Story Slam: A Chat with a Storyteller

field's end story slamLast week we held another Island Story Slam, presented by Field’s End at Treehouse Cafe on Bainbridge Island. It was our third, and once again drew a standing-room-only crowd.

Every one has such a good time at these, watching and participating (yes, I told a story!), that I felt it was worth a discussion. So I interviewed Kate Walton, a repeat storyteller who’s placed first and second at our last two story slams.

Here’s our conversation with Kate:

story slam storyteller1. Had you ever been to a story slam before? What do you think people like so much about these slams?

I hadn’t been to a Story Slam before coming across the first one you held, purely by chance. My husband and I were at The Treehouse for dinner and we heard all this laughing, so we went in, stood at the back, and caught the tail end. I was hooked right away. I think what draws people, and what certainly drew me, is the immediacy of it. Most of us spend a lot of time in front of screens these days; there’s something wonderful about having a real, live person up there telling a story without notes. It has a rawness, and a “now-ness,” that is completely refreshing.

2. You’ve placed 2nd in the last two story slams. Do you have any tips for someone thinking about storytelling? Were you nervous? How did you prepare?

I was petrified, both times. My only real advice is this: do it anyway. It’s so much fun, and the crowd could not be kinder. You won’t regret it.

I prepared by talking to myself in the car. (Yep, I was that crazy person in the ferry line.) I timed myself, and I do think that’s important. When you’re on the stage, five minutes goes by in a flash, so it’s key to work out what you can and can’t cover in that amount of time. Also, the first time I was a storyteller, it happens that I had an upper endoscopy on the morning of the competition. But I wouldn’t actually recommend that–it’s totally unhelpful.

3. What do you think makes a good story for a story slam competition?

I think it helps to have some structure: a real beginning, middle, and end. I don’t think it matters as much whether a story is funny, serious, suspenseful, or something else entirely. Anything can work well, as long as it’s engaging, and I think that’s achieved mainly through a sense of movement, i.e. having some sort of narrative arc.

4. We’ve noticed several repeat storytellers at our events. What is it that storytellers have that makes them get up there (again and again)?

To listen as intently as the Story Slam audience listens is an act of great generosity. I think any of us who have taken the stage have felt the power of that, and it’s hard not to want more of it.

5. Did you feel different about yourself or see the world differently after going up there the first time?

It is no exaggeration to say that, after a Story Slam, the world feels a little kinder, and a little better. You have survived something terrifying, and it was actually fun. And you’ve heard all these stories, often about times that were difficult in some way, and you see that people have come through them. They have quite literally lived to tell the tale–and the tales are often heartwarming and very funny.

Now that I’ve told my story up there, too, I totally agree, Kate! Thanks for your answers!


So who’s ready to be a story slam storyteller?

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