Once More into the Breach

Before I became a podcaster, I wanted to be an on-stage storyteller.  One night, driving home late from work, upset about my job, depressed about my career, I listened to an excerpt of Mike Daisey's "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" on This American Life.  Now, hip readers will know that this monologue, originally presented as a true story, was found a week later the broadcast to be largely made up in parts, and is a bit disgraced.  But in the week before the reveal, this performance hold a charm over me.  I was amazed with how well it was written and spoken, and I wanted to hold an audience like Daisey.

From that one night driving down I-84, I ended up spending a lot of time, money, and effort trying to become a great storyteller.  There were workshops and shows and pitches and trips down to NYC and up to Northampton.  But I seemed to never get beyond a certain level.  People would compliment me after an open mic in Easthampton or a show in Hartford, but then I'd get the lowest score at a Moth slam in New York.  Now, I'd expect something like that -- I was competing against amazing comics, authors, and storytellers in the center of the true, personal storytelling universe.  Of course I would start small.

But I could never figure out how to get better.  I could never figure out what was wrong with how I would tell a story that made it not compelling.  For example, if I were to be at a party with my friend Greg, and each of us were to tell a story, it's certain money that I'd lose my audience within a minute and Greg would have them hanging on his every word.  I've seen this happen twice.  And I couldn't see what was different between us.  And this maddened me.  Not understanding was driving me crazy!   I spent many a blog post on my previous Wordpress page pontificating on it.  Was it structure?  Was it stakes?  Was it my voice?  Was it my clothes?  What?  What?  What?!

This past week, I think I got a clue.  I was listening to a story on The Moth podcast, and something occurred to me.  Here was a woman that was telling a story that in and of itself wasn't extraordinary -- she was laid off from an NGO, so she started her own NGO with no experience.  But in every word, she was invested in what she was saying.  She opened up her heart, and let you in.  Aha, I thought.  This was what I wasn't doing.  Every word I've been saying is a mask.

Now, I've been told this before many times*.  Sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtle.  But this tie, I was ready to tell myself this and listen to it.

Why now?  I'm going to guess it has to do with producing Random Waves.  When I produce an episode, I'm looking for real, open communication from my interviewees.  I know that makes for compelling audio, for compelling storytelling.  Who knows, maybe I've become attuned to honest communication.

Now, as luck would have it, a few days later (this morning, actually), a pair of Moth storyslam tickets became available for tomorrow night.  Once I got them, I immediately began re-composing one of my stories in a way that I'll add more honest communication and take away the masks.  I can't promise anything, but I hope it'll make some difference.  Kindly wish me luck!

Also, I hope to take this lesson into my podcast narration.  I recently wrote about the Offshore podcast and how I want to sound like they sound, in a way (I don't want to clone them, of course!).  They certainly have the communication going strong, so let's see if I can do the same.

* Side note:  sorry to everyone who told me that and I didn't take action.  I'm the type of person that needs to hear themselves say it first.  No disrespect intended.  I'm just stubborn that way!