How to Compete at a Moth StorySLAM

The Moth just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Founder George Dawes Green, a storyteller from the American South, used to spin tales in the summer to friends, while moths flocking to his porch light. He moved to New York and took his tradition along. Now, there are 500 storytelling programs each year in the U.S. and abroad. The Moth Radio Hour is heard on 400 radio stations and is available as a podcast, with 1 million listeners.

One of the ways to get your story told is to compete at a StorySlam. You can also call The Moth, pitch your story, and see if they might be interested in helping you develop it. Winners of StorySlams go on to compete at GrandSlams. https://themoth.org/events

The closest StorySlam for me is located in Los Angeles, a few hours north. I made the trek last year, but didn’t get randomly selected as a contestant. There are a lot of people who want to tell stories. This week, I tried again and got picked. Here are a few things I learned.

Arrive Early and Sign In

The LA StorySlam is often held at Los Globos, a small club built in the 1930’s, located on Sunset Boulevard. Parking is challenging, so it’s best to take a Lyft or Uber. You can also purchase alcohol, so that’s another reason to get a ride. Tickets should be bought online prior to the show, since seating is limited. http://www.clublosglobos.com/

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The event is for those 21 and older. Once you show your ID and get checked in, if you want to compete, find the person handing out pre-competition waivers. Fill in your info, give it back, and watch it get folded and tossed into a bag fast filling up with hopefuls.  There are only ten speaking slots, and there are always many more than that who want to share a story. The event is audio and video recorded.

Judges

Judges work in three teams of three. Some team members know each other, some don’t. Many have never judged a StorySlam before. I’m a speaker used to the standardized evaluations of Toastmasters International, so this is the Wild West. That said, any judging of speeches always has a subjective factor. Each judging team gives a score, and the person with the highest average wins.

The Mechanics of Speaking

The LA venue is a medium-sized room with a bar. The stage is small. If you’re a speaker used to walking around and using gestures, this isn’t your gig.

If you’re one of the fortunate people called as a contestant, you get on stage and stand still before a microphone, with a supernova light shining in your eyes. It’s rather like being asked to tell an amusing story for a sadist.

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You should wrap your story at around 5 minutes, or just past. A person playing a flute sounds a lilting tune at 5 minutes. If you have the audacity to run on to 6 minutes, the  sound that’s played is akin to a honking goose slammed in a door. Your scores go down if you venture too far past the 5 minute timeframe. Practice timing your talk beforehand, and cut as necessary.

Once you’re finished, you pick one of the folded waivers out of a bag to determine the next contestant, and wait for your scores.

What to Talk About

 Moth stories are TRUE personal stories about YOU. At each StorySlam, there’s a theme that must be an integral part of your story. The first time I went to an event, a man got on stage to talk about losing his health, house and wife, and to cry. It had nothing to do with the event. The Moth looks for personal stories you’ve experienced, not stand-up comedy or events experienced by other people.

The Moth website has details on events, allows you to get the theme ahead of time to prepare, and to listen to examples of stories. https://www.themoth.org/

Thoughts on Content

 Like life, Moth stories can be heartbreaking. Must you talk about a dead pet, loved one with cancer, your own illness or other tragedy to win? No. Vivid descriptions, true feeling, humor and story structure (a beginning, middle and end without meandering) assist your presentation. As I tell the speakers I train, don’t memorize. Think of your speech in bullet points, so you don’t freeze if you forget something.

Can I tell you what type of content will win? No. Each StorySlam brings so many different types of people and tales, it’s difficult to say which story will be the favorite.

Remember, the audience is rooting for you, even if you don’t give the performance you wished. Have fun!

The Moth creators are fond of saying, “You either have a good time, or you have a good story.”

Good luck!

 

3 Secrets to Making A Great First Impression

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” How quickly do people form an opinion of you? Seconds? Minutes?
WORSE.
Not to scare everyone, but Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov conducted experiments that showed first impressions occur in 1/10th of a second and aren’t greatly altered by longer exposure to the person.
It isn’t fair, but many judgments are made on faces alone. Studies show that naturally attractive people get better outcomes in all forms of life. But what can you do if you’re not suitable to appear on the cover of Vogue or GQ?

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Here are a few quick tips to have some control over what people decide about you:

1. Make a Great Appearance
Be sure how you look and dress fits the occasion. If you’re going for an interview or business meeting, make sure you’re well groomed and dress conservatively.
What does that mean?
• You bathed and brushed your teeth. No one appreciates bad breath or seeing someone with spinach caught between their front teeth.
• If you’re a man, you’ve shaved and neatly trimmed any beard/ moustache. Also don’t forget to check for pesky nose and ear hair, and that goes for women as well.
• Your hair is combed and you’ve used a mirror to check the back so there’s not a flat spot or something out of place. You don’t want to just look good from the front.
• The outfit you choose to wear is appropriate for the occasion. Like Oscar Wilde said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you should wear a tuxedo, prom dress or evening gown to a job interview or business meeting, but you see the point. If you’re not sure what to wear, search online for photos showing photos appropriate for your category of destination.
• Think about the culture of where you’re going to be. Is it okay to have tattoos showing or face jewelry? If not, do the best you can to minimize them.
• Check yourself in a full length mirror. Is everything as it should be? Is your tie askew or your skirt hanging a little to one side? Are your shoes scuffed or there’s a snag in your hose? Make sure to do a full inspection before departing.

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2. Have Super Power Body Language
How you carry yourself adds to your first impression. You want to look relaxed and confident, but how do you do that if you’re a little nervous?
• On the trip there, listen to some songs that make you feel positive and upbeat.
• Take some deep breaths before going into the building or room. This sends oxygen to your brain and relaxes you. Count 4 beats in and 4 out. Repeat several times until you feel calmer.
• Get in a Power Pose with hands on your hips like Superman and feel the confidence. Of course, do this where people don’t see you unless you want to be recruited for the Avengers.
• Stand up straight. Put your weight on the balls of your feet and keep them shoulder-length apart. Square your shoulders and tuck in your stomach. Keep your earlobes in line with your shoulders and don’t forget to breathe.
• Make eye contact. If you don’t look at the person you’re addressing, you will come across as insecure. You don’t have to hold continued eye contact, but it’s important to look directly at another when you first meet.
• Have a firm handshake, NOT one that could crush a can of tomatoes and NOT one that’s like shaking a wet rag. Practice with friends until you get it right.
• SMILE! You don’t want to look hesitant or nervous, so smile like you would when you meet someone you know well. If you’re not sure, practice in the mirror until it feels natural.

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3. Be a Good Communicator
Interviews and first meetings can be stressful, but there are some things you can do that will help you make a better impression.
• Do voice warm-ups at home or on the way there. The easiest way is to hum in a hot shower so the steam relaxes your vocal chords. Start at medium range and then go as low and high as you can. Scrunch up your face like a prune and then relax it with your tongue hanging out like a hound dog. Say the words “Bay-Be-Buy-Bo- Boom” 5 times quickly to get your tongue working. If you do this, your voice won’t sound thing or crack when you first speak.
• Research the people and/or company culture of your destination. It helps to have some background before a meeting and adds to your ability to make small talk.
• Ask questions about the people you’re meeting. If you’re in a limiting situation like an interview, it can be as simple as how their day has been. If you have more time expanded your questions to learn about the other person’s life, like where they’re from, what they like about working somewhere etc. People like to talk about themselves, and it shows you’re interested in them, making you appear more confident than being solely self-focused.
• Listen. Sometimes when we’re nervous, we don’t listen well. Be sure and pay close attention to the question, and ask that it be repeated, if needed. Answer what you’ve been asked. If someone is telling you a story, don’t look around the room or at other people. They will appreciate you more for giving them your undivided attention.

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If you practice these tips, you won’t care how long you have to connect, because you’ve mastered making a positive first impression.

Learn to Speak the Language of Love

Is love a mystery? Not really. If you’re in a relationship, or planning to be in one, one of the best things you can do is learn to be a better communicator. Below are some quick tips on how to bring even more love into your life.

Silver and Red Hearts

Determine your love language by taking the 5 Love Languages Test by Dr. Gary Chapman. http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/

If you don’t want to take this test online, there is an option to download the .pdf file.

You will find which of the 5 Love Languages are important to you and your partner, then learn to focus on giving each other what you need. This include words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Maybe your partner wants you to vacuum the floor more than they want you to rub their feet. Find out!

Define Enough: How much time should be spent to fulfill your partner’s love language needs? That’s something you need to agree on. Discuss how much time each person requires to have their wants fulfilled. Maybe a 5 minute conversation is good for you and going the movies is the perfect gift for your partner. Being in love doesn’t have to take a lot of time if you communicate.

Use Equal Language: We aren’t a parent or boss when we are with our partner. We are their equal. Do you hear yourself saying “You ought to…” or “You should…” or “You need to…”  when speaking to your partner? These are dominant phrases taking a superior position to your loved one. Rephrase and use the following:

“It would mean a lot to me.”                                                               “How do you feel about…”                                                                    “What do you think about…”

Being partners means being respectful to each other.

Be an Honest Communicator. What if you’re with your partner and you pass a Starbucks? You think “I sure would like a coffee!” Do you get angry if your partner doesn’t read your mind and to get you what you want?

Do you say things like “That new movie (insert name) sounds great!” and are disappointed when your partner doesn’t take you to see it?

If you’re not saying what you want, it’s you who are contributing to the issue. Try “Let’s go into that Starbucks. I’d like a cup of coffee!” or “Let’s go see (name of movie) when you have time.” Your partner will know what you want because you told them.

Go 24 hours without criticizing anyone or anything. This is difficult, especially in California where there are so many idiot drivers. 🙂 By staying in the positive, you will be surprised how your relationships change for the better. Here’s the hard part: Start your 24 hours over if you slip up and keep trying. It can take weeks before you make it 24 hours, but you will be surprised by the positive feelings you have and the difference it makes in your relationships.

Don’t hold in what’s bothering you. If your partner is doing something that’s bothering you, don’t put up with it in silence. This only leads to more issues. Instead, try say this: “I have something that’s bothering me. When is a good time to talk about it?”

You let your partner decide when they are available to talk, so they will be more available.

Don’t criticize your partner in front of other people. Go to a quiet place where just the two of you can talk.  Stay in control of your feelings because crying, screaming and shouting isn’t productive. If you can’t contain your emotions, do it another time. Also, focus on the specifics of what’s bothering you, and don’t let it devolve into dredging up everything your partner ever did wrong.

Start the conversation on a positive note: “I love you, I care about you but….(problem)” Ask them what they can do to change the problem. Have an open dialogue.

If you work on being an honest and loving communicator, your relationships will flourish!

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7 Steps to Promoting a Bestselling Book

If you’re a writer, it’s likely you’ve spent countless hours conceptualizing, writing, and editing your book. You’ve also probably spent as much or more time getting it published.

Now what? Brooke Warner, publisher at She Writes Press, recently spoke at Publishers and Writers San Diego about the value of building an author platform. She shared an analogy that I loved, saying, “Some writers want to hole up as they write, only to emerge after the book is done or published with the expectation that the readers will come. But not working on your author platform while you’re writing is the same as coming out of a cave and hanging a sign up letting people know your book is out. How are people supposed to know you’re there? You need to do more than stick your head out of the cave, wave, and go back in.”

What can you do to assist in the promotion of your book? Beyond hiring a publicist, you’ll also have to be engaged in the process. Here are a few quick tips to help you on your journey to becoming a bestselling writer:

  1. Reflect

          Every story has a beginning. What was yours? Why did you decide to write your book? Spend some time remembering how you got the initial idea and why you were excited about it. When you access that feeling, hold onto it. That’s the emotion and energy you need to convey to any person or audience when you speak about your book. Enthusiasm is contagious and will help boost interest in buying your book.

  1. Blogging Helps Your Presentations

Start a blog about yourself, writing, and your book. This will help you become more known, especially if you share your posts through social media like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn or other sites. By sharing, you build connection.

Not sure what to write? Think about what you know. People connect through stories, and everyone has a myriad of stories to share.  Here are some possible topics:

  • What led you to become a writer
  • The concept of your book
  • When your characters talk to you during the writing process
  • How to write and also keep up with other obligations
  • The lost manuscript or the hurdles you jumped over to get your book published etc.

When you remember a story, write it down. You can use these stories when speaking about your book. An audience resonates with authentic, heartfelt stories. An added bonus is that telling a story that is meaningful to you will also help combat nervousness.

  1. Revise and Polish Before Speaking

Before you speak to an individual or group, organize the material you want to discuss. Every talk has a beginning, middle and end, just like a book.  For example, you could start with a humorous intro story, move on to describe the excitement of how you came up with your book’s concept and end with another story. When you have a rough draft, read it out loud to see how it sounds. Try it out on family and friends and get their input.

Remember being stuck in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on and on about a subject? Don’t do that. Distill your book’s message down to twenty-five words. Think about ways you can tell just enough about your plot and characters that people will feel compelled to buy and read your story. If you’ve written non-fiction, focus on the most fascinating aspects of your book and give your listeners a taste. If you’re stuck for ideas, read some book blurbs or watch some movie trailers. Consider how they’re used to generate interest and apply it to your book.

 

  1. Don’t Memorize Your Presentation

Often, if a speaker forgets something they’ve memorized, they freeze. It’s awkward, both for the speaker and the audience. If you want to use notes, try a bullet point structure. By organizing through bullet points, if you forget what you want to say, you can glance down at your notes and get right back on track. If you’re telling a story that you can relive and connect with, you probably won’t need your notes.

  1. Practice

          One of the best ways to improve public speaking is to join your local Toastmasters club. It’s $45 for a six month membership and will help train you in a variety of speaking categories.  You will learn to answer extemporaneous questions, prepare and deliver 10 basic speeches, and eradicate filler words such as um, er, like or you know. If you need to improve on a faster timeframe, hire a speaking coach.

  1. Relax

Prior to speaking, take time to do some deep breathing and voice warm-ups. Visualize your audience hanging on your every word, and the venue selling every copy of your book! Remember, the people who show up are there to support you and want to hear what you have to say.

  1. Socialize and Network

          If you don’t yet have a book signing just for you, that’s okay. Think about attending meetings or other events where people would be interested in hearing about your book. Remember, asking other people themselves is a great way to connect. Ask if they like to read and, if you think your book is a fit, give them one quick line about it. If they seem interested, hand them a card or flyer with where to purchase your book. Think about places that might need a speaker on your book’s topic and offer to give a free talk. Have copies of your book on hand for purchase. Be creative and get the word out.

 

Get out of your cave and become engaged! Building an author platform will help you on the road to becoming a bestselling writer.

WHY FACTS DON’T MATTER

          When it comes to making an impression in a speech, one of the most important things to remember is that people don’t care about facts.

What? That can’t be right! You might be thinking.

Here’s an example: I recently heard a speech by a businessman who owns his own company. He told us about how he started it and detailed all the services it provided, giving us all the facts and figures. Did I care? No.

Why?

It was BORING.

          If you want to capture the attention of your audience, don’t put them to sleep with facts. Here are some tips on how to keep people interested and, most important, awake.

  1. PEOPLE RESONATE WITH STORIES, NOT FACTS

          Once upon a time…

          I am an invisible man…

          This is the saddest story I have ever heard…

These are considered some of the best opening lines of books. Why? Because they capture the imagination. People are wired to hear stories. It goes back to sitting around in the evening, before radio, TV, the Internet and Netflix, when entertainment was storytelling.

Use stories to tell your facts.

Compare this: “More than one in three women are married before the age of 15 worldwide.” to:

“Sonali Khatun was just 14 years old when her parents told her she would be getting married. She dropped out of school. Her wedding was arranged in just 14 days.
“She did not want to [get married], but we forced her, because in villages, when an adolescent girl is unmarried, people start to talk,” Matiura Bibi, Khatun’s mother, told the American Jewish World Service, an advocacy group. “After the marriage, we realized the boy was not nice. He was suspicious of Sonali. He started to control her and argue with her. I understood the marriage wouldn’t last.” Sonali got a divorce and faced being taunted by the girls of the village, but she is now an independent, successful working woman.”  Read more here:

http://www.refinery29.com/2015/09/93839/child-marriage-in-india-divorce-advocacy

By telling facts through a story, it gives the audience someone or something to visualize and identify with. By using stories that include facts, your speech will resonate with the audience, causing it to be remembered.

  1. HOW A SPEECH MAKES YOU FEEL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FACTUAL CONTENT

Now that it’s election time, we see candidates who are distorting the truth for the purposes of furthering their campaigns.

Here are some examples:

Arab Americans cheered during the Sept. 11th attacks.” – Donald Trump (untrue)

Then United States is going to accept 250,000 Syrian refugees” – Carly Fiorina (untrue)

Hispanic and teen unemployment went up under President Obama.” – Ted Cruz (untrue)

The handling of secret emails through a private server was permitted” – Hillary Clinton (untrue)

          “Climate Change is directly related to the growth of terrorism” – Bernie Sanders (overstating)

Studies have shown that misinformation has lingering effects, even if a falsehood is quickly corrected. This is especially true if the “fact” ties in with a person’s beliefs and resonates with them.

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We’ve all seen items going around the Internet claiming to be “facts.” A famous one from 2014 was a woman who claimed to have three breasts. She circulated a photo claiming she’d had a 3rd breast implant in the center. In actuality, it was a prosthesis. However, this “fact” did lead to her recording a song and music video in Florida.

Why have the three-breasted woman and the not-candid candidates captured the imagination? The things being said aren’t true, but they evoked emotion. If you listener feels an emotional reaction, what’s being said will resonate more strongly with them.

  1. NOVELTY OR SURPRISE EXCITES THE BRAIN

          Let’s go back to politics. A master of media attention is Donald Trump. He says things that are outrageous and has been discourteous to other candidates during debates. What has this done? It’s put a lot of focus on him because the media likes sensational stories– and so do we.

When Darren LaCroix won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, he walked out on the stage– and fell down. He stayed down for a purposefully long time, making the audience uncomfortable.

This was a masterful move. An audience views new information from the “reptile” brain, the part that processes information through a prism of fear and boredom. They’re afraid of new ideas, but they want to have their imagination captured. What Darren LaCroix did was shocking and, thus, excited the audience. It got everyone’s attention.  

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          Think about your speech content and how to incorporate an unexpected moment into the presentation. It will keep your audience’s attention and make your presentation memorable.