Photo credit: Don Hall

Back for a second year is the popular Story Slam on Sunday, June 23, the first night of the Joint Annual Meeting, beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Before we spend the rest of the meeting neck deep in science, we wanted to have a time to showcase the heart of the profession. Stories are personal and told to an audience; just you and a microphone. To the best of your knowledge, stories should be true, and they should feature the storyteller as a central character.

Stories present us as who we believe we are as people, allowing others to get a glimpse of how we see the world. Stories allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and others, real or imagined. Stories can help make meaning of our life experiences.

This Year’s Theme is “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Stories of Transformation”

How Will It Work? Each storyteller will have up to 7 minutes to tell his or her story. You don’t need to use it all. At 5 minutes, you’ll get a yellow signal, and at 6 minutes, you’ll get a red signal letting you know you have 60 seconds to wrap it up. At the end of 7 minutes, the microphone will be cutoff. When all the storytelling is complete, the audience will determine which storyteller had the told the “best” story. Yes … that is entirely subjective.

What Do You Win? A handsome traveling trophy, and “the people’s ovation and fame forever.”

How Do You Sign Up? It’s free and easy. If you want to reserve a spot, just call the ASCLS Story Slam “Pitch Line” at (630) 481-6176, anytime, 24-hours-a-day. Leave a message with your name and a short description of your story, so we can introduce you properly.

Pitching a story is easy. You can listen to the never-before heard pitch from last year’s winner..

Story Slam Dos and Don’ts (with a hat tip to The Moth)

Do tell don’t read: While you can have notes, the best stories are told from the heart. That’s how you connect with the audience. Try to know your story “by heart” but not by rote memorization. The flaws in delivery are sometimes the most interesting parts.

Do have some "stakes": Stakes are essential in live storytelling. What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage. Start in the action.

Do have a great first line that sets up the stakes and grabs attention:

Bad Start: “So I walked into the lab and poured myself a cup of coffee, but then my friend Emily, y’know she’s the one that always wears pink lipstick? Well, she stopped to tell me some juicy gossip about Ed, who works overnights. Apparently, he’s spending quite a bit of time with one of the pediatric nurses who nobody likes. After that I walked over to my bench and loaded the first slide. I sat down at the microscope and knew that I was about to make a call that would change a person’s life.”

Good Start: “I only had 30 seconds to cry before I called in the critical. I was the first person to know this patient was about to die. It was my first time and I questioned whether I was up for this.”

Do always practice civility and respect.

Do have fun! Watching you panic to think of the next memorized line is harrowing for the audience. Make an outline, memorize your bullet points, and play with the details. Enjoy yourself. Imagine you are at a dinner party, not a deposition.

Don't use meandering endings: They kill a story! Your last line should be clear in your head before you start. Yes, bring the audience along with you as you contemplate what transpires in your story, but remember, you are driving the story, and must know the final destination. Keep your hands on the wheel!

Don't rant: Rants aren’t fun and the Story Slam is not free therapy.

Don't give an essay: Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage. Seven minutes isn’t a lot of time.

Looking for Inspiration?

  • TED Talks: In these TED Talks, masters of storytelling share their creative secrets and explore new approaches to their age-old craft.
  • The Moth: The Moth stories are true, as remembered by the storyteller and always told live.