How to Compete at a Moth StorySLAM

Do you listen to The Moth podcast? Have you ever said “I’d like to do that!” Here’s a post about the basics.

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 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.


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!


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