Speaking in front of an audience is not a space I enjoy navigating. I’ve had to endure public speaking for years in my professional life, and I can deliver. I’ve even been told that’s it’s one of my “core strengths” (that’s corporate speak for a top talent or attribute). I assure you, it is not. I have to know my material inside and out. Rehearse that shit and sell it. Inject a silly joke halfway through my slide deck as a trigger to myself that it’s almost over. I hate it.
Strangely, I love to tell a good story. I enjoy regaling close friends of something hilarious that happened, whether traveling in India or en route to my local coffee shop. I get off on publishing stories that strike a chord in someone so deeply that they spare a few precious minutes ripping into me in the comments section. Huddled behind my laptop, squinting one eye, tentatively refreshing my browser. I love it.
Storytelling events are popping up all over Los Angeles: Don’t Tell My Mother, Risk! and of course The Moth, which originated in New York and now hosts events across the country. I was craving a little escapism a few weeks ago, so I went to a Moth event solo to sit at the back of the room and watch as other storytellers bravely took to the mic to tell their tales, in front of a panel of judges, no less. Horrifying.
The topic was Culture Shock. Much to my delight, audience members who aren’t quite bold enough to unleash their stories verbally can jot down a few sentences related to the topic and drop it into a sack. The host then chooses a selection to read in between speakers. Right up my alley.
Not surprisingly, most of the stories were about experiences abroad, mishaps that occurred while traveling or living in some far off place. My two sentences were about the culture shock I experienced when I first moved to LA. And the host read my cheeky words, as I nervously sipped on my seven-dollar chardonnay. And the audience laughed. And it reminded me of the relief I feel when a joke lands during a presentation in my day job.
After moving to Los Angeles from Canada, I inadvertently strolled through Skid Row on my way to the Arts District. I’ve never been more relieved to see hipsters in my life.
In the last year I’ve turned down invites to speak at day-job-related conferences in San Francisco, Chicago and here in LA, but I did agree to sit on a panel discussion for one. It reminded me of Gloria Steinem’s book My Life on the Road, where she writes in great length about talking circles, a traditional Native American practice used to bring communities together and give people the space to speak freely. The formation of the circle ensures that no one is in a place of prominence, like some poor sod sweating bullets in a packed boardroom. I like that.
I’m going to another Moth event next week, this time the topic is Deadlines. Maybe I’ll sign up and step to the mic. Probably I won’t. But I’m glad there’s a space for storytellers to come together and inspire one another. It feels kind of necessary these days.
UPDATE: I signed up and dropped my name in the sack with minutes to spare, after the group of folks around me — all there solo too, strangely — convinced me. It’s a supportive crowd! But alas, my name was never drawn.
Follow along @thelasessions