Posts in Stories and Storytelling
Learn About the Transformative Power of Stories

Find out how one woman uses stories to help people see themselves and others in a new light.  In this interview, I talk with Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams, a "storytelling facilitator", poet, and writer.  We cover discrimination, the women's movement, race, power, "unpacking self" , hair, and what all of that has to do with telling a story.

I recently met Yvette at the See the Girl summit in Jacksonville, Florida.  I participated in one of her workshops and then had the pleasure of sitting next to her at dinner.  We immediately launched into an intense conversation as we shared tomatoes and french fries. We found that we have a lot in common, particularly our love of words and stories.

I was so impressed not only with Yvette and her work but also with her wide range of experience that I wanted to introduce her to my readers.  If you, too, are a lover of stories and are interested in how you might harness their power to transform the world around you, I encourage you to have a listen.   You can also learn more about Yvette here. If you have a story you’d like help with, go here.

And don’t forget share with another story loving world changer!

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Challenge Your Speaking Skills With an Open Mic

If you’re a speaker with a lot of experience but would like to challenge yourself, sign up for an open mic today!  It’s some of the scariest, most educational fun you’ll ever have!  Today I’m going to tell you all about my own personal strange and tricky open mic storytelling experiences, and the take-aways I gained along the way.And before you bail because this sounds too scary, consider this: the stakes are low.  Even if you crash and burn as a storyteller, unless your story is broadcast all over YouTube, it’s unlikely that your performance is going to negatively affect your professional life.  (If in doubt, don’t invite important clients, or, um, your boss.)  Yeah, you might embarrass yourself a little.  But think about it -  pride is a pretty small price to pay for mad skills.


One of my more recent distracting experiences involved an opera singer.  You don’t really expect to hear opera being belted out in downtown Puerto Vallarta, but if you were expecting it, it just wouldn’t be the same, now would it?

Here’s what happened.  I was telling an original story in a coffee shop located on a main street.  I was already having to deal with the waitress taking orders and coffee cups clanging, but it was fine. I’d found my groove and I could see by their expressions that the audience was with me.  And then from somewhere across the street, it started. An opera singer. In the split second when I realized what was happening, I thought about pausing. I thought about saying something about the elephant, I mean, opera singer, in the room.  But I was at a crucial point in the story. I didn’t want to lose momentum. Plus, she wasn’t that loud.  So I raised my voice just a tad and kept going. Gradually, her voice became louder.  Not to be outdone, I spoke louder, too. Our voices competed for what seemed like forever, and somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered if a glass was going to break.  Somehow, the audience was still with me, and finally, she finished the song! A few minutes later, I finished my story.

I thought about the incident later.  Would it have been better to stop? Did I do the right thing by forging ahead?  I decided that while it was a huge distraction indeed, the audience could hear me and more importantly, they were still paying attention.  Plus, it would have been very difficult to recover and help the audience “re-enter” the story if I had stopped. So it felt like I did the right thing.  But this tale isn’t over yet….


A few months later I was telling another story at the same place.  I kept thinking about that opera singer. I couldn’t help but wonder if, by some bizarre cosmic coincidence, it was going to happen again.  I even told my audience before I started how funny it had been, and that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, in the middle of my story, a remarkably loud bus passed by.  It was so loud, in fact, that I was forced to pause at a point in my story where I had just said “Weeks passed....” And so, after the bus went by and we could hear again, I gestured to the street and said “Busses passed.”  Everyone chuckled, and I continued.

I was glad that this time, even though I had no choice but to pause, I was able to be real, address the issue and move on.  Sometimes, as in this case, you might as well go ahead and acknowledge the elephant, because it’s essentially stepping on everyone’s toes.  It’s a judgment call, though, and you’ll get better at making these calls the more opportunities you have.


#1.  Sh*t happens. And since you just never know when something weird and completely out of your control is going to happen, do your best to roll with it.  If you don’t make it a big deal, neither will your audience.

#2.  Sometimes rolling with the weirdness means pausing, or stopping altogether, and calling it out.  Occasionally, if you pretend the weirdness isn’t happening, that just makes it weirder. If you can, make a joke.  Say that somehow your worst nightmares left out this scenario. Anything to remind your audience that they are in good hands and it’s all gonna be o.k.

In addition to busses and opera singers, people who scowl can also be very distracting. While they’re certainly not unique to open mic audiences, open mics are a great way to face the frowners and develop thicker skin as a public speaker.


A while back I told a story at an open mic while I was traveling.  This particular event is held in a theatre and feels like a proper show in which people are seated, the lights go down, and the artist steps on stage.  This is perhaps the easiest type of setting because generally speaking, distractions are limited and you have full visibility of your audience. But I still had to deal with the “frowners” in the audience.  There was one couple sitting in the front row, and the lighting was such that I could clearly see them absolutely scowling at me.

For a split second I was disconcerted.   Wow, they must really hate this story. Don’t they realize the negative energy they’re putting off?  Maybe they’re just concentrating...? Or maybe they’re thinking of something completely different and it has nothing to do with me at all?  After several failed attempts to “woo” them with energy and eye contact, I decided to move on and focus my attention on more receptive members of the audience.   


I can still clearly remember one woman from the audience in particular.  She seemed to never take her eyes off me and smiled and laughed with abandon.  I stopped looking at the scowly couple altogether, which made it easy for me to focus not only on this woman but also on others who appeared to be happy to go along for the ride.  The ironic thing about that night is that I was able to be present in my story and on the stage in a way that I had never experienced before.


#1  If you can’t get people on board, move on.  I did my best to draw that couple into the story, but when they didn’t budge, I stopped trying.  It’s better to channel your energy where it’s being received than where it’s being rejected.

#2 Don’t take frowners personally.  Maybe they were constipated.  Some motivational speakers say that you should never take anything personally, ever.  It’s something to think about.

Sometimes, though, there is no happy ending.  In fact, sometimes your audience actually gets up and walks out.  Earlier this year, I was telling that same story at another open mic here in Puerto Vallarta.  This venue is very casual - although there is a stage, there’s also a bar just next to the stage, people are being served food and drinks during the show, etc.  The logistics are also not great for a performer - the room is a long rectangle and includes seating on an outdoor patio. When I got on stage I immediately realized that I was going to need to have a “wide gaze” in terms of eye contact in order to not miss audience members sitting on the periphery.


As it turned out, that was the least of my challenges.  Just a few minutes into my story a couple of men at the bar started talking in very loud voices, so loud that I wasn’t able to hold the attention of everyone in the audience and people started looking in their direction.  Finally the owner of the theatre got up and asked them to keep it down. I avoided looking in their direction as all of this was transpiring so as not to be (even more) distracted.

While I continued, I could hear the waiters just to my left talking quietly to one other.  I doubled down on my concentration, focusing on a few couples who rewarded me with smiles and laughter.  Then one of these couples got up to leave. That’s odd, I thought. They looked like they were really enjoying themselves.  Then a few more people got up to leave. Wow, I thought - I have really misread this crowd. At the same time, more people wandered in, and one new couple in front of me didn’t even seem to be aware that I was performing.  I forged ahead, determined to deliver a good story no matter what, shifting and re-shifting my focus to whomever was obviously listening at the moment. By the time I had finished and stepped off stage, the audience had shrunk considerably.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t because I had given a bad performance, so I was confused, and trying not to take it personally.  (See previous take-away.)

The MC said I was a pro for not missing a beat with all of that commotion. While I appreciated his kind words, I mostly just wanted to know what had happened.  Later, privately, he explained to me that a lot of people had come to the bar for a drink before the concert downstairs began. When it was approaching time for the concert to begin, they had to leave.  He said one couple even asked him to be sure to tell me that they really enjoyed my story but needed to take their seats downstairs.

I learned a lot that night.  Here are my take-aways:

#1 - Don’t assume you suck just because people are walking out.  Boy, was I glad I hadn’t jumped to any conclusions.

#2 - The folks who stay from start to finish deserve your all, so bring it, even if there’s only one person left.  In fact, I was so grateful to that handful of people who stayed until the end that I was super motivated to deliver, just for them.

#3 - Fall in love as many times as you have to during a performance.  Here’s what I mean. In a situation with a lot of distractions, find those people who are smiling and clearly interested and pour your energy into them.  Then, if they get up and walk out, leaving you like a jilted lover on the stage, shamelessly rebound as fast as you can, finding someone else to love. If it happens again, as it did to me that night, rebound again!  The important thing is to not dwell on the who or why, but stay present in your story and with your (remaining) audience.

If you’re a speaker with a lot of experience but would like to challenge yourself, sign up for an open mic today! It’s some of the scariest, most educational fun you’ll ever have! Today I’m going to tell you all about my own personal strange and tricky open mic storytelling experiences, and the take-aways I gained along the way.#speech #publicspeaking #openmic #speechcoach #storytelling #publicspeakingtips #bodylanguage #learnpublicspeaking #ideasforpublicspeaking

Having said all that, would you still believe me if I told you that open mics are fun?!  Everyone is trying their best  and cracking up and forgetting and recovering all at the same time, and audiences are generally quite supportive and forgiving.  If you like telling stories, you've gotta do it! It’ll put you under a different kind of pressure that you might not be used to as a public speaker, and you’ll get even better than you already are.

And before you go, hit one of the share buttons ...after all, open mics are always more fun with friends.  :)

Engage Your Audience with Mini-Stories
Storytelling is the new “black” of marketing, the buzzword on every advertiser’s lips. And for good reason – who doesn’t like a story? In this post I want to show you the easiest way to incorporate a story into your next presentation. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference motivation #inspiration #slidedeck

Storytelling is the new “black” of marketing, the buzzword on every advertiser’s lips.  And for good reason - who doesn’t like a story?  In this post I want to show you the easiest way to incorporate a story into your next presentation.   You'll be amazed at how well it works.

I know that it’s tempting to start out with your name, your position in your company, a dictionary definition of a key word, maybe a quote or "interesting" question (good luck with that, lol).  This kind of introduction feels familiar and safe.  Don’t succumb to this temptation...I beg you.  If it’s valuable information, like an impressive statistic or little known fact that illustrates your point, it for later, after you've hooked and impressed your audience, and start with a story instead.  

Me during a fun story I told at our first Open Mic.

Me during a fun story I told at our first Open Mic.

Here’s why.  Even if the audience is already interested in your topic, they want to know that yours is going to be a great talk - that you are not only going to provide valuable information, but that you are going to do it in a way that is interesting and even entertaining.  Open with the phrase “I’d like to begin today by telling you a little story”  and the effect will be nearly palpable.  Your audience will settle into their chairs, tension draining from their face.  They will be all ears. That is a magical moment that won’t last forever.  Think of it as your first impression.  The better your start, the more your audience is willing to stay tuned for the rest of the ride.  Start poorly and you will be hard pressed to gain their full attention later in the talk.  So, seize that magical moment with both hands and run as far as you can with it.  

My audience during that same story.

My audience during that same story.

Let me illustrate.  I once had a student giving a speech about how to cope with stress.  He was having trouble coming up with a relevant story for his introduction, so I asked him to tell me about a time that he got really stressed out.   He told me a story about how he was once on an elevator and it got stuck and stopped.  Everyone in the elevator started talking at once, and he couldn’t take it.  His anxiety got the better of him and he shouted “BE QUIET!”  

“Really?”  I asked.  “You shouted?”

“Yes!” he said.

I persuaded him to use that story as his introduction.  I coached him on how to clearly explain the setting and how to describe the details of how he’d felt when the elevator got stuck, his panic rising by the second.  I even convinced him to actually shout when he came to that part of the story.  The students listened attentively, and they all nearly jumped out of their chairs when he shouted.  Needless to say, it was a wonderful introduction, and they were hooked.  

So how do you know what story to use?  If you can say yes to the following 3 questions, you likely have a good story for your introduction.

1.  Is this actually a story?


An actual story has a beginning, middle and end.  The beginning describes the setting and the problem you (or someone else) faced.  The middle describes your attempt(s) to resolve this problem.  The end tells us how the problem was finally dealt with.  All of this might seem obvious, but it’s easy to confuse a situation with a story.  For example:

“One night, I got really lucky.  It was poring outside, but I had to go to a dinner for my friend.  So I put on my rain boots and a slicker and took my extra large umbrella, and when I got to the party, only my hands were wet!”

This is a situation and not a story because there is no real problem.  This person had all of the equipment to deal with the rain, and did so without incident.  In contrast:

“I'll never forget this one night.... It was raining really hard, but I had to go to an awards dinner for my best friend.  So I put on every piece of rain gear you can think of.  But when I stopped at the curb to grab a taxi, a big van came skidding around the corner.  It was just like in a movie - I couldn't believe it. I jumped out of the way,  dropped my umbrella and water from the van spalshed all over me.  I was soaking wet.  Well... all except my hair.  At least my hood worked.  I imagined myself sitting around a fancy dinner table, a little puddle under my chair.  Then I imagined how Shantal would feel if I wasn't there.  I didn't know what to do.

So now we have a real problem.  And curiousity.  What is this person going to do?  Will she try to go anyway?  Will she go back to her house, change, and then arrive late?  Will that be horrible?  If you tell us what she did to finally make it to the event successfully (or even, not so successfully), you’ve got a story.

2.  Can I clearly connect my story to my topic?  


Let’s say your presentation is about teaching financial literacy to young adults.  You could tell a story about a time when you or someone you know: was trying to save money, lost money, was trying to figure out how to earn money, made a bad decision because of money problems, was in a huge financial bind, etc.  

These are the obvious stories.  But there are also the non-obvious ones in which what happened in the story serves as a metaphor for your topic.  For example, you could tell this story (which I have greatly abbreviated):

The summer that I turned eight years old, I spent all my time collecting beach glass.  Then one day I took my whole collection to show my friend Trinity, and I accidentally left it on the bus on the way home.  I did everything I could think of to find my bag of beach glass, but I never saw it again.  

You could then compare that sense of dread you felt when you realized you’d lost something important (a feeling we can all relate to) to how it feels when you’ve lost money, or even when you realize you don’t have enough for something that you really need.  You can then go on to explain that financial literacy is a way of avoiding that situation.

Either kind of story will work as long as at the end of the story, you make the connection between what happened in the story and your specific topic.

3.  Is my story interesting?


That is, is it interesting to anyone besides me, lol?    Does it have any unexpected twists?  Does it have humor?  Can lots of different types of people identify with it?  Crafting interesting stories is a whole art form, but there are a few elements you can include which will increase your chances of your story being a good one.  See my blog post here for help in this regard.

Bonus Question - Is my story real?

It's not mandatory, but I strongly suggest telling a story about something that really happened to you.   Not only do real stories tend to be more interesting - I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase life is stranger than fiction - but they are easier to create, and easier to tell, because you already know what happened.  Also, everyone likes to hear juicy details told by the person that lived them.

Once you’ve chosen your story, you’ll want to work out what details and parts to include based on the amount of time you have, and then practice delivering it until it feels comfortable.  Remember, beginnings are especially important because they are your first impression, so give yourself time to get it right.  Hook your audience, and they will thank you for it.  

If you’d like some help working on a story of your own, go here to schedule a session with me, and we’ll get right to work!

3 Necessary Ingredients of a Powerful Story

Increase the impact of your story by including these powerful elements. I wanted to kick off the blog with a post for those of you in the process of creating a new story or presentation.  We’ll be looking at one of the best analyses of storytelling that I’ve seen recently  - this TED Talk by David JP Phillips.  Below, I briefly summarize his main points and then offer my own insights and take-aways.

The Talk


Phillips argues that by including certain elements in their stories, speakers   can induce three powerful hormones, each with their own particular beneficial effects.  (I bet you had no idea we were going to be talking about hormones, huh?  :)  If you're a public speaker, you're really gonna wanna keep reading.) The first hormone you want to induce is dopamine, which improves focus, motivation, and memory.  In the context of a presentation, dopamine will help people listen and remember what you talked about.  To induce dopamine, you need to create suspense.  


Next is oxytocin, which increases generosity, trust and has a bonding effect.  The more your audience trusts and bonds with you, the more likely it is that you can persuade them successfully. To produce oxytocin, you build empathy with your audience.  Simply put, you get them to like you. 


The third hormone you want to induce is endorphins, which increase creativity, relaxation and focus.  Relaxation will make your audience more receptive to your message.  (Remember how much better you did in a class where the teacher helped you relax, and laugh?) To generate endorphins, you make people laugh.     He then explains what happens when you scare your audience - you induce cortisol and adrenalin.  When there are high levels of cortisol, it's not pretty - the results are feeling  intolerant, irritable, uncreative, critical, as well as having trouble remembering and making  bad decisions.

Finally, he encourages the audience to engage in “functional storytelling” by first, recognizing that as humans we are natural storytellers.  Then he suggests that you write your stories, and group them  based on which “good” hormones they induce.  Over time you'll have a collection of stories that you can draw from to use within your presentations.  What's more,  you can strategically choose the best story to create the desired effect at any given time. My “Story Bank” service is designed to help you create this kind of collection.

My Comments

I found it fascinating that much of what I’ve learned about some really basic aspects of storytelling is supported by Phillips’ proposition.  For example, according to Philips, the typical story arc works because it’s creating suspense as it builds to an exciting climax, and releasing dopamine in the process.  And, developing “likeable” characters which your audience can identify with (even if that “character” is you), is effective because it builds empathy, which releases oxytocin.  


On a different note, I decided to try out Phillips’ ideas in a recent talk that I did for a Pecha Kucha Night. Of course, I wanted to induce all of the good hormones, but I only had about 6.5 minutes to do so, so it was a great challenge.  I decided to start out by talking about myself, trying to be transparent in an effort to create empathy.  I talked about how I'm kind of always asking philosophical questions about life, such as "why are we here?" and "what's out there?" I knew that I should throw in some self-deprecating jokes, as this would cover humor and hopefully create even more empathy, so I told a story about how I went salsa dancing and got impaled by another women's high heel.  I included a few more humorous comments at various points later in the talk as well, because my topic - child sex trafficking - was heavy and I didn’t want my audience to become overwhelmed and tune out.  

The suspense aspect was the most challenging, but with this goal in mind, I went back to what I know about basic storytelling.  To build suspense, you need to have a clearly defined, serious problem, and it needs to not be resolved too quickly or easily.  So I reworked my text, very directly stating the problem as close to the beginning of the “story” as I could and then trying to build from there to the resolution.  I wouldn’t call my final version suspenseful.  But I’d like to think that people were curious about what was going to happen next and wondering how I finally resolved my problem.


Obviously, building empathy and suspense while being funny are not new ideas to storytelling.  Nevertheless, I found it helpful to view my presentation from Phillips’ perspective of inducing particular hormones.  You can have a look at my talk here and see for yourself.

If you’d like help to start working on your own story bank, click here. And hit one of the share buttons below if you found this post helpful!

How We Created Open Mic Vallarta

This year (2017) I started an Open Mic with my friend Andrew here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where we live.  I wanted a regular venue in which I could test run my new stories and spoken word poetry, and we both liked the idea of creating a community event for local artists.  

Today I’ll be sharing how our project started, how it works and how it is quickly morphing into something much bigger than ourselves and which I am happy to say falls into the “doing good” category.


We began with a lot of coffee shop conversations discussing issues like our target audience, what kind of “vibe” we wanted to create, our name, and what we liked and didn’t like about other similar events.  We decided to target a bilingual (English/Spanish), youngish (30ish and under) crowd, and tried to communicate that ours is a fun, inclusive project for the local community.  We had a logo made, started a Facebook page, and began preparing for our first event.

In thinking about a location, we had several criteria to fill.   We wanted a place that would be large enough for our expected attendance of 25-30 people, in a location that was easily accessible, with an area that would work as a stage, and with ambient noise on the low side because I planned to film my performance.  We chose a local restaurant that seemed to fit the bill, and decided on a date in early June.


We began advertising on Facebook and although we were a little worried about having enough participants, in the end we had to turn away performers.  This was a good sign for possible future events.  Because we weren’t willing to leave the success of our premier to chance, rather than having a traditional Open Mic in which people signed up on the spot, we decided to have what we call a “curated” Open Mic, in which people coordinated with us in advance.  This allowed us to create a lineup that flowed nicely from music to stories and/or poetry and back to music, with a short intermission about half way through.  Also, we wanted to have a good mix of performances in both Spanish and English.


Our first open mic went amazingly well, especially considering that in addition to covering all of the logistics Andrew and I both told original stories.   You can see mine here.  We were proud of our performers, and we got a lot of feedback from those in attendance, thanking us for creating an event of this type.  A few days later, after we had more or less recovered, we met to debrief.  We talked about what went well, what we could improve on, and made notes for next time.  We both already had summer travel commitments so decided to hold our next event in September.


One thing we had talked about on and off was the idea of giving the Open Mic community an opportunity to support a good cause.  And then the devastating earthquake here in Mexico happened.  We knew immediately that raising support for victims of the earthquake would be our cause.  And then something completely unexpected and wonderful happened... (To be continued.  I know, I know :)