Behind the Scenes of The Memory Palace

I’ve been a podcast listener for many years, and at the beginning of my daily walk I’ll open the PocketCasts app on my phone to find an episode that will indulge my storytelling addiction. There are podcasts which live there temporarily – I’ll add and delete as my desires change – but several of them have a permanent slot in my listening rotation.

The Moth, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries, Ear Hustle, The Kitchen Sisters, Longform Podcast and Unfictional are on a brief list of shows that have become long-time audio companions, friends I can trust to expand and challenge my perceptions. Another member of that illustrious list is The Memory Palace, a podcast I fell in love with day one.

Created by storytelling genius Nate DiMeo in 2008, you could say it’s been around the digital block a few times. Nate’s no stranger to audio, having spent a decade plus in public radio and heard on landmark shows such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace.

The Memory Palace is not unusual in one sense, as it simply presents historical vignettes about people, places and past events. Its uniqueness is comes from DiMeo’s ability to pull a single thread from a complex tapestry of facts and feelings, then offer it to us as a bespoke narrative. Like a wandering medieval minstrel, he takes his audience on a magical exposition of the past, somehow condensing hours of exposition into mere minutes.

As much as I love the well-polished episodes that he produces, it was a special treat to hear this behind-the-scenes conversation with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich on storytelling and life. It’s a conversation that revealed pivotal moments early in his career, alongside his passion for, and approach to, crafting stories that can touch people.

Whether you’re a professional storyteller or just aspire to gain a greater mastery of the art, DiMeo’s journey from nearly clueless to consummate creator will change your perspective on telling stories in the digital age.

A Conversation About the Memory Palace with Robert Krulwich

“…the lesson that it showed me, was that audio storytelling on the radio had the power to reach into your life and could change your day…”

 

“…the most profound thing of journalism is finding the real person in there, and being able to draw them out, and to find a type of truth that goes beyond mere facts…”

Learn more about Nate DiMeo in this beautiful article by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker, and this insightful piece by Joshua Barone in the New York Times.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

We’ve all heard this question, or something similar, asked of witnesses in television or movie courtroom scenes. And for anyone who has served on a jury, you have heard it first hand. But what does this question really mean, is it a reasonable expectation, and if so, how does it pertain to the practice telling personal stories?

While it’s true that we tell personal stories to each other all the time – every conversation can be thought of as a story – in this article I’m referring to stories that we plan to share in public; in print, on stage, radio shows or podcasts, and thinking about the nature of truth when we’re telling these stories.

Although the practice of telling such stories has been around for millennia, the desire to hear them, and the opportunities to do so, have increased dramatically in recent years. As we’ve become more connected, and technologically savvy, we’ve developed a thirst for story that seems to be unquenchable.

Millions tune into broadcasts, view videos, or attend live events with a desire to hear stories about our shared human experience. Stories about who we are and where we have been, stories about the struggles we’ve endured, and the universal hope for a better future.

In my coaching practice I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of folks who want to tell impactful personal stories; professional speakers and novices, students and academics, entrepreneurs and CEOs, prison inmates and special forces, scientists and creatives.

During the process of developing their storylines the topic of truth often comes up when many say, “It’s impossible to remember every detail. How truthful does my story need to be?” And their difficulty in remembering the truth is especially troublesome for experiences and conversations that happened a long time ago. Our memory can be rather permeable.

That’s when I’ll bring up the The Moth. I listen to a long list of podcasts each week for story inspiration, and The Moth remains at the top of the list. I never miss an episode. They host live storytelling events, and feature the best ones on The Moth Radio Hour. When it comes to truth, they address the issue best, in my opinion, by announcing during each broadcast:

The Moth Podcast Story Slams Radio Hour

With this in mind I encourage speakers to do their homework and verify everything they can, especially any statistics, research data or historical references. When it comes to the topic of personal experience, they should reach out to anyone mentioned in their story to verify the facts, or at least hear their side of the story to be sure the essence of the narrative is true.

The reason is straightforward. If any aspect of a story is untrue, the entire narrative becomes suspect. One bad apple can, in this situation, spoil your story’s impact. When trust is broken between the storyteller and their audience it becomes difficult to repair. You need to connect with your audience from a place of honesty and integrity.

Should you ever have a desire to embellish your story as a way to make it stronger, I would counter that you don’t need to make things up in order to make a point, and if you feel you do, there’s something fundamentally lacking in your story to begin with, something that lying won’t/can’t solve. Instead, rethink your premise, and dig deeper into your narrative in order to find experiences or related information that supports the meaning of your story.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,
but not their own facts. – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

But there are other elements in personal storytelling – ideas, insights, beliefs and opinions. This part of your narrative is not based on empirical facts, but rather your view of the world, how you see things, what is true for you, which is subjective rather than objective.

An audience wants to hear your opinion – it’s how they connect to you as a person and come to understand the meaning of your story. But there should never be any confusion as to whether your words are presented as fact or opinion. Expressions such as, “It seemed to me“, “They way I see it“, “The way I felt was“, can let the audience know that you’re shifting from fact to opinion. Done well, they will come to better understand the journey you’ve been on.

You must be the guardian of truth within your story, and that becomes a reflection of you.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

250 Filmmakers Tell 1 Pandemic Story

The depth of storytelling is without limits, which is why I often tap into the brilliance of other individuals and organizations to expand my own wisdom and perspective on the art. And that would explain why I’m a big fan of Muse Storytelling. As masters of video production they not only produce world-class film, but they are world-class givers, sharing their expertise with the film industry at large, as well as the global community.

Amid the crisis we now know as COVID-19, they decided to send the world a message of hope based on the poem Lockdown by Brother Richard Hendrick, as read by spoken word artist, Marshall Davis Jones, with the stunning visual representation by a global team of filmmakers.

Born from a feeling of isolation and a fierce desire to find purpose in the face of helplessness, #ChooseHopeStory is the collective effort of over 250 filmmakers across the globe to share stories of compassion and unity amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.

A global team of filmmakers came together over the course of just ten days to develop the creative, bring together footage, and edit the four-minute video while filming up until the last day on several continents around the world.

Each filmmaker brought in their own unique perspective of the pandemic in the film creation – from an expectant mother who is 33 weeks pregnant to a therapist and filmmaker who is struggling with the anger that the uncertainty has caused him.

To continue sharing the stories of these incredible moments amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Muse and their community are challenging people from around the world to continue to come together with stories of hope, sharing their inspiring moments on social media with the #choosehopestory.

A heartfelt thanks to Founder Patrick Moreau, CEO Rebecca Rapple, and the incredible team at Muse Storytelling for producing this message of hope and human resiliency.

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

Brother Richard Hendrick

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Storytelling and the Power of Reflection

Personal storytelling consists of recounting events that have occurred in the past, describing the state of the world as it is today, or offering up our theory as to how the future may look.

As storytellers our narratives include a combination of external actions and events, as well as your internal thoughts or feelings. An audience rarely wants to hear a continuous string of facts which sounds like a news article. They want to connect to the storyteller and they want to understand what the story meant to them. They need the Pathos (emotion) in addition to the Logos (logic), and this is the power of reflection in storytelling.

It goes beyond what you saw, or heard, or read. It’s about your interpretation of events, how it made you feel, how it changed you. It can also examine an alternate storyline. What if you (or someone else) had said something differently, or reacted differently. The what if can be powerful, as the audience is given the opportunity to ask themselves, what if.

In a 2004 article on Transom.org, This American Life creator Ira Glass states his view that reflection is critical to radio storytelling.

“I usually think of a radio story (the kind of story we do on This American Life, anyway) as having two basic parts to it. There’s the plot, where someone goes through some experience. And then there are moments of reflection, where this person (or another character in the story, or the narrator) says something interesting about what’s happened.”

For some folks reflection comes naturally. They want listeners to know how they felt, or what they thought, or what they believe to be true. But for many people the process is not so easy. They lean toward reporting the facts and refrain from sharing their innermost thoughts. Sometimes it’s an issue of vulnerability, digging into feelings they are not comfortable sharing in public, but often times it’s about the common tendency to stay on the surface when telling a story, or believing their view would not be interesting to an audience.

Joan Didion is one of my favorite writers for many reasons (more on that in a future post), but one is her prowess when it comes to reflection. Much of Joan’s writing is about her views of people and events, as well as herself, and the nature of being human. It’s a style of writing that requires pausing, examining, digesting, and sometimes a long look in the mirror.

I was reminded of this trait while re-reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays that largely describe her experiences while in California during the societal upheaval of the 1960s. In one of those essays, On Keeping a Notebook, she reflects on the fact that we’re not the person we seem to be in the moment, but rather a collection of all the versions we’ve been over time. We frequently upgrade our operating system, for better or worse.

While the following line is her own reflection, one cannot but follow suit and think about the relationship that we have with our past selves.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”

Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem

When I first read that line I stopped and put the book down to ponder my own paradox with past revisions of myself. Which personifications was I happy with and maintained a healthy relationship with, and which were best forgotten. The ones that, according to Joan, I should at least recognize for their contribution.

After that single sentence she could have moved on to the next topic, but her reflection went much deeper, diving into the consequences of not following a nodding approach.

“Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surpass us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. or a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we are.”

As you write your personal story, look for those moments when your thoughts, opinions or conclusions, your musings or insights can add depth and emotion to the narrative. Were you changed in the process? Can the audience connect to your story in a way that changes them?

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Is Climate Change the Most Important Story of the 21st Century?

There will be many world-changing stories throughout the 21st century. Artificial intelligence and genome science are two that will alter the very nature of how humans exist and interact. But it may well be the story of climate change that is the most important of them all, as it’s a story which describes how the nature of our entire planet will be changed in ways that make it much less hospitable to life itself.

It’s difficult to find a metaphor that properly parallels climate change, but there’s one I often use that’s close. Like a car traveling at 100 mph towards a brick wall, when you apply the breaks, and how hard you push on the brake pedal, will determine the outcome. Too little, too late is not an approach that works well in this scenario.

Some say the wall doesn’t exist, others see the wall yet feel we still have plenty of time to react. I’m in the group who believes that no matter how hard we brake, a collision of some sort is inevitable. We have long since passed the point at which a safe stop can be executed. (I truly hope that I’m wrong in my thinking, but many trends are going in the wrong direction)

Hands Earth Climate Change Protection

How that story ultimately plays out is dependent upon all of us, but I have my doubts that the story will have a happy ending without honest and committed leadership. On that front, many leaders have chosen to ignore reality, but others are making heroic efforts to create a different outcome, one that turns the CO2 tide and ensures a vibrant future for humanity.

At the 2016 TED Conference, one of these heros took the stage to tell her story of challenge and of hope on the topic of climate change. Having served as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres understood the topic well, having played a pivotal leadership role leading up to the Paris Agreement in 2015.

In her TED Talk, Christiana observes that perspectives and mindsets need to shift if we are to address the critical issues that climate change represents, and uses the shift from failure at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to the success achieved six years later in Paris to illustrate what can happen when decisions are based on a shared vision of the future instead of protecting one’s own turf.

As inspiring as Christiana’s talk was, it left me wanting to know more about her background, passion and motivation. That’s often an issue with developing a short presentation – this was under 15 minutes – as there’s only so much information that can be included. The fact that she worked on the Paris agreement lends credence to her qualifications as a speaker, but I knew there was so much more to the story and was therefore left a bit unsatisfied.

Which is why The TED Interview Podcast is so brilliant. Debuting in 2018, the format allows Chris Anderson an opportunity to get behind the interviewee’s talk as a way to understand more of the speaker’s background, their motivation, and how their talk is playing out in the months or years since.

After you’ve had a chance to watch Christiana’s TED Talk, pour yourself another cup of coffee and listen to the podcast interview. You’ll gain a much better understanding of who she is, why she ended up in such a critical position, and how her desire for a sustainable world continues to feed her passion.

And here’s the challenge: Were there parts of the interview that you felt should have been included in her TED Talk? If so, what parts of the TED Talk would you have pulled out, assuming the length had to be the same? You will face the same issue when trying to determine what events, feelings and insights you want to put into your narrative, and which ones to leave out. Narrative impact will vary greatly based on this selection.

While creating your story blocks you will need to determine how long each one is, and which ones to leave in the final version. If you’re creating multiple versions – 15 minute short talk vs. 45 minute keynote – those decisions will be different, as will also be the case when addressing different audiences. Before speaking, understand who is listening.

TED Countdown Project

p.s. For those of you interested in being part of the climate change solution, check out TED’s bold initiative – Countdown – that is bringing the world’s foremost experts and thought leaders to the table as a way to create impactful solutions while also encouraging grass roots, community-based movements to support the goal of environmental stability.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved