Story Slams

I was asked to participate in the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Conference Story Slam. I said no. I was asked again. Again I said no. But when the conference director asked a third time saying “We’re a little short on storytellers …” I relented and said well, sure, why not. Okay. Yes. Sometimes you are just supposed to say yes. 

So what IS a story slam? It’s a competitive storytelling event and the conference has three rules for participants.

1. The story must be true

2. Five minutes or less

3. No notes or written materials

I’m really comfortable speaking with notes, telling stories with notes, doing readings with notes. But to stand up and tell a story and NOT use notes is intimidating. And a little scary. But a certain amount of scary is good. It keeps you off guard. It keeps you curious. It stretches.

The largest, oldest, most well known Story Slam organization is The Moth. Launched in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Minnesota even has its own Story SlamMN at Word Sprout, if you’d like to check it out.

Since I love research and feel a Whole Lot Better when I know what I’m getting myself into, I’ve been reading up on how-to and how-not-to Story Slam. This is what I’ve learned.

These Tips for good Story Slams come from 

1. A Point The audience and the judges  are expecting real life adventures.  Real stories have a beginning, middle and end. And they have a point. You should be clear about why the story is important to you and why you want to tell it.
2. Presentation: Your story presentation is equally as important as your story. You use voice, gesture and movement to enhance your story.
3. Theme: Your story is not just a title or punch line but should connect meaningfully to a theme.
4. Practice Makes Perfect: One tip is memorizing the beginning and the ending words. And practice a lot – before a mirror, into a recorder, in the car, in your head. Do this MANY times.
5. Funny, Sad, Genuine? Funny is good, sad is real, but above all be genuine. That is what makes yours a story worth listening to and sets it apart.

There you have it. Not much to ask. I need to tell a story with my voice and gestures, that has a point, is genuine, has a meaningful theme, and is to some extent memorized.

Okay then.

I have one week to get this puppy barking. And I’m off to a good start.

Theme: Rejection (as in rejection letters that I have received)

Title: The Progression of Rejection 

Wish me luck. Break a leg. Best Wishes, Cheers! Anything. But please, please. Don’t let me stand up there and forget. Please.



Jill Kandel
  • Colleen Ford-Dunker
    Posted at 13:30h, 14 May Reply

    Fargo also has a monthly story telling night. It is called The Tell. I have attended a couple times and enjoyed it a lot. You have to put up your strong language shields at times but i think it’s worth it.

    I really liked your hints and think they are right on.

    Memorizing your opening and closing is a really good idea,

    All the best.
    Enjoying Texel.

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 08:39h, 15 May Reply

      Thanks, Colleen. I didn’t know about The Tell. Textel!!

  • Nancy Johnson
    Posted at 04:20h, 24 May Reply

    Jill, I have so enjoyed meeting you at the conference, reading your book, and hearing bits and pieces of your story. You nailed your story slam!! You came. You remembered. You rocked!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 07:02h, 24 May Reply

      I’m glad to hear you liked the slam. Thanks, Nancy! Great to meet you, too. The whole conference has been fun. I’m glad you came. I’m glad I came.

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