I came across the idea of storytelling as an art form from an artist who suggested I share my story on those particular types of stages.
I am always looking for ways to advance my speaking, as while I am an established long-form motivational speaker, I want to put myself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations to feel some fear once in a while.
So, to stand on the stage with only 5 minutes and an imaginary ticking clock for such a short space of time, attempting to get a beginning, middle and an end in and all the things that make a good story, on a theme that is not familiar; well it seemed a lot!
The Moth, which is also a podcast, holds monthly live events mostly in America, and here in the UK you have to visit London to take part. When I signed up, I wasn’t fully aware of the structure of the evening. To find the stage with a scoreboard with 10 spaces for the speakers’ names on it and three pairs of judges dotted in an audience of over 300, well the fear that I was looking for was suddenly overwhelming.
It got to the ninth speaker and, as the compere pulled the name out of the hat to determine order, he said, ‘this is the last speaker’. I felt the anxiety lift that had been swimming through my blood for the past two hours. I had clearly not understood and I would not be taking part.
I watched that ninth and last speaker with joy, she was an exceptional speaker and her scores clearly won the competition. Every speaker that evening had been exceptional and to be honest and I was simply glad to have been there as I had learnt so much from them. I was more than happy to face the fear of trying something unfamiliar another day.
I put my jacket on and wrapped my bag over my shoulder then suddenly the compere said ‘We have one more speaker…. Nahla Summers’. He said my name again because I hadn't moved and so I took my coat off and unwrapped my bag and the anxiety came over me like a tidal wave. I walked up the stairs to the stage with the bright lights in my eyes and told my story. The theme was birthdays and it was a story of my first birthday after the death of my partner Paul. The audience laughed when they were meant to laugh, and they gasped when I least expected it. When I came off the stage, I simply felt relieved that I had done it, I put my coat back on, my bag over my shoulder ready to leave for the train I was already late for.
It so happened that in the end, a first in Moth London history, there was a tie in scores between the lady before me and myself. The audience got to vote with their applause, and the lady was first, she was clapped for loudly and firmly, she was sure to win and deservedly so.
When they clapped for me, the room erupted, feet were hitting the floor and whooping sounds filled the space. I don’t share this to brag but I share because I stood on the stage and did something that scared me whilst sharing a story I barely speak about.
I am not sure if I was the greatest storyteller that evening, (they were exceptional) or even if my story was better, but at that moment I accepted confirmation of two facts of life.
Firstly that we should always try something new and secondly, always be willing to share your stories, you just never know their impact on someone or even 300.