A Georgian moth flying around the world

We all know about the butterfly effect but how about the moth effect? In 1997 Georgian author George Dawes Green had missed the atmosphere of the summer evenings he would enjoy on southern porches – stories shared with his friends and the moths flying around the porch lights. Therefore he created the non-profit organization The Moth and with his group he started sharing the stories with the public in NYC.

Twenty-five years later The Moth is still alive – more than it ever was. The Moth stories are frequently presented live in 27 US cities, in London and in Melbourne. In today’s presentation the artistic director of The Moth, Catherine Burns, takes us behind the scenes and shares with us the process of finding and developing the most captivating stories.

At The Moth, anyone can share a story. And lots of people do. The Moth receives over five hundred pitches per month. Some of the stories work well when presented live, some work better in audio and some work well only on paper. As you can imagine, choosing the right stories and choosing how to present them can be quite a challenge. Once the story is accepted it takes a long time to get the most and best out of it. 

For this process, Burns shared some of her insights and tips. “The things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were ever alive”. Quoting James Baldwin, Burns reckons presenting our missteps is fundamental for storytelling. A story of a perfect person with a perfect life does not make a good Moth story. Rather, there must be a crisis included: a lesson learnt, a realisation, a question to be answered. Only if this is the case can a story be relatable, as it is mistakes which connect us.

Among things to be avoided, Burns warns that being willing to tell one´s story does not always equal being ready to do so. Telling a story should not be seen as a therapy session. “You should tell stories from your scars but not from your wounds”, she emphasizes.

Another common problem is not accentuating where one is in their storyline enough in the narration. If that happens, listeners lose their focus easily. To prevent this, Burns recommends repeating the important points twice. “One should be able to change trains without getting lost in the story”, Burns puts it. The speech then concludes with a final tip “If you have fun on stage, hopefully so will do your audience”.

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