I discovered this book through Ali Abdaal - as he rated this book as 1 of the 3 that changed his life.
I think most people would benefit from reading this book - but in particular, people that do any type of public speaking would be able to directly apply the advice in this book to improve their communication.
Obviously, for any aspiring stand-up comics or storytellers this should be required reading.
How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.
On Structure (what to include and what to omit)...
Your story must reflect change over time. A story cannot simply be a series of remarkable events. You must start out as one version of yourself and end as something new.
Don’t tell other people’s stories. Tell your own. But feel free to tell your side of other people’s stories, as long as you are the protagonist in these tales.
Storytelling is not theater. It is not poetry. It should be a slightly more crafted version of the story you would tell your buddies over beers.
They want to feel that they are being told a story. They don’t want to see someone perform a story.
I decided that at the end of every day, I’d reflect upon my day and ask myself one simple question: If I had to tell a story from today — a five-minute story onstage about something that took place over the course of this day — what would it be? As benign and boring and inconsequential as it might seem, what was the most storyworthy moment from my day?
By creating a system requiring that I write only a few sentences a day, I was also sure that I’d never miss a day, and this is important. Miss one day, and you’ll allow yourself to miss two. Miss two days, and you’ll skip a week.
All of this happens because I sit down every evening and ask myself: What is my story from today? What is the thing about today that has made it different from any previous day? Then I write my answer down.
As you begin to take stock of your days, find those moments — see them and record them — time will begin to slow down for you. The pace of your life will relax.
SA Note: This is especially relevant with travel - the last 3 years felt like the same duration as the preceding 10
The reason is simple: We are the sum of our experiences, the culmination of everything that has come before. The more we know about our past, the better we know ourselves. The greater our storehouse of memory, the more complete our personal narrative becomes. Our life begins to feel full and complete and important.
First Last Best Worst session
SA Note: Could be a decent segment for an interview/podcast?
First Last Best Worst is also an excellent game for long car rides, first dates, or other moments of potential awkwardness and silence, or simply as a means of getting to know a person better.
The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come. — Steve Jobs
Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. — Ancient proverb
All great stories — regardless of length or depth or tone — tell the story of a five-second moment in a person’s life. Got that? Let me say it again: Every great story ever told is essentially about a five-second moment in the life of a human being, and the purpose of the story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible.
These five-second moments are the moments in your life when something fundamentally changes forever.
Understanding that stories are about tiny moments is the bedrock upon which all storytelling is built, and yet this is what people fail to understand most when thinking about a story.
My answer is always the same: No. Visiting Tanzania is not a story. Your ability to travel the world does not mean that you can tell a good story or even have a good story to tell. But if something happened in Tanzania that altered you in some deep and fundamental way, then you might have a story.
Big stories contain these tiny, utterly human moments. We may be fooled by whips and snakes and car chases, but if it’s a good story, our protagonist is going to experience something deep and meaningful that resonates with the audience, even if the audience doesn’t fully realize it.
If you think you have a story, ask yourself: Does it contain a five-second moment? A moment of true transformation? Your five-second moment may be difficult to find. You may have to dig for it.
Simply put, the beginning of the story should be the opposite of the end. Find the opposite of your transformation, revelation, or realization, and this is where your story should start. This is what creates an arc in your story.
Audiences would much rather hear about incremental, tenuous growth than about overnight success.
I also believe that great storytellers know this: The first idea is rarely the best idea. It may be the most convenient idea. The easiest to remember. The one you personally like the most. But rarely is the first idea the one that I choose. First ideas are for the lazy. The complacent. The easily satisfied.
I also try to start my story as close to the end as possible
Here are a couple more practical tips for choosing an opening:
1. Try to start your story with forward movement whenever possible. Establish yourself as a person who is physically moving through space. Opening with forward movement creates instant momentum in a story.
2. Don’t start by setting expectations.
Start with the story, not with a summary of the story. There is no need to describe the tone or tenor at the onset. Just start with story, and whenever possible, open with movement. Forward progress.
Every story must have an Elephant. The Elephant is the thing that everyone in the room can see. It is large and obvious. It is a clear statement of the need, the want, the problem, the peril, or the mystery. It signifies where the story is headed, and it makes it clear to your audience that this is in fact a story and not a simple musing on a subject.
The Elephant should appear as early in the story as possible. Ideally, it should appear within the first minute, and if you can say it within the first thirty seconds, even better.
A Backpack is a strategy that increases the stakes of the story by increasing the audience’s anticipation about a coming event. It’s when a storyteller loads up the audience with all the storyteller’s hopes and fears in that moment before moving the story forward.
I turned my plan into their plan. They’re now invested in the outcome.
Backpacks are most effective when a plan does not work.
It’s an odd thing: The audience wants characters (or storytellers) to succeed, but they don’t really want characters to succeed. It’s struggle and strife that make stories great. They want to see their characters ultimately triumph, but they want suffering first. They don’t want anything to be easy.
The sentence your audience has been waiting to hear. This is the moment to use an Hourglass. It’s time to slow things down. Grind them to a halt when possible. When you know the audience is hanging on your every word, let them hang. Drag out the wait as long as possible.
A Crystal Ball is a false prediction made by a storyteller to cause the audience to wonder if the prediction will prove to be true.
In storytelling, deploy Crystal Balls strategically: Only when your prediction seems possible. Only when your guess is reasonable. And only when your prediction presents an intriguing or exciting possibility.
We want to tell true stories of our lives, but no story is entirely true. Intentionally or otherwise, our stories contain mistakes, inaccuracies, slippages of memory. All I am asking you to do is to be strategic in some of your inaccuracies, and only when it’s done for the benefit of the audience.
People are the most frequently omitted aspects to stories: third wheels and random strangers who distract audiences from the matter at hand. If a person doesn’t fill a role in your story, simply pretend that person wasn’t there.
The longer that story lingers in the hearts and minds of our audience, the better the story.
When I write novels, I try to end my story about ten pages before the reader would want the book to end.
SA Note: This is the same advice Stephen King and/or "On Writing Well" by Zimmer gives. Same thinking goes for blog posts and articles.
it’s always better to make people laugh before they cry. It hurts more that way.
That is conflation. I conflate the emotions of the moment. I transform a moment into the moment.
the goal of every storyteller should be to create a cinematic experience in the minds of every listener.
That’s the trick. A simple one: Make sure that every moment in your story has a location attached. Every moment should be a scene, and every scene needs a setting. It’s the simplest, most-bang-for-your-buck strategy that I have to offer.
A clear majority of human beings tend to connect their sentences, paragraphs, and scenes together with the word and. This is a mistake. The ideal connective tissue in any story are the words but and therefore, along with all their glorious synonyms. These buts and therefores can be either explicit or implied.
Stories are not a simple recounting of events. They are not a thorough reporting of moments over a given period of time. Stories are the crafted representation of events that are related in such a way to demonstrate change over time in the life of the teller. Applying the but-and-therefore principle to your stories, both formal and anecdotal, will make you the kind of person people want to listen to.
Oddly, the negative is almost always better than the positive when it comes to storytelling. Saying what something or someone is not is almost always better than saying what something or someone is. For example: I am dumb, ugly, and unpopular. I’m not smart, I’m not at all good-looking, and no one likes me.
This is the trick to telling a big story: it cannot be about anything big. Instead we must find the small, relatable, comprehensible moments in our larger stories. We must find the piece of the story that people can connect to, relate to, and understand.
As Blaise Pascal first said, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Brevity takes time, because brevity is always better.
The longer you speak, the more perfect and precise you must be. The longer you stand in front of an audience — whether it be a theater or a boardroom — the more entertaining and engaging your words must be. So speak less. Make time your ally.
storytelling is the reverse of the five-paragraph essay. Instead of opening with a thesis statement and then supporting it with evidence, storytellers provide the evidence first and then sometimes offer the thesis statement later only when necessary. This is how we allow for surprise.
Yet this is what many storytellers do. Rather than seeking ways to make the surprise even more surprising, they kill the surprise through a failure to accentuate it. They fail to take advantage of the power of stakes to make something that is potentially surprising truly surprising.
To review, the strategies for preserving and enhancing surprise in a story: 1. Avoid thesis statements in storytelling. 2. Heighten the contrast between the surprise and the moment just before the surprise. 3. Use stakes to increase surprise. 4. Avoid giving away the surprise in your story by hiding important information that will pay off later (planting bombs). This is done by: • Obscuring them in a list of other details or examples. • Placing them as far away from the surprise as possible. • When possible, building a laugh around them to further camouflage their importance.
Storytellers want the audience to laugh at the right times. Humor is an enormous asset in most stories, but it is not required and should be used strategically whenever possible.
it’s always good to get your audience to laugh in the first thirty seconds of a story.
Contrast is king in storytelling, and laughter can provide a fantastic contrast to something authentically awful.
Whenever a story has become exceptionally tense and the audience needs to reset, a laugh is the best way to do this.
You must end your story on heart. Far too often I hear storytellers attempt to end their story on a laugh. A pun. A joke. A play on words. This is not why we listen to stories. We like to laugh; we want to laugh. But we listen to stories to be moved.
Close with meaning. Stories must conclude with something greater than a laugh.
Milk Cans and a Baseball refers to the carnival game where metallic milk cans are stacked in a triangular formation and the player attempts to knock them down with a ball. In comedy, this is called setup and punch line. The milk cans represent the setup, and the ball is the punch line. The more milk cans in your tower, the greater potential laugh. The better you deliver the ball, the more of that potential will be realized. The trick is to work to the laugh by using language that carefully builds your tower while saving the funniest thing for last.
Babies and Blenders is the idea that when two things that rarely or never go together are pushed together, humor often results.
Humor is optional. Heart is nonnegotiable.
Stories can never be about two things.
The ending of the story — your five-second moment — will tell you what the beginning of your story should be. The beginning will be the opposite of the end.
This is the magic of the present tense. It creates a sense of immediacy.
Stories cannot have two or more events that took place at different times happen in the present time of the story. It’s like putting a hat on a hat.
When in doubt, tell backstory using the past tense.
There is nothing wrong with sharing your success stories, but they are hard stories to tell well. The truth is this: failure is more engaging than success. You’d rather hear from the ballplayer who struck out in the ninth inning with the bases loaded to lose the World Series than the slugger who hit the home run to win the World Series. It’s just a better story.
Nevertheless, there are times when you might want to tell a success story, and when you do, there are two strategies that I suggest you employ. 1. Malign yourself. 2. Marginalize your accomplishment.
I marginalize myself. I cast myself as the underdog by sharing a highly imperfect moment of teaching, so I can tell you about the closer-to-perfect one later.
the line between hero and insufferable person is a thin one. Caution is advised.
Don’t ask rhetorical questions.
Actors in movies never ask rhetorical questions of their audience (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off being the only exception I have found so far), and neither should you. Asking a rhetorical question causes the audience to devise an answer in their mind. You have just turned your story into a Q&A session.
Don’t address the audience or acknowledge their existence whatsoever.
No props. Ever.
Don’t use props. They never help. Even worse, they always hurt.
Don’t mention the word story in your story.
Downplay your physical presence as much as possible.
I’m a big believer in the words of novelist Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
The lesson here: Nervousness can be your friend. Too much of it is never good, but not being nervous at all isn’t good either.
When you are supposed to be the expert or the authority, confidence is often required. But performing onstage? Talking to a girl on a first date? Delivering a wedding toast? Even a job interview? A little bit of nervousness is fine. Helpful, even. It’s endearing. It shows how much you care. It bridges the gap between you and your audience.
Don’t memorize your story.
Instead of memorizing your story word-for-word, memorize three parts to a story: 1. The first few sentences. Always start strong. 2. The last few sentences. Always end strong. 3. The scenes of your story.
Make eye contact.
My suggestion is this: Find a person on your left, a person on your right, and a person dead center who likes you. These will be the people who are smiling. Nodding. Laughing. Use these three people as your guideposts.
Control your emotions.
Learn to use the microphone.
Even when you’re speaking into a microphone, you should be trying to speak to the back of the room.
be sure that the microphone is perfectly adjusted before you speak.
3. If given the option to use a microphone, do so regardless of how booming your voice may be.
When you are entertaining, people learn better. You convey information more effectively.
Storytellers have a superpower. They can make people feel good and whole and right. They can inspire and inform. They can make people see the world in a new way. They can make people feel better about themselves.