Five Steps to Authentic Storytelling

Tonight, I am fortunate to be giving a talk for the 25th round ever of Ignite Seattle. I am excited, but I am also a little nervous. In all my years of public speaking, speech writing, and even speech coaching, I have never before given a public talk about something as deeply personal as what I am about to share tonight. 

For this reason, I wanted to remind myself of the best storytelling tips I have ever received, in the hope that they will keep me grounded on stage. I figured, why not share them, in case someone else out there finds herself in the same position?

1. Keep it simple. Life is messy and complicated. Every story has infinite potential subplots and interpretations. If you want to keep the audience's attention, keep the storyline straightforward and resist the urge to add words that don't serve that central story. As a friend of mine reminded me before this talk, "You only have room for one 'twist.'" 

2. Don't overthink your message. Usually, when I am helping someone prepare a talk or even a piece of writing, I first sit down and ask them some questions so that I can hear their gut responses. These first reactions tend to be the most authentic. It is so easy for us to get caught up in thinking about what we should say or what we assume the audience wants to hear, rather than just sticking with what is true for us. The result is usually some hybrid monster that feels like no one authored it. 

3. Watch your metaphors. I love metaphors. I like to think in images and can make pretty word pictures around just about anything. The problem? Metaphors can be a trap. I start trying to make the story fit the metaphor rather than the other way around. (This happened to me with tonight's talk, by the way.) The solution? Tell your story first and find the metaphor last–or, if you're already stuck in the metaphor, just let it go. Far better to tell the truth than to have an excellent metaphor.

4. Channel confidence. During my practice session, I was still pretty unsure of how I was going to make it work. I Tim Gunn'd it and just got up there and delivered the best thing I could. Even though there were some missing pieces (namely, that mismatched metaphor), authenticity allowed me to connect with the small audience anyway. As a bonus, that confident self has a far easier time being authentic and vulnerable than the one that is apologizing for her failures!

5. Even if it sucks, share it anyway. However imperfect this talk may turn out to be be, I am still grateful for the opportunity to share my story and hopefully connect with new people. In the process of preparing it, I have had to revisit personal weaknesses I thought I had conquered, confront narratives I had been holding onto though I no longer believe them to be true, and accept that I am not perfect even at this thing I used to get paid to do! There is simply no other way to learn than to get out there and give it a try. 

And with that, I'm off to Ignite! 

UPDATE: Everything worked out just fine! Check out the talk below: