Speak Up Storytelling #13: Leland Brandt

Episode #13 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure.

Elysha and I start off this week's podcast by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I talk about how a storyworthy moment can sometimes consist solely of a thought that you had in your head. 

Next, we listen to Leland Brandt's story about falling in love with the character in a movie and then meeting his childhood crush later in life. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement, including:

  1. Summarizing stories within a story
  2. Telling stories that span years chronologically 
  3. Maintaining delight and surprise through pacing
  4. Inhabiting the story for emotional effect
  5. Finding universally connective moments in stories
  6. Seeing storytelling as a matter of engineering or choice

Finally, we answer a listener questions about preparing and practicing stories for the stage and the nature of Moth storytellers today. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Speak Up Storytelling #12: Jeni Bonaldo

Episode #12 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure. This week we're joined by storyteller Jeni Bonaldo, whose story we listen to and critique.

We start by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I talk about how a story can be about more than one thing, and part of the decision-making process is deciding what your story needs to be about. We also talk about how to remember stories for the stage.

Next, we listen to Jeni's story about pretending to be someone she was not and the surprising results. Then Elysha Dicks, Jeni, and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about preparing stories for the stage and dealing with stage fright and offer some recommendations.

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Speak Up Storytelling #11: Jessica Isom

Episode #11 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how to turn a seemingly benign moment from my week into a compelling story and discuss how Homework for Life can be helpful to fiction writers, too.

Next, we listen to a story by Jessica Isom about a secret that she must carry throughout her graduation weekend from college. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about how to tell the stories of other people and why storytelling shows are often centered around a theme. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

Speak Up Storytelling #10: Kristin Budde

Episode #10 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how searching for stories in your present day life can unearth moments from the past that you can't believe that you've forgotten. We also discuss how not every storyworthy moment needs to be a full story in order to be useful. 

Next, we listen to a story by Kristin Budde about a day of doctoring gone wrong. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about our marriage and the rules that I establish in my new book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #9: Alan Mackenzie

Episode #9 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how doing a deep dive on a particular day of your life can help you find stories and explain how I might tell the story of a friend's move to the west coast. 

Next, we listen to a story by Alan Mackenzie about being the new kid in town in search of friendship and love. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about telling stories to children. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 40 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #8: Sharon Snow

Episode #8 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how stories can take years to develop and how the craziest thing that happened on a day might not make the best story of the day 

Next, we listen to a surprising story by Sharon Snow about her search for her father. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about performance techniques and stream of consciousness writing. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 20 or so people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #7: Special Storyworthy book launch episode

Episode #7 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

This week's special episode features part 2 of the live audio from the book launch for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

In this episode, you'll hear me tell two BRAND NEW stories, never before told at Speak Up (and two never before told on any stage anywhere). followed by short lessons on the finding and crafting of stories. 

This episode also includes the question and answer session following the stories, and best of all, features Elysha playing the ukulele and singing publicly for the first time! 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 30 or so people to rate the podcast and 20 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

It also makes Elysha smile. Isn't that incentive enough?

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Speak Up Storytelling #6: Special Storyworthy book launch episode

Episode #6 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

This week's special episode features live audio from the book launch for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

In this episode, you'll hear me tell three BRAND NEW stories, never before told at Speak Up (and two never before told on any stage anywhere). followed by short lessons on the finding and crafting of stories. 

Next week we'll feature the second half of this book launch event, including two more BRAND NEW stories, Elysha's debut performance on ukulele, and the question-and-answer session from the evening.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 30 or so people to rate the podcast and 20 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

It also makes Elysha smile. Isn't that incentive enough?

Speak Up Storytelling #5: Renata Sancken

Episode #5 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how I discovered two important things about myself that apparently everyone else already knew. 

Next, we listen to a hilarious story by Renata Sancken about ghost hunting in the south. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about telling a good anecdote, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 15 or so people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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A celebration of so much more than just a book

On Saturday night, I took the stage at the release party for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling, and told five brand new stories to an audience of more than 200 friends and family.

It was quite a night. 

My friend, storyteller, and producer Erin Barker once told me never to produce a show and perform in that same show. I've been violating her rule ever since launching Speak Up five years ago, but there have been nights when I fully understood what she meant. Preparing to perform while managing the multitude of problems that can occur in the process of producing a show can be challenging.

So it shouldn't have been surprising that being the only storyteller of the night, telling five BRAND NEW stories in addition to a brief lesson after each story, is extremely difficult and mentally taxing. I've done solo shows before, many times, but never before had I taken the stage with completely new material. Stories Elysha had never even heard before. 

It was a lot to hold in my head. 

Thankfully, once I stood behind that microphone, everything quieted in my mind and I knew exactly what to do. The stories were there, just waiting for me to begin telling. 

Happily, I wasn't the only performer that evening. Andrew Mayo of Should Coulda Woulda opened the show with a reconfiguration of his band consisting of three of my former students (and his children), the parent of a former student, and the siblings of a former student. 

They were brilliant. The perfect way to begin the night. 

But the highlight of the night came when Elysha took the stage in the second half of the show and played her ukulele and sang in public for the first time.

The story that I told just before she performed was about the months following a brutal armed robbery. I was battling post-traumatic stress disorder at the time but didn't know it. I was clawing my way through life, not sleeping or eating, and oddly not able to pass from one room to another without suffering incredible fear and mortal dread. 

Then one night I found myself standing before an iron door at the bottom of a dark stairwell in an abandoned building in Brockton, MA, wondering if I could find the strength to walk through that door to the room on the other side.

I was there to compete in an underground arm wrestling tournament (crazy, I know) with the hopes of winning some money and taking one step closer to paying off a $25,000 legal bill after being arrested for a crime I did not commit. 

I found the courage to do the hard thing that night. The impossible thing, really. That was the hardest doorway I've ever walked through in my life. And even though I would continue to suffer from PTSD for the rest of my life, that doorway in the basement of that building has made every doorway since so much easier to step through. 

I wanted the audience to understand the value of doing the hard thing. I wanted them to put aside any fears that they might have. I wanted their dreams of someday to be dreams of today. I wanted them to understand that every hard, frightening, seemingly impossible thing that I have done in my life has always yielded the greatest results. 

I was terrified about taking the stage for the first time at a Moth StorySLAM in July of 2011 and telling my first story. But doing so changed my life. 

So I asked Elysha to perform for the first time that night to show people what the hard, frightening thing looks like. She's only been playing ukulele since February, and she's never sung in public or taken singing lessons. It was hard for her. Frightening. Yet she stepped through that door and was brilliant. 

Elysha performed Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and during the final chorus, the audience joined her in singing. When the song was over, everyone leapt to their feet in the loudest applause of the evening.  

I was so proud of her. I still am. 

It was a wonderful night for everyone involved. I can't thank everyone enough for the support.

We recorded the evening and will release the audio in two parts as episodes for upcoming Speak Up Storytelling podcasts so that you can hear the stories and the lessons and Elysha and everything else.

Speak Up Storytelling #4

Episode #4 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." 

I share an important moment in from my life that Elysha had never heard before (and I had forgotten until just recently). 

Next, we listen to the story by Sam Carley about a hilarious and uncomfortable bus ride across an Indian desert with his new love while desperately needing to pee. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about storytelling and dating, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 25 people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Don't be embarrassed

About a month ago I had a health scare. After waking up with chest pains in the left side of my chest and finding it hard to breathe, Elysha called an ambulance, fearing I was having a heart attack.

A day-long stay in the cardiac care unit, a nuclear stress tests, and a follow up visit to the cardiologist have all determined that my heart is in excellent shape.

Just a pulled muscle in my chest.

Here's something important:

I didn't initially call the ambulance or even tell Elysha that I was struggling to breathe. I sat downstairs in the early morning hours alone, in pain, and in fear that I was being silly. I worried that I might be overreacting. I didn't want to make a big deal out of nothing.

I was afraid to be embarrassed. 

I'm not sure how long I would've stayed downstairs alone, wondering what to do, had a woodpecker not started pounding on the house just before 6:00 AM, causing Elysha to awaken and ask me to come upstairs.

That was when I told her about my pain. That was when she called the ambulance. 

Later, in the cardiac care unit, as the tests began indicating that I wasn't having a heart attack, I started to feel a little ridiculous. I had made a mountain out of a mole hill. I had wasted a lot of people's valuable time on what amounted to be a simple, pulled muscle.

I started to feel embarrassed.

As a nurse shaved my chest in preparation for my stress test, I apologized to her. I said that I was sorry to waste all this time and effort when it looked like I was fine. I told her how I didn't want to call the ambulance for this very reason. 

She stopped shaving.  She looked into my eyes. She said, "People die because they don't call 911 in fear of embarrassment. They sit at home, trying to decide if what they are feeling is real, and then it's too late. That happens more than you know. You have kids. Right?"

"Yes," I said. "Two."

"Then you don't have time to worry about being embarrassed. You need to keep yourself alive. Forget embarrassment. You did the right thing. I wish more people would."

I didn't tell her that Elysha was the one to call the ambulance, and that she actually called without my knowledge. I was still debating if my pain warranted a trip to the hospital when Elysha appeared and said the ambulance was already on its way.  

That nurse was right. When it comes to our health, "Better safe than sorry" seems especially applicable. How sad and foolish of people - myself included - for worrying about being too healthy to seek medical treatment, especially when it's related to the heart.  

There is no room for embarrassment when your life may or may not be on the line. 

My friend, Steve, recently told a story at Speak Up about experiencing chest pains and deciding to seek medical treatment. Steve was still in his twenties at the time. He was the former starting tight end at the University of Connecticut with a real chance at the NFL before an injury and bad luck derailed his football dreams. 

Steve was a world class athlete. If anyone had a reason to dismiss some chest pain as nothing, it was Steve. Instead, he went to the hospital, and doctors discovered an almost complete blockage of an artery affectionately known as the widow maker. He underwent surgery immediately and is alive and healthy today. 

Steve has two kids, too. Thank goodness for them and his wife that he wasn't too embarrassed to seek help.

Thank goodness my chest pain turned out to be nothing. 

Don't ever be embarrassed to seek medical attention when in doubt. The only embarrassment I feel about that day now is the embarrassment over being worried about being embarrassed. 

Speak Up Storytelling: Episode #3

Episode #3 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." 

Elysha gets a little annoyed with the moment that I share. 

Next, we listen to the incredible story by Mansoor Basha about the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and it's echoes years later. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer listener questions about telling a story at The Moth and humor in storytelling, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 17 people to rate the podcast and 5 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

Our first review, by the way, came from a woman named Kate who is my former third grade student, Elysha's former fifth grade student, our former babysitter, and now a teacher beginning her career in the same school where Elysha began her career. 

Remarkable how your former students can sometimes remain a part of your life long after they have left your classroom. 

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Speak Up Storytelling: Episode #2 PLUS an opportunity

Episode #2 of our podcast Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using Homework for Life

Next, we listen to a story by Michelle Sebastianelli about her hilarious and tragic attempt to transform herself through yoga and discuss the strengths of her story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer listener questions and make some recommendations. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 13 people to rate the podcast and four to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier. 

We also have an unusual offer for anyone interested:

Elysha and I are looking to redesign the Speak Up logo, but before we do it ourselves (Elysha designed the first) or hire a professional, we thought we'd invite our audience to take a crack at redesigning it themselves. 

We're looking for a logo that pays homage to our current design but is also fresh, new, and will work well on our website, podcast, programs, and swag like tee shirts and totes. 

If you submit an logo for consideration and it is ultimately chosen, you will receive our undying gratitude, one free beginner or advanced storytelling workshop, two hours of free storytelling consultation, and two free tickets to our Real Art Ways shows FOR LIFE!

We can't wait to see what you submit!

Speak Up Storytelling: The Podcast available today!

Elysha and I are thrilled to announce THE FIRST EPISODE OF OUR NEW PODCAST SPEAK UP STORYTELLING. 

Unlike most storytelling podcasts, which offer you one or more outstanding stories to listen to and enjoy, our podcast seeks to entertain while also providing some specific, actionable lessons on storytelling.

Each week we will bring our expertise in storytelling to you!  

In every episode, Elysha and I will listen to one of the many stories told and recorded at Speak Up over the last five years, followed by a lesson on storytelling based upon what we just heard. We'll talk about the effective strategies used by the storyteller. We'll offer tips on things like humor, stakes, transitions, suspense, and the ordering of content. We'll also suggest possible revisions to make the story even better.

Whether your goal is to someday take the stage and tell a story or simply to become a better storyteller in the workplace or your social life, this podcast is for you.  

In addition to story and instruction, we will also talk about finding stories in your everyday life, answer listener questions, offer recommendations, and try to make you laugh. We may also interview storytellers from time to time, as well as provide feedback on stories you submit to us. 

You can download the podcast wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher, Overcast, Google Play, or you can listen to the first episode here

We'd love to hear what you think about the podcast and any questions you'd like us to answer on the podcast, so please send any questions or comments to speakupstorytelling@gmail.com

We would also love for you to rate the show. Ratings help other listeners find the show, so please take one minute to jump over to Apple Podcasts (or wherever you listen) and give us a rating and/or comment. 

This podcast has been a long time in the works. We hope you enjoy!

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Five years ago, I took the stage and told my first story. The most important thing about that night: I was afraid.

Yesterday marked my five year anniversary in storytelling. 

On July 12, 2011, I went to New York to tell a story on a Moth stage. I went there mostly because I told my friends that I would, and I had avoided it so long that I began to feel ashamed of myself. 

My friends pointed me to The Moth and suggested that I go. One of my friends said, "You've had the worst life of anyone I know. You'll make a great storyteller!"

She was probably referring to my two near-death experiences, my arrest and trial for a crime I didn't commit, my homelessness, the robbery that left with with more than a decade of untreated PTSD, the anonymous, widespread, public attack on my character and career, and more.

It hasn't been the worst, but it hasn't always been easy. 

So I said yes. "I'll go and tell a story." But honestly, I had little intention of ever doing so. I was terrified about the prospect of taking the stage and telling a story. It was almost unthinkable. But my friends didn't forget my promise, and nor did I, so Elysha and I made out way into NYC so I could tell what I thought would be the one and only story of my life. 

Even after putting my name in the hat, I tried to avoid taking the stage. When Dan Kennedy called my name, I froze, realizing that no one in the place knew me. If I remained quiet and still, they would have to eventually call someone else to the stage. 

Instead, Elysha made me go. 

Happily, miraculously, I won the StorySLAM. 

The next day, I wrote a blog post about my experience, which included these words:

I know it sounds a little silly, but in the grand scheme of things, the birth of my daughter was probably the most important day of my life. Next comes the marriage to my wife, and then the sale of my first book, and then maybe this. It was that big for me.

Perhaps I’ll tell more stories in the future, and The Moth will become old hat for me, but on this day, at this moment, I couldn’t be more happy.

It was a big night for me, and one I will never forget.
— Matthew Dicks

I was remarkably prescient while writing that post. It seems as if I already knew that I had found something special.

And I was right. It was a big night for me. Since that night:

  • I have competed in 45 StorySLAMs, winning 24 of them.
  • I've competed in 17 GrandSLAMs, winning four of them.
  • I've told stories for The Moth and other storytelling organizations in cities around the country to audiences as large as 2,000 people. 
  • I've become a teacher of storytelling, teaching in places like Yale University, The University of Connecticut Law School, Perdue University, Trinity College, Kripalu, Miss Porter's School, and many, many more. I consult with businesses, school districts, industry leaders, college professors, and individuals around the world about storytelling.
  • Last summer I traveled to Brazil to teach storytelling to an American School in Sao Paulo.  
  • In the last year, I've begun to perform my one-person show.
  • Storytelling has landed me in the pages of Reader's Digest, Parents magazine, and more. 
  • I've met some incredible people thanks to storytelling and made some remarkable friends. 

In 2013, Elysha and I launched Speak Up, our own storytelling organization. We've produced nearly 50 shows since our inception, in theaters as large as 500 seats, and we have sold out almost every show. I teach storytelling workshops locally, and we partner with schools, libraries, museums, and more to teach storytelling to our community.  

Last night Elysha and I worked with a group of second and third generation Holocaust survivors, teaching them to tell the story of their previous generations. Tonight I'll be competing in a StorySLAM in Boston. The beat goes on.  

So much has happened in five short years. My life has changed in ways I would've never predicted. Elysha's life has changed, too. The fact that Speak Up is a partnership between the two of us might be the best thing about it.

Storytelling has helped make it possible for Elysha to stay home with the kids for the past seven years, and it will help to keep her home for one more year until Charlie enters kindergarten. 

But here is what I want you to know:  

The important part of my story to never forget how afraid I was when I began this journey. It's important to remember how I tried to avoid storytelling at every turn, not because I thought it was a bad idea or a waste of time, but because I was afraid. Even though I wanted to tell a story and suspected that I might even be good at storytelling, I tried my hardest to avoid it. 

It's important to note that had it not been for my friends' prodding and Elysha's final push to get me out of my seat that night, I might have never taken the stage to tell a story. 

It's easy to see someone who is successful and confident and believe that they have always been that way. We often see the end result of a journey and assume that the person standing in front of us is the same person who began that journey. 

This is never true. I was afraid when I began my journey into storytelling. I doubted my ability. I was almost certain that I would fail. Fear kept me off the stage for more than a year, and it almost kept me off the stage forever. 

Fear holds us back so often in life. It keeps us from realizing our untapped, unseen, impossible-to-predict potential. It blocks us from opportunities. It stops us from being daring. I keeps us away from new things and forces us to reside in the familiar.

Thoreau said that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

I believe that. I believe it wholeheartedly. 

If fear is holding you back from trying something new, taking a risk, or realizing a dream, I encourage you to rise above it. Push that fear aside long enough to take a leap. Find people who will support you, encourage you, and even force you to try.

I think about how close I came to avoiding the stage, and it terrifies me. 

Frank Herbert said this about fear, which I also believe wholeheartedly:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
— Frank Herbert

I shudder to think about what my life would be like today had I not taken that stage five years ago and told my first story. I hate to think about how fear nearly held me back.      

I nearly went to the grave with a song still inside me. 

How I became a storyteller (and many other things)

These two circles say it all. 

I wanted to tell stories. I was afraid to tell stories. I didn't know if I could tell stories. I was afraid to discover that I wouldn't be able to tell stories. I knew that standing on a stage in New York City to tell stories meant exposing myself to public failure.

So I decided to tell stories. Despite crushing self-doubt and enormous fear, I went to where the magic happens. And it did.

These two circles apply to so much that I have done in my life. The farther I stray from my comfort zone, the better my life gets.

This is also exactly how my wife became the consummate and beloved host of Speak Up, our storytelling show. 

She wanted to have an integral and public role in Speak Up, so she knew that she had to host our show. But she didn't want to be the host of the show. She didn't want to speak to large groups of strangers. She was afraid to speak to large groups of strangers. She physically shook when speaking to large groups of strangers. She had nightmares about speaking to large groups of strangers. She didn't think she would be very good at hosting our show.

Then she decided to host our show, and it's no exaggeration to say that she is in many ways the face and the heart of what we do.

I tell a story at every one of our shows, and yet people see me in public and often say, "Hey, you're married to the Speak Up girl."

Yes, I am. You have clearly forgotten about me and my story, but you remember her, and I don't blame you one bit.

My daughter has become a same-sex marriage activist and a storytelling promoter

As we were leaving the playground yesterday, a little boy approached my six year-old daughter and asked to be her friend.

I wasn't surprised. In the span of about an hour, Clara had organized the other four girls at the playground - all older than her - into a massive game of 'Neighbors" and had placed one of the girls in charge of her younger brother, Charlie. She was leading Charlie through the maze of tubes and holding his hand as he slid down the slide. 

The boy must've seen Clara as some kind of organizational friendship savant.  

Clara asked the boy for his name - which I can't remember - and then suggested this:

"You should ask your mommy and daddy, or your mommy and mommy, or your daddy and daddy if you can come over my house sometime."

Then she gave the boy our address, thankfully reversing the two digits of our house number. She asked the boy for his address, but he didn't seem to understand the question. 

Then she said (as I feverishly recorded her words into Evernote):

"Do your parents ever go to Speak Up? That's a show that my mommy and daddy own, and they do shows all over the place, so maybe your parents know my mommy or daddy, because they know a lot of people and a lot of people go to their shows. And if they don't go, they should. It's great. Except I've never gone. I always have a babysitter, which is fun, too. "

At this point, the boy - who was about Clara's age - looked shell shocked. Too much information for him to process at one time. 

Clara then reached out, hugged the boy, and said, "Maybe I'll see you here sometime. Go play with those girls. I taught them Neighbors."

She waved goodbye, and we walked away, leaving the boy looking a little lost.

"That was a nice boy," I said to Clara.

"Sure," Clara said. "But he didn't really talk much."

Her willingness to share our address with a stranger was mildly disconcerting, but otherwise, I couldn't have been more proud of my little girl. Her acceptance of same sex marriage always warms my heart, and her promotion of Speak Up was impressive.

But mostly, I am astounded by her ability to talk to strangers with such ease. Two nights ago, while eating dinner at a restaurant, she walked across the room to a table where a woman was eating dinner with her sister and her infant son.

From afar, I watched Clara chat with these women for at least three minutes for returning to the table to tell me that the boy's name was Nathan. He was three months old. He likes to eat. He doesn't cry much. This was his first time in a restaurant.       

As we were leaving, the mother called me over to her table and told me that talking to Clara was like talking to one of her girlfriends.

Her mother gets the credit for most of this. Whether it's genetic or a learned behavior, she is slowly becoming the spitting image of Elysha. 

Thank goodness. For a while, it was looking like she would be more like me. 

Speak Up is two years old! It began with a snow day and a simple question to my wife.

Speak Up, the storytelling organization that my wife and I founded in 2013, is approaching it's two year anniversary. It was born on a snow day much like the one we experienced in the northeast earlier this week. 

My storytelling career began about five years ago with the discovery of The Moth’s podcast. A friend introduced it to me, and soon after, other friends began telling me that I should go to New York and tell a story. I’ve led a life filled with unusual moments and unfortunate disasters, so my friends thought The Moth would be perfect for me.

But taking the stage in New York and telling a story to 300 strangers was daunting to say the least. Frankly, I was afraid. So I assured my friends that I would go to a Moth StorySLAM someday but had no intention of ever doing so.

Then I had the idea of starting my own storytelling organization here in Hartford. I thought that telling stories in front of a handful of friends and family would be less intimidating than 300 hipster strangers in lower Manhattan. I was excited about this idea. I thought it could be something that Elysha and I did together. 

Then I didn’t do that, either.

Eventually, I couldn't look myself in the mirror. As daunting as it might be, I hated the idea of saying that I would do something and then not doing it. I resolved to go to New York, tell a story, and be done with it.  

On a hot July evening in 2011, Elysha and I went to New York. Packed into the Nuyorican Poets Café with 200 New Yorkers, I dropped my name in The Moth’s tote bag (always referred to as “the hat”), and began my storytelling career.

In truth, I dropped my name into the bag and immediately began praying that I wouldn’t be called. Putting my name into the hat at a Moth StorySLAM was good enough, I told myself. I tried. I could go home with my head held high.

And I thought my prayers were about to be answered. Nine storytellers had taken the stage, and my name had yet to be called. One more name would be drawn, and I would escape from New York unscathed.

Host Dan Kennedy opened the sheet of paper, stared intently at it for a moment, and then called my name. Except I didn’t write my name clearly, so he mispronounced it. I didn't move. If I sat very still, I thought, maybe they would pull another name, and I wouldn’t have to get up.

Then Elysha kicked me under the table. “That’s you,” she said. “Go!”  

I did. I took the stage and told my story. Dan Kennedy took a photo from the stage that night. This was my view as I told my story:

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You can actually see me in this photograph. Left side near the wall. Black shirt. White graphic. Only guy with his hands not raised. Looking terrified.

This is the story that I told:

 

When the final scores were tallied, it was revealed that I had somehow won. 

Two years later, after in February 2013, I was home with Elysha. It was a snowing outside and school had been cancelled. We were sitting at the dining room table, pounding away on our laptops. Since that first night in July, I had competed in eight more StorySLAMs. I had three more wins under my belt. I was in the midst of a streak of six wins in a row and 11 our of 14. I had competed in two Moth GrandSLAMS. I had delivered two TED Talks and told stories for Literary Death Match and The Story Collider.

The Moth had changed my life. I felt like a real storyteller. A good storyteller. I was ready for a new challenge.

I looked up from my laptop. Looked across the table at Elysha and said, "You know, we should do that storytelling idea in Connecticut. Right?"

"Yeah," she said. "We should."

A friend had mentioned that Real Art Ways might be the perfect spot for a show, so on a whim, I called. I spoke to Will Wilkins, Real Art Ways’ Executive Director. "Well, it's snowing today," he said. "No one's here. Why don’t you come down now?"

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I did. About an hour later, Speak Up (still without a name or any storytellers save myself) was born. Will had given us the date for our first show and suggested that we find a name for our organization as soon as possible. Good advice. That would come about a week later on a ride home from Elysha’s parents house. While brainstorming ideas, I said, “How about using an imperative. A command. Something like Speak Up?”

“That’s it,” Elysha said. “Speak Up.”

We had found our name. 

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Our first show, in April of 2013, featured eight storytellers. All friends who we knew could tell a good story. We didn’t listen to their stories beforehand or work with storytellers back then (and thus had two stories about trips to Greece told back-to-back), so every story was as much of a surprise to us as the audience. That was fun. We’ve since learned that it makes for a better show when we take the time to listen to our storytellers’ stories and help them with their fine tuning. We’ve learned a lot in the three years that I have been telling stories, so we share this wisdom with our storytellers before they take the stage. 

When we arrived at Real Art Ways that night, the woman in charge asked us how many chairs to put out.

“Well, we have about eight storytellers,” Elysha said. “And they will all probably bring a guest. And we might get a few more people might come. So maybe 40?”

The woman laughed. “We’ll put out 90.”

Good thing she did. We had a standing room only crowd of about 125 people that first night, and we have been selling out shows ever since. There were about 250 people at our last show, and I didn’t know most of them. In those early days, our audiences were primarily our friends. Now some of our most devoted fans are people who I have never actually met.

We’ve produced 12 shows in the two years that we have been running Speak Up. We have established partnerships with The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, and just this week, The Connecticut Historical Society. Speak Up will be featured at this year’s Connecticut Storytelling Festival. We run workshops for people who are interested in telling stories, and I have taught classes on storytelling in libraries, high schools, colleges, and universities, including most recently Perdue University and The University of Connecticut Law School.     

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I had no idea that all of this would happen when I peeked over my laptop and said to Elysha that “we should do that storytelling thing in Connecticut.” But our lives have changed completely and forever because of it.

It's a good reminder that the best way to start something is to start something. Think less. Move fast. Figure things out along the way. And find a good partner.

I meet far too many people with big dreams and grand ambitions who spend too much time worrying about how to make them happen instead of making them happen.

Move. Create forward momentum. Take a risk.