Live Storytelling Critique
I was gonna go into this is me telling a story, but I'm always nervous, I was talking to Chris, and I was like should I show them me telling a story 'cause it's like, and we'll break it down and criticize what I did terrible. Or we can praise maybe things I did okay, I'm not sure. I hate public speaking honestly and I have this one on video, and I hid it for the longest, I still hide it. It's not publicly available anywhere but on the night there was 1400 people there and they got to witness this. And the story lead to lots of little things but for me it was this story I told about my mother, kind of all the time. But I thought maybe I could show it to you guys and then I'll stop it at moments and I'll say alright do you see that? 'Cause even though I consciously never tried to structure it in that way. I never sat down and wrote it down, I just knew all the techniques. And the funny thing is when you know these techniques, they become part of your conversation. So we were talking befo...
re the class and I said something and he's like, "Oh, I see that." And I was like stop analyzing it just, 'cause you start doing it and you don't even notice. You're like oh I'm talking in the rule of three and I'm doing this naturally and I'm not even putting any effort into doing it. It just happens that way. So I never thought about this, but when I watched it retrospectively I could see what I did terrible and what I did good. So I dunno, do you guys wanna see it?
[Audience Members] Yes.
I'm gonna get a lot of egg on my face if you're like, "This is crap." I dunno, 'cause it's all I do. "Were you just teaching us about this?" (audience laughing) No, but I'll tell you, loads of cool stuff happened after in my life when I tell the story that I never could have expected. So, watch it. I'll stop it at one or two moments but we'll let it flow. But you'll see some mistakes I made. This was quite early on in this stuff and I didn't know what I was doing, but it was just, I think the story's kinda cool but let's get it out there and tell it and see what happens. So we'll watch it. I'll stop it at moments or two. But it should, just watch for these when you're in it. So, have I used joke structure? I know delaying funny's in there. Rule of 3's in there. Act out is in there. Just see can you identify 'em. Local reference every time. So this story's in the Bay area. It's in San Francisco. Parts of it are very much tailored for a San Francisco crowd and we'll explain those little bits as well. Yeah, let's have a look. It's gonna be embarrassing. I'll stop it when it gets boring. Six and a half minutes.
David Nihill everyone, David Nihill come on up. (audience clapping) This is really weird standing next to it. Like who's this weirdo? Me, oh no. I was so nervous. When I stood on the back of the boat and jumped in the water. I new immediately something really bad had happened. When I surfaced, I looked at my knee and I realized a large portion of it was missing. (audience laughing) The accident happened in the little known intellectual capital of California, Stockton. (audience laughing) Memorable because it's the only place I've ever been asked, "What is Ireland?" (audience laughing) That's great, left it there one second. I wish I could say that-- Ah, here we go. Well we're close enough. But you know what, the local reference is in there really fast. But do you think I screwed up anything at the start? So remember I said start in the action, that's in the action, right? It's pretty serious. But do you remember earlier when I was telling you that if you tell a story very specific to you the people won't really care. Like it's hard to get them on board. I screwed that up. So this story is about my mother and I should have said there are times in life when we really just want our mother, or somebody who really loves us. Everyone agrees with that and then they're on board. They're like, "What happened to this guy? "I'm kinda interested." So retrospectively, I would have changed that, because it's way too specific to me, and it was pretty heavy. But I knew that laugh line was coming, so I know that's coming when I say like Stockton, intellectual capital, only place I've ever been asked what is Ireland. I know that works already. But what I didn't anticipate was there's 1400 people there and it takes them extra time to react. So it's kinda like, there's this wave of laughter that goes up the back. And my friend has the video in the audience, and it's wild the amount of noise. So it's the largest final of The Moth storytelling competition, GrandSLAM. they produce anywhere in the world is in San Francisco. It's 1400 people. I went along one night and I just won the first one. Just told a random story about being in China, ironically. And it won. They're like, now you have to do our big final, and I was like oh no, I don't wanna do that. But I was thinking that would be kind of a cool end to this book, if I went there and won this big thing with this random story I don't really know what I'm doing. So let's try. But we'll watch a wee bit more. I won't interrupt it that much, but when something's that obvious, I just wanted, local reference is in there very intentionally, very early, the funny word is last so that I can pause, and even though I'm not sure their reaction, I can allow them to react and I feel a little bit comfortable. But that was the mistake. It should have been wider at the start, for sure, and not specific to me. 'Cause it's kinda heavy, isn't it? Jumped off the boat, my knee's missing. They're (gasp) "Jesus, this is gonna be terrible." Oh no, I knew that was gonna happen. I don't think you can-- I wish I could say that's the only stupid accident that's every happened to me, but I actually have quite a history of it. Beginning in Ireland when I was seven years old, fishing for tadpoles. I urinated without surveying my surroundings, and had an argument with an electric fence. (audience gasps) (laughing) That actually is painful as you're thinking. (laughing) When I was in Spain, I fell into a septic tank. (audience gasping and laughing) When I was in Greece, I went cliff jumping, shattered my leg. (audience groaning) No doctors on the island. I got a vet. (audience laughing) So thankfully the protocol did not put me down. Whoa, did you notice the rule of three? There's three stories there. I've injured myself so many times oversees it's ridiculous. I could have listed like 35 different things. Including the time I fell off a bicycle and my mother had to be called by a doctor on Skype, called Dr. John, and he's literally like, "David's mother, I'm here with your son, "he's fallen off his bicycle." And I'm like I'm 27. This feels really weird at the moment. Little quirky things that I coulda put in there, but I was like, it should just be three. I'm gonna do three. And at the end, I didn't think they'd laugh as much as they did, so I was like, glad you think these are funny. It was kinda spontaneous. So what you wanna do is build a story structure that allows you time to react, so you're not pushed for time. If the audience do something, you're kinda like oh, you guys are evil. What are you laughing at that for? I'm like baring my soul here. And if you acknowledge the obvious, they laugh with you and react with you. I'll let it roll again. Is it embarrassing yet or no? I'm not sure. But all these things had one thing in common. My mother, who's a nurse by training, and the one person I'd always want to be there when I got hurt, was never there on any of those occasions. (audience laughing and moaning) And it's because when we were young she worked away from the family for six months every year. They were my fun six months. Sometimes painful with all of the injuries, but when you get injured, you really want someone close to your family there. Especially if they're a nurse. And she was living back in Ireland, she hadn't traveled anywhere in nearly 20 years. Very conservative. Like we were so Irish in our house we had one image of Jesus in the kitchen, and the only other image was a poster called Potatoes of the Month. (audience laughing) So a bit on the backwards side. She was very stuck in her ways. Our 69 year olds are not like your Californian 69 year olds. With your hiking and your Bikram yoga and your running around. (audience laughing) I really needed a-- So I made a mistake there as well. Do you know what it was? Hiking, Bikram yoga, and running around the place. What do you think is the funny one?
Bikram yoga, yeah. Learnt that the hard way. So I changed it to hiking, when I told it again, skiing, and Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is enough detail to make it funny, and then they laugh actually way more. It's the same sequence of three, it'll work, but it's, they were trying to laugh at the Bikram yoga and I stopped 'em a little. And it feels weird to stop 1400 people laughing. Even though there's enough of them to keep laughing. Is there some, does it make a massive different in your life? Not really. But when you get it right, you become like the Jon Acuff and you're just like, it looks super polished and you're rocking it. So I learned the hard way. I mean it's not I go around telling this story the whole time, I think I told it twice since, but you just realize, ah, retrospectively I didn't know that. The lump on my knee had now become an infection, which was spreading throughout my leg. And my leg got bigger and bigger and bigger. And I came pretty close to losing it. I was in hospital for six days. And it was a really hard call to make. But I made it anyway. And I called my mother, I was like would you come over and look after me. And straight away, she's like, "Yes." And she hadn't traveled anywhere in like 20 years. So it was a big deal. I'd lived away from home for a long time. So we'd grown apart a little bit. So all of the sudden two people who were nearly strangers to each other over the years, are in very close quarters, because they would only let me outta the hospital if I had someone to look after me. And thankfully there was no better person. But we ended up spending a lot of time together all of the sudden. I lived in Presidio at the time. So we were on the couch watching movies, I had the leg up the whole time-- So there was a lot, I don't wanna ruin the flow of it, but there was literally a minute and a half there of kinda waffle that didn't need to be in there retrospectively. So they're details, but I said the same thing a second time, twice when I'm looking back at it. And I'm like that's a long time to go without any laughter. They were already laughing quite a lot. So they're merely waiting for me to say the next funny thing to laugh. But you'll see. I'm gonna let it play out for quite a bit, but you'll see when they get to laugh now, that they let all that built up laughter out. So they were expecting me to say something funny in here somewhere. And I was waffling, because I hadn't cut down what I planned to say. I didn't really know what I was doing. I was just telling a story like the empanada story, it just comes out, that was it. But in hindsight when you look at it, you're like I can chop some words out. And one day, when she was getting more comfortable with the scenario, she just looked at me, and out of the blue she's like, "David, do you have any of those weed cookies by chance?" (audience laughing) Weed cookies. I'm like, well I do but ... (audience laughing) I mean, I actually have a fridge full of them. But it's not my fault. I was living with a guy who worked for one of the largest dispensaries in California. And it's just my mother's luck that the next day was the fourth of July. Pretty good day for a first drug experience ever. So she took this weed cookie, and it was brilliant. When the fireworks were going off, she was like bubby looking out the window at 'em. (audience laughing) She's like, "David it looks like a teddy bear up there." Oh. (audience laughing) And it just so happened my roommate was making Jamie Oliver Roast Potatoes, which is basically caviar for Irish people. (audience laughing) And he brought them out. And my mother's stoned out of her mind, 69 years old with the munchies. Basically just starts snorting potatoes. (audience laughing) My roommates are looking at her going, "What a legend your mother is." (audience laughing) See the next morning she got up, and you could see this new lease on life about her. And you know, she's like, "David, I might go for a walk." I was like, it was one of those beautiful San Francisco days. Clear sky, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, like 19 degrees Celsius. No idea what that is Fahrenheit. But you got off down to the bridge, you'll make it. She's like, "Well, it's pretty far." It's like, it's downhill, you'll be fine. And she went. And she did not come back for eight hours. (audience laughing) And when she came in, my roommate opened the door straight away, I was stuck on the couch with Danilo, and he just went to pieces laughing. And she walks in all excited, she's like "David, do you like these?" Lululemon pants. (audience laughing) "All the girls are wearing them. "Do they make my ass look good?" You haven't even got an ass anymore. (audience laughing) Looked inside a bag of porridge. (audience laughing) It's a bit aggressive. (audience laughing) We're like mother and son, we live these interactions. But it was great, you know. She stayed and she nursed me back to health. And you can see the transition in her as well. Like a rekindling. And she went off back to Ireland. And it was a beautiful moment, I remember I got a text message from her. And I remember reading it. And the text said, "David, I know we're mother and son, but now it feels like we're friends. (audience sighs) Yeah, it was cool. (audience laughs) So I remember reading, I was like-- The igniting incident, remember we talked about it, do you know where it was in there? So the incident that really made the story kick into action.
Weed cookies. Everyone's like weed! Good crowd. That was really the exciting incident. So I coulda got there quite a lot quicker, but that's what makes the story. And you don't really know this story is about weed cookies until you get to that moment. And it's quite intentionally that way. So you're like, "Oh, this story took a bit of a twist." And a lot of the time, they're the coolest stories to listen to. Now that was the heaviest moment in the whole story. Right, when she sends me the message. It was, it was a big one in my life as well. If my mother is watching this, I hope you're not, it's gonna get really embarrassing. I'm sorry about the weed cookie stuff. Now the neighbors know. So just to get that in there. But that was the poignant moment in this. And the audience actually wants to react more to this. So somebody, a guy who produces a big comedy festival that invited me to take part in Kansas, he said to me, "That's the most poignant moment, "say it a second time." And I tried it. And sure enough, when you do that. They all stop to applaud. Because they all see the relationships with their own parents in there and how it can be broken down by an instant. But just by dwelling on a moment and not going for the joke. So I went it was cool. And they all laughed nervously. But what they really wanted to do was pour out a little bit of emotion. And I didn't know that. I'd never been in that scenario, so I had no clue.
Talking about the difference between wearing your truth, starting out with something that's true, and that you do have some freedom to exaggerate. Was there any, in anything that you said in that story, that wasn't true or perhaps was an exaggeration? Such as the Lululemon pants.
No, no, all true. She went home bought herself a pair of trainers. She's like, "I even bought tennis shoes." We call them runners in Ireland. I was did you join the gym? She's like, "No, no, but I got the shoes. "I'm nearly there." It's like all right. Do you know there was one blatant exaggeration in there, though. Did you catch it? And it was for comedic effect. It was exaggerating something she couldn't be doing. Jeff, do you mind passing it? Or do you wanna--
I woulda said eight hours, but.
Eight hours, yeah, but actually that was fairly close to the truth. But there was one more. Do you remember with the potatoes? (laughing)
Snorting potatoes. You can't snort potatoes. Nobody's ever eaten snortin' potatoes. Even the most advanced Irish potato eating champion. (laughing) Because we like the potatoes. My dad's at home eating them right now live, probably. Doesn't matter that it's midnight in Ireland when we're recording this. You can't snort potatoes. So it defies, you can try. But it really defies logic and reason, right. So remember that lesson. It's in there. I didn't realize it. I was like that's just kinda how I tell it. But now that I know the techniques, I know, and this is horrible to do, by the way. To watch yourself doing this. I can't believe I'm doing this live. This is me live on camera live watching me talking live. This is like a nightmare scenario that I used to have. They're like, "You're gonna do this? "This is a terrible." But honestly, there's so much learning in this. And it's very much part of it. If you're gonna advance as a public speaker, nearly the quickest you can get better is just to watch it back. And go now that I know what I'm looking, ah, I should have done this differently. And you get really good really quick. Because changes are you're gonna give the same talk at least twice. And getting feedback on it is very hard. The first time you'll ask a loved one, and they'll be enthusiastic, they'll be like, "Oh, you did really good." And then you have a variation of it and they're like, "I'm not watching that again. "Leave me alone." It's hard to get feedback on it. So a lot of the time you become your own editor of this content. It's a good question. I'll let it play out for a little bit, but that was, that was a big, oh, I should have dwelled on that. Because for me it was a big moment. It was a whole big moment in the story and I kinda rushed it. This is a blue message. Is this an iMessage? Did you get an iPhone? (audience laughing) She's like, "Fuck yeah, "it goes well with my Lululemon pants." (audience laughing) LOL, smiley face along. (audience laughing) I just talked to her a week later, it was brilliant, my cousin Rory was over visiting my family in Ireland, he lives in Seattle. She comes on the phone, she's like, "David I've been having great fun with Rory over here. "We were out on his motorcycle and "we were on a boat with your uncles, "and then were up til 4:00 in the morning getting stoned. "I was off my face." She like, "Rory, what was the name "of that thing we were using? "A bong, that's it." (audience laughing) Ah, Jesus. My dad comes on the phone. He's like, "David, what the feck "did you do to your mother?" And I was searching for all these words to try and explain it, and I didn't know, how do you explain that, and two came to mind that sum it all up. San Francisco. Thank you. (audience cheering)
That was David Nihill, David Nihill. (audience cheering)
It's embarrassing for me watching it. Definitely. But kinda necessary. But do you see some of the elements that we've been talking about in there? I mean that's me laid a bit bare on doing this one as well. There's definitely mistakes in there. Remember I said my cousin Rory. I brought in another character, it kinda gets confusing. Probably shouldn't have done that. If I tell this story in another city, can it end with San Francisco? Not really. Because they don't know all the little quirks of San Francisco. So you wanna make that story travel, San Francisco becomes, what, do you think? I wanna use the same close. So remember I gotta write the last line first, right? So now I'm somewhere else. So I was in Kansas, and I did have to tell this story in Kansas as this big comedy festival. What could I use instead of San Francisco? (mumbling) America, bingo. And now it's a much wider reaching story completely all of the sudden. And they're like, "Oh, America." Totally change someone. So there's a transformation in there. There's a hero in the story. It's my mother. There's tons of other little details in there that I couldn't include, because I didn't have the time, that I thought were really necessary, and now even when I watch it with you guys, I realize actually that could have been quite a bit shorter.
So you said you were afraid earlier in your life going on stage speaking in front of an audience.
Afraid today, yesterday, all the time.
Yeah, that's the kind of transformation process I'm interested in, because sometimes you watch people and they just seemed glued to the stage or really enjoying the stage, and it seems to come with their genetics, sort of. And then other people seems to be a transformation process. So would you say that your own personality has changed through that process and that you're a lot more of an extrovert than you used to be?
No. Honestly, that was the weird thing for me. That was the reason I wrote the book. I am pretty extroverted for the most part. I'm not shy with words. I'll go around and talk to anyone. Like drunk people, homeless people, dead people, I'll just go and have a chat with them, doesn't matter. I'll happily talk away. I'm not shy in any way, shape, or form. And that's why my American friends couldn't get their head around the fact that I'm like there's no way I'm speaking in public. And I had all these things happen with my old job. I was once asked to host this event with Steve Wozniak for a business school I worked with, the co-founder of Apple. And it would have been a big gig and it wouldn't heightened me in the company and all these things. And I was just like no, I can't do it. And I would've, I hid from all these things. The whole time. So does it change your personality? Definitely not. Does it solve a problem for you when you figure out the hacks that I'm about to teach you to do it? Definitely. Does it alter how you communicate? It does a little bit, because you all of the sudden know a way to structure information that's a bit more efficient. So all the sudden, if you're at a party or you're in conversation with somebody and you hit on commonalities. So quickly ask a few questions. Where are you from? Oh, you're from Mexico. I love Mexico, I lived there. Here just happens to have a short form story that I actually have told before and I know, I've worked a little bit and rewritten, and you find your life is full of all these soundbites. And so it does change you a bit. Like if you go to a job interview, you start to crush it all of the sudden. Because they're like, "Give me an example of a time." And you're like "Oh, tacos." Or whatever it may be. (audience laughing) It's coming back. You might not get that job with the taco one. But you get the idea. And now you know what a callback is as well by variation. Funny the first time, funny the next time. So it was a good question. Yeah, yeah?
There's an online question as well that I wanna get in here from Pauline, and she says, "Hey David, totally loving the session. "Just wondering, how would you tell a story "without exposing the person "that was involved in the story?" Like in this instance, your mom.
Yeah, no, my mom is outta the closet and eating weed cookies right now somewhere. Well done, Mom. She actually has my Auntie eating them as well, who used to be a nun. So it's even, it's getting funnier, and it hasn't stopped. Do you know what the funniest thing is, in that one I really didn't want to, but I just felt if I'm gonna teach you guys what I went through, and you're gonna see how I learned it, I kinda have to show it. And I couldn't think of a way of teaching this without showing my pain in it a bit. So in the same way for me to teach this with someone else woulda seemed just a bit weird. That I think if you have to tell the story, you have to tell it like it happened. Like just be truthful and say what went down. And that's it. You know, if you're gonna tell the truth, tell the truth. I think. And sometimes people give you a bit of credit for that. I think sometimes. But yeah, I would say tackle it. As it happens I went home, so that story is missing something that I talked about, a bookend technique, before we move on. So remember the bookend technique? It didn't come full circle whatsoever. A storyteller will analyze that. And they did. So I was gonna send it to some big storytelling thing. They looked at me like, "We need more tension. "We need more this, we need more that." But the audience didn't want any of those things. We need a bookend technique. They didn't care either. For them that was the popular story on this particular evening for the most part. They just liked it. It was very relatable. It was a motherly thing. But as it happens, I went back to Ireland, six months after this, and the minute I walked in the door, my mother tried to get up on a chair to get something out of a press, fell and broke her hip. I was only in the door a couple of minutes. And the rehab process for her was really, really long to go through with that. So all of the sudden I was like, I can't go back to America yet, I don't really need to stay with her through it. But what would have she done for me? She would have stayed. 100%. So I changed my flight and I stayed. And I was helping her some of the physio stuff. And I was thinking that's what friends do. And then that becomes the callback to the reference in the text message, and then I say plus, I had one other thing other of her friends couldn't give her. Weed cookies. And now we have a callback. Now we're done. Now the stories like (fire). They're just waiting to applaud at the end. And it's not because the story changed dramatically. It just, I hadn't finished it. It's new information, but it actually works beautifully into a story arch. So hopefully that's storytelling on my part for the most part done. Because I think you guys are all naturally gifted storytellers. It's just sometimes it changes when you go on stage. You're a bit nervous. So I want to teach you about the whole nerves thing.
Yeah, so I had a question. This kinda goes back to what you were talking about at the beginning that you're funniest when you're using your own personality and when you're at the peak of your own personality, that's when you're most funny. But your often times telling these stories so many times and using all these different strategies, how do you maintain that sort of genuineness in your stories when you're telling them?
Yeah, it's a good question. You know you tend to have so many stories when you start doing the funny file thing that you just remember them a bit more. So you'll find, I had this guy interview me the other day and he's famed for being like the best interviewer there is in the world. And this guy had me talking about stuff I'd totally forgot. He's like, "What about this?" And I was like oh I can't believe I forgot that. So for me it's kinda new and exciting and the minute you start telling a story that you like and you care enough, like if I told you that now instead of showing it to you, for me, I'm remembering the moment when that person walked in and said this. So for me, as long as it's something truthful and to your personality, and that actually happened, then it's very easy for you to relive it with personality and emotion, because you really are doing that when you tell it. Now would I want to tell that story every night of my life? No, I'd be bored out of my mind. So I tell it differently and I just mess around with it. I was like, Moms can be crazy. Here's some stuff. And then it'll be just five minutes of me talking about something totally random on the way just to keep myself entertained a bit if that happened. But I don't think I'd wanna do it, I don't think anyone in the room here is like pro story teller. Maybe, or maybe doing it a little bit more. But you're probably not gonna be in an environment where you're telling the same tory every single day. But that Christmas party when you bust it out, or that social gathering where you bust it out, you hold court. Like if you do that for seven minutes, everybody shuts up for seven minutes and listens to the story. That's kind of a cool thing. As long as it's genuine, as long as it's you, as long as your emotion, I think tell it.
So I'm curious what got you into comedy and when you first started, how did you land your gigs?
Oh yeah, sure. And one last thing. One last thing. What's the difference between how you practice now and how you practiced in the beginning?
Cool, all right. So I'd just start, for those of you guys that have been with us from the start, for those of you guys that have been on from the start, I got into it because my friend suffered an accident, and I had to host a charity fund raiser. I booked all the gigs using a fake name, and a fake website, and a fake profile. But to be honest you coulda just done that with hustle. Perform somewhere, got it on video, send that to people, no problem. You woulda been able to do the same thing. It was just followup. It's the exact same thing as trying to do a sale in business. These days you end up selling 10 in like 65 emails. I had a piece about me written in Entrepreneur Magazine this Monday. And I didn't, I didn't ask that person to write in any way, shape, or form, but I look back in the chain, and it started in March and there was 65 emails exchanged about that being in there. And it's just crazy. When you start to analyze your inbox, you realize how much hustle or followup it actually takes to get anything done that you're trying to do. Even the production of this course with us right now. If we counted up the emails just to make it happen, it would be insane.
Yeah, it'd be a lot.
And you don't realize how much follow up you're doing. I think that applies in company performance as well. You don't accept no at one email. You send them 10. And then they finally get back to you. Or 20, I know a guy who'll go up to 70 no problem. And the last question I'm gonna deal with and all these tips I'm gonna, so what's changed? All this stuff has changed. So I wanna get into it, because there's a lot. I wanna show you how to basically look, in theory, pretty relaxed when you're doing it. Awesome to an extent. But look like you're not putting effort into it. So when someone starts doing this to me, "there was a moment, my father." And you're just like oh no this is gonna be terrible. Like when they're really going out on the words it doesn't seem natural anymore. It just kinda seems fake. Unless it unbelievable, you kinda get off the bus and you stop listening to it. If you're gonna use images, use cool images. Do you know what's cool about that image? Nothing really. It's a cat photo, but not a really good one that CreativeLive sent my way. And I was like I can't use that. But I'm using it to show that it's not a good one. There's too many things going on there. Is it like a cat in a cloud. Does he work for SalesForce. Like what's going on? Don't understand anything. But it gives you a vibe, right. We want it to seem like you're not really struggling to try and get people's attention and you're just being you.