This can be either events that happened or meaningful memories from the past. Not all of them might become stories, but it is a way to collect and generate new ideas. His best practice is to place them in an Excel spreadsheet. I tried this. At first, I was a miserable failure. I started out strong for a couple of days, and then I dropped off. Getting on my computer before bed was the last thing I wanted to do. When I did, the blue lights would charge my system and get my mind working. Even when I tried this in night mode, my sleep was affected. As an alternative, I added this to my daily evening journal practice done handwritten in a notebook and by the light of a lamp. Reviewing and sorting is not as easy as it is in a spreadsheet, but at least I am getting in the daily practice.
- “Every great story ever told is essentially about a five second moment in the life of a human being, and the purpose of that story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible.” If it is not bringing clarity, get rid of it or at least minimize it in the story. Highlight the moments that bring greater clarity.
- The start is the most important element. Add forward movement, go into the present tense as much as possible, use physical locations. Tell it like a movie.
- People love the underdog. If you are the hero in the story, show how you were supposed to lose and pulled off the unexpected. Too much arrogance in your abilities is a turn off for the listener.
This has been a fantastic read and should help me become a better storyteller. By employing some of the techniques and practices in this book, I have already made some positive improvements. I can’t wait to see how I evolve as a storyteller and plan to review this book on an annual basis to measure progress.