Our lives are filled to the brim with small stories, but we often fail to recognize the meaning and value that lies just below the surface. In his book, Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling, Matthew Dicks–an author, award-winning storyteller, elementary school teacher, and speaking coach–trains the reader how to find and tell their best stories, providing and breaking down countless story examples along the way. While I currently have no plans to stand on stage and tell my stories, I read this book with the hopes of improving my writing and discovering meaning in the mundane.
The book is dense with practical tips for collecting stories, including Homework for Life, which involves identifying the most story-worthy moment of each day. In the midst of a global pandemic, it is a great opportunity to note what life is like as well as find the small things that differentiate one day from the next. Along with the daily exercise, he also details several additional story-seeking activities, including stream-of-consciousness writing and identifying the first, last, best, worst memories involving a given topic.
The author offers suggestions connecting with an audience in an authentic way–whether on a stage, in the boardroom, or an a classroom–and developing skills to help you become engaging, inspiring, and entertaining to those around you. Throughout the book, he highlights the importance of the dinner test, which is an assessment as to whether the story could be told the the dinner table with friends. If you wouldn’t start a casual story with loud sounds, obnoxious hand gestures, or elaborate alliteration, you don’t want to bring those theatrical elements to your performance or presentation.
The key takeaway is that the most compelling stories set the stage around a five-second moment during which you had a realization or were transformed in some way. Once that five-second moment is identified, determine it’s opposite and begin your story there. Maybe your annoying sibling moves out and you realize that you actually miss them. Perhaps you skip class for the first time ever and realize you’re not actually a pushover. The contrast creates a journey and will draw the listener into your world. The juxtaposition of events and emotions will make your audience love you and your story even more.
Speaking of making the audience love you, another great way to achieve that is by wearing your emotions on your sleeve and letting your nerves come out. A nervous speaker is endearing, relatable, and inspiring. Unlike formal speaking groups, like Toastmasters, Dicks’ form of storytelling intends to be real and honest, rather than perfect or performative.
A strong story may be sequenced chronologically or start at the five-second moment and then dip into backstory, in both instances setting events in a scene, developing the important characters, and eliminating details that don’t add to the story. When spoken aloud, stories often seem to flow seamlessly and this is often because the speaker is visualizing scenes rather than memorizing the story word-for-word. It is easy to recognize a good storyteller, but we don’t often step back to analyze the craft and dissect the decisions made to arrive at the final product.
A good book will make you thinks a new thought or change your opinion, but a great book incites actions. By that definition, this is a great book, whether or not you have any intention to speak your stories on stage.