Show & Tell (and Trade) — 3 Storytelling Tips from Dan Kennedy


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The man of the hour. Photo:

The man of the hour. Photo:

Over a decade now of hosting reknown storytelling show The Moth, Dan Kennedy is still not sure what makes that one amazing moment happen for storytellers onstage. “Every time I think I’ve got any of it figured out, I realize how much there is to learn,” says Kennedy, who is hosting our Show & Tell (and Trade) on November 15.

After 10 years worth of shows all over the world, Dan has learned a few things, and lucky for us, he’s willing to pass some of them on. Be sure to catch Dan and other storytellers in action, including Brooklyn-based author Benjamin Anastas reading from his new book “Too Good to Be True” at Show & Tell (and Trade).

Fine tune those storytelling skills in time for the big night with these tips from the master.

Know Where Your Story Ends

First, know what you’re going to say. I’m probably a lousy example of that – when I host a show, I don’t think I’ve ever stepped onto that stage with any idea of what I’m going to say. When I’m on the bill though, when I’m telling a story as part of the show, I know exactly where I’ll begin, exactly when to hit in the middle, and exactly what the end is. So…have a beginning, middle, and an end to your story. I’ve seen some of the best people and biggest names bomb by thinking they could just kind of get on the mic and come up with a story on the spot. People come up with a story on the spot when they’re getting pulled over for speeding, or late to work again, not when they’re standing on a stage with a club full of people realizing they’re not sure why.

Keep it Short

Stories have to move forward if you want people to come along. For me, my biggest rule of thumb is that I try to keep it shorter than I think I should, because there’s something weird that happens with time onstage. I don’t know about you, but being up there is kind of like a black out in slow motion. You say stuff, you hear people laugh, you walk off thinking you were up there for about three seconds and someone informs you that you just did thirteen minutes.

Prepare a Story, Not a Comedy Set

At The Moth we love to say that we love funny people, but that this isn’t the place for your stand up routine. I love stand up. I do stand up. I don’t do it at any kind of storytelling gig. Mostly because audiences eat you alive when they can tell that you’re doing material at one of these things. And, you know, having said that, who the hell knows what makes any of it work when it does? Probably the most important thing is that you have some fun.

Tell Us

Tips from the storytelling master himself. Photo:

Tips from the storytelling master himself. Photo:

What tricks of the storytellin’ trade do you have up your sleeve? Any ways to work the crowd? We want to hear them!


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