What an audience craves before they really, really trust a storyteller or public voice


What cultivates trust with listeners when we express ourselves as public speakers or storytellers (or both)?

It’s common for answering this question in context of ‘to entertain is better’ vs ‘to offer teachable perspective is better’.  At least this was a common way to frame said debate when I was a coach to storytellers way back when!

For  what it’s worth – I really, really believe authentic clear perspective as speakers moves trust forward with audiences much more so than a dominant focus to only entertain. The “I only have to entertain” mindset is a common misconception that often creates big psychological barriers when folks including myself prepare to publicly speak. This outlook when preparing can cause many presenters (and even seasoned storytellers) to think they are inadequate since they are not sure how to entertain in the first place.

A myopic striving to only entertain an audience can so often lead speakers to indulging their ego — to be that ‘hilarious charming speaker’ — vs to be that timely source that satisfies an audience’s need for real perspective. Our audience needs and deserves the latter.

Here’s what I see about an exclusive desire to entertain audiences. It stifles many-a-speaker when preparing. It happens a lot. Their expectations to be entertaining dynamos like Meryl Streep (…sprinkled with a Sheryl Sandberg or Gary Vanerchuck quality) often inhibit their ability to establish an accessible point of view. Their clarity of mind usually suffocates under the self-imposed pressure to be funny enough, riveting, fascinating, provocative, etc.

So when preparing content and point of view, I suggest looking first at the teachable truth in your fund of knowledge.

Decide a few topics and then consider:

  1. How are these topics teachable from your point of view?
  2. How do these topics relate to and benefit different segments of people?
  3. What three problems can you solve?

Is it human to want our audiences to crack-up from welcomed laughter at our stories and overall presentations?!

Sure, it’s understandable. But I invite us to ask one question first when assessing a speech’s entertainment value: Does the content entertain while supporting a core idea?

Any wit, story, or piece of content needs to explicate a usable idea or perspective.

Our teachable experience is what we have in common with our audiences. As in, they want it and we’ve got it. No perfectionism or entertainment hoo-ha… just some usable, human truth and clear point of view.

Another tip: conquering leery self-confidence

Should you ever suffer from low reservoirs of self-confidence (ah we all do one time or another) – this mental exercise below may liberate you when preparing to engage audiences.

1. Mentally embrace the fact you have insight, which could help at least one person on this planet.

2. Then consider two people, then a room full of people, then maybe a whole department.

3. Believe that something useful and teachable exists in you, even if it is not clear to your self-confidence right this very minute. Assert this possibility in your mind as a meditative exercise for a good 10 minutes. Just sit with it.

Photo attribution entertain us  by fedee P licensed under Creative Commons

How to become a stronger storyteller, speaker, and a better source of empathy to those listening

I thank 2018 a lot for new chances to launch storytelling projects so far (some in-person audience ones and some audio recordings). They are teaching me a lot, even to the degree of being a little more open and present-minded with people (which can feel pretty vulnerable sometimes!).

These recent efforts have also triggered memories for how to build confidence and skill as a speaker (…from way back yonder when I was a coach to storytellers).

Ideas that may help others that are now coming fully to mind…:

A favorite 20 minute exercise goes like this.

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
  2. Then answer this question:  What five beliefs do you hold true about your business and your industry?

Reflect upon core assertions that drive you professionally. Permit the flow of ideas without judgment. Then write, write, write. Write the phrase “I believe” in front of your assertions if that helps to stimulate thought. As a raw example on my end: “I believe public speaking is a self-assertion game and a clarity game; it takes time to achieve at both.”

This exercise is a no-criticism zone.

Just write for as long as your timer ticks for at least 20 minutes. The time-constraint factor consciously or not puts the brain in production mode. The main purpose is to get out of your head, and recognize more clearly your points of view as a voice.

Also to ensure you are leading the audience to your most relevant, useful ideas when preparing content, consider this hypothetical question when organizing thoughts:

If your stage time was limited unexpectedly to 90 seconds, what would you say?

More on strengthening point of view and confidence:

Women (and certainly men too) but often women in particular lack confidence in themselves to speak in public. From my experience as a former storyteller/speaker coach — if you are unsure which stories could help explain a core idea, or if you want to emerge more trust in yourself as a public voice, these tactics could help.

There are tons of ways to test one’s voice and stories, including these favorites:

  1. joining a Toastmasters club, or
  2. starting a vlog.
  3. My really favorite option is to shape your own platform (and community) as a speaker and storyteller.

Create your own stage and assert it like there’s no tomorrow. As example, gain experience and storytelling confidence through hosting your own meet-ups.

With this meet-up idea, you can build your speaking strength from your own trusted network. Consider inviting a small trusted group at first, 15 people to a coffee shop or your office. Then lead a conversation central to your professional beliefs.

Test your point of view in a brief lightning talk, like a 10 minute presentation. Solicit feedback to improve. Learn what resonates. And even get testimonials from positive commenters (and publish them online!). Try this every four to six weeks if your schedule allows. Then evaluate your stories and ideas: what worked most?

How to befriend (and channel) the tummy butterflies before giving a talk:

Be alone and quiet. Breathe deeply a few times. Then stand in your most confident, shoulders-back stance and punch the air, like a boxer. Breathe, box, breathe, box. And finally, close your eyes; envision standing on stage and saying your first lines to the audience. In that mental moment, look ‘em in the eyes. Give and receive this attention in your mind.

Above all extend a sense of authentic good will with those in your audience; savor the moment of sharing time with those kind listeners (time being a true gift from them to you).

Photo attribution The Flame by Clix Renfew licensed under Creative Commons

A belated valentine story for a revolutionary feminist-spirit-sculptor-spy


This valentine’s week, with the actual day yesterday powerfully syncing up with Ash Wednesday, has rekindled the history of one of my favorite activists from the American Revolution: Ms. Patience Wright, b. 1725-1786.

Truth be told there’s zero overt or historical connection with Ms. Wright and our modern culture’s celebrated rituals of this particular week


Here’s why this blog-post-gone-valentine (and Ash Wednesday) feature is just for her:  her entrepreneurial, fearless approach to an 18th century career in art -and- spy craft.

  • After her husband died in the late 1760s, Wright needed economic streams immediately. She elevated her hobbyist art to professional attainment, and is considered the first known American wax sculptor.
  • Also after her husband’s death, she was raising three children and pregnant. This alone makes her deserving for valentine acknowledgement.
  • Wright’s sometimes patriotic and spiritual devotion to the new America’s cause for independence wasn’t always popular (as she was a resident who lived both in New Jersey and London); her courage seems timely to honor though, since her advocacy goes parallel to the preparatory strengthening of Lent first established for the once young & unpopular Christian faith.

Ms. Wright alienated her American friends even more when she pressured (Benjamin) Franklin to support a rebellion in Britain itself. Writing to him in France (in the mid-1700s), she encouraged him to lend his services to “poor and oppressed” Britons as spiritual brothers and sisters of the American Revolution.

Patience Wright was a wax sculptor, mother of four, and to my heart’s delight – an American and quite revolutionary spy living in Britain throughout the 18th century.

I dream of this make-believe-story below!

…a.k.a. a quick imagining, fueled a little by the inner spy I’d love to be, with the stealth, artistic espionage of Ms. Patience Wright in full-swing.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Ms. Patience Wright.

Here’s some playful fiction inspired by your spiritual grit, going back to when the United States was a fighting idea at war:

It is a late, motionless night in the streets of London. The year is 1776…that unwavering bearer of change for both sides of the Atlantic.  One house in particular has stayed audibly quiet since dusk; and with the full moon …..there’s just enough light for Ms Patience Wright to sculpt the hairline of a neck.

She sits at full artistic alert near her northern most window.  How she loves a studied confrontation with a block of wax..unveiling human form with every chisel. And much of London and the British elite consider her the best of the best……a renowned wax sculptor producing work in a suite of pastels.

This is the work of Ms Patience Wright….widow, sculptor, and mother of four.

She leans in closer now toward the window sill to catch all possible light from the moon. Her fingers work in their primal rhythm with the wax …. what looks like a fluid sway between smoothing-molding-lifting-pressing.

She sits back to stretch her shoulders and take in her work.

“Yes…yes…this will serve good purpose,” she says to the wells of her own self-respect.

Now all her interest turns to the final test of the bust’s left ear. But before Patience adheres the lower arc of the ear lobe, …..she writes a tiny note of intelligence (some critical news against the monarchy). She then scrolls it up, and secures the note in the ear’s upper curve.

“This will do,” she whispers in the private, moonlit arena of her craft. For Ms. Wright knows her creative trade fulfills two needs very, very well:  the art of sculpture and the art of spy craft.

Once she convinces herself the bust’s ear chamber was sealed with precision and a look of innocence, she packed the small bust in a gift container and folded away her tools.




She heard the front-door taps with shifting angst. She knew that knock brought loyal support to the patriot cause. But like any fight for sovereignty, even such a sound of allegiance courted potential threat.

Nonetheless she summoned her feet toward the door.

There a shadowed figure greeted her. 

With a simple flip of the agent’s cloak over his right shoulder, he said one phrase coded just for her:

“A night for liberty madam, is it not?” he asked with the impatient flare of an insider on the run.

Patience nodded as she granted the agent the box. The shine of his black riding boots then twirled away in the moonlight back to his mount…and off they went…couriers for the west bound for Benjamin Franklin himself stationed now in Paris.

Patience shut the door…and stood a moment in the stillness of her home.

Then came a stir upstairs.

“Mama, mama…” cried her young ones with their dawning appetite.

She lofted up the stairwell with satisfaction, the depth of which anointed her heart with cravings for future risks on moonlit nights.



Photo attribution “I spy a girl working on a Sunday” by Janine licensed by Creative Commons

What I learned in 2017 from exhaustion and related inelegance

#1 What 2017 taught about boundaries and working at a large urban church:

Stress can still affect your health even when God is technically your boss.

Many structural and cultural shifts were underworks at my employer and personal church community Foundry UMC, a thriving Methodist church a few blocks from the White House. The staff and congregation were in what felt like a perpetual all-hands-on-deck mode especially since the outcomes of the 2016 presidential race (…the sermon Pastor Ginger preached a few days after that election gives incredible insight and encouragement…if your journey craves it!).

The work was a purposeful, spiritual dream, especially in hospitality. We’d work together in community to support disadvantaged and homeless neighbors or offer adult discipleship classes about many social justice topics, inclusive Christian beliefs, or fragile political culture. We’d share strong solidarity with LGBTQI neighbors and immigrants. So much more.

“God as boss is a noble thing!” the thought would float my mind sometimes during particularly stressful deadlines, or when passionate (well meaning) folks would approach me on my days off to help on work-related matters. My boundary setting skill wasn’t the most clear, at all.

The nobility began to transform into weariness but I didn’t fully recognize it. My husband started to comment that he would hear me say “I’m so tired” almost daily. Effects from physical and mental depletion continued (but without a vigilant, self-caring response from myself): lack of focus, ongoing frustration, ongoing anxiety, lack of restfulness from sleep, indifference, general irritation at professional hospitality projects and colleagues that were once held dear.


The turning point:

In a moment of raging dramatic angst-filled release – I screamed at my boss through various expletives and explosive (CRANKY) critique. It would be now a hilarious story if my exhausted viciousness wasn’t quite so uncontrolled, let alone unloving.

The next day, the exhausted anxious (humbling! awkward!) episode occurred again offsite when en route to work. It was the most vulnerable, strained episode of head pain, harsh breathing, dizziness, and the shakes. After an ambulance ride to the ER, it became clear that vast exhaustion was in the driver’s seat and mounting anxious depression was on the rise.


It was time to transition off church staff, rest up, heal up, and start anew in hospitality and storytelling work in a different dynamic.

Holy Cow 2017 taught my ego that working for a religious organization still demands vigilant self-care, better boundary setting, and moderation of pace.  Just because God’s the boss doesn’t mean ignoring one’s capacity to set healthy boundaries!

#2  What the year taught about creative avoidance:

Procrastination on personal projects (that you aren’t paid for except by passion for creative journey) causes as much fatigue and anxiety as procrastinating on work you get paid for.

It seems more obvious now that work which espouses one’s commitment warrants …committed attention. It does not matter whether that commitment stems from our heartfelt self-will and passion or from a boss that pays one’s salary. Once the commitment is self-administered — then action should simply commence; production should simply begin; …all the “don’t hold back” attitude should ideally ignite as a natural response to said commitment.

Argh to the wise “should” mentality!

Even still with hindsight – after outlining an on-the-bucket-list dream storytelling project recently, I sat on it for at least a month. As in, there was zero movement forward on it!

I’d rebel against the very project my heart had longed to do. Any and all randomness became the priority (vs actually asserting head on this storytelling work). Literally far less timely research projects would capture my focus, or a new yoga routine or meet ups with people that could’ve been easily postponed.

The turning point:

After about five weeks of this – sleeping patterns got rocky and inconsistent. A general internal hum made of both tiredness and an angst-ridden edge set in. Then an article found its way to my eyeballs about the negative effects of procrastination: it increases sleep debt and thus anxiety and fatigue (pausing to gulp that truth down).


After eventually asserting the project head on and finishing it – a distinct, more regulated steadiness returned in sleep patterns and inner contentment.

The work, tackled head on without restraint, will set the soul (and healthy sleeping habits!) free.

#3  What the year taught overall about fatigue:

Habitual tiredness does not equate to winning an award in workplace martyrdom.

Gently closing thoughts here with a neighborly reminder:  Beware of work martyr culture and mentality.

Here’s to you and an awesome, “all in” 2018 with lots of blessings and purpose, results, renewal, constant self-care, and patience.

Photo: “Napping” by Paula Gimeno licensed under Creative Commons

What a lost kitten taught about reunions and risk

imageIt was a quiet early fall night in DC.

The outdoors were starting to turn toward cooler breezy temps. Husband Sean and I were relaxing together in full-on chill time reading and nuzzling with Squinky-Susan (sister kitty) and also Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons (littler bro kitty).

Our lights-out time arrived; Sean had opened a window by a few inches to let cooling breezes swirl inside. Off to bed we went, in our 550 square foot home that sat four stories up from a busy neighborhood street.

The next conscious cue came from morning light that touched our eyelids awake. Sean got up first to enjoy some early a.m. silence.

After a while he nudged me to full-alert.

“Um Walter is gone,” he said. “I don’t understand….it’s a small apartment.”

I the momma scurry to the living room. No Walter.

…scurry to all the secret under-sofa-and-chair crevices. No Walter-kitten…..just his sister Squinky looking strangely calm.

…what about the old-timey pedestal bathtub. There’s a ton of secret hiding spots for kittens!

But no fuzzy Walter Wilbur-Force appeared.

I look at Sean with my eyes rounding through the tear drops.

He says again in a listless monotone: “But it’s such a small apartment…where could he have gone? It’s so small.”

His fixation on the size of the apartment made my heart ache more. He is such a fantastically logical person; his logic powerhouse of a brain was desperately equating smallness of our home to the impossibility that his cherished soulmate of a (always indoor) kitten could ever get lost, let alone disappear.

His eyes then wander over to the cracked window left open from last night: “OMG HE RAN AWAY FROM FOUR STORIES UP.”

What a heart sinker.

Walter’s escape out the teeny tiny window space was the only logical conclusion.

We ran downstairs; scoured alleyways; searched around big dumpster areas, calling calling calling Walter’s name.

No fuzzy gray paws or purrring was to be found.

Sean left for work lugging a gallon of gonna-keep-my-chin-up sadness with one last absent remark from his logical brain still trying to reconcile his disbelief: “….but our apartment is so small.”

More emotional context:  This occurred a few days after Prince died. So the climate of separation anxiety was already heavy!

Then after posting one more color poster outside of “Help us find our precious Walter Kitten Face!!!” I glanced back randomly toward the front glass door into the four story walk up (we lived on the fourth floor with a few other neighbors residing on the other levels).

There adhered to the glass was a crooked yellow sticky note!

My heart and brain leapt instantly over the 5 meters to the door to read that sticky:

“Are you missing a cat?! Please call this number.”


Within seconds after calling, Walter Wilbur-Force The Kitten was back home to momma’s caress (and to his papa’s infinite joy).

The mystery in Walter’s disappearance revealed in purrrfect clarity thanks to two mindful and very tender-hearted neighbors that lived in a building adjacent us. It’s an awesome urban cat-n-mouse story minus the mouse. It’s a wonderful (and one of my favorite) family tales.

The whole experience refreshed perception about reunions and risk on a few levels:

  • What an unforeseen loss of love teaches:Losing unexpected access to the one you love feels like a bucket of pine needles assaulting every avenue of your heart. I revered two things a whole lot more when reuniting with Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons:  simple presence of your loved one is the height of abundance; and returning from the hugely vulnerable world unscathed (as Walter did) is ar blessing and rarity.
  • Thoughts about risk and gambling with a stranger:What had happened — Our little precious fuzz-bucket kitten had in Olympic feline fashion self-collapsed his adult frame and slid out into the world (via that four inch window opening…naive move on our end to underestimate the indoor critter). Once out on the window ledge of our building, Walter walked on the ledge; got confused; then couldn’t walk backwards to our specific window. So he walked on the rain gutter to the attached/adjacent building and sat in front of a window.
    • Late, late at night he stared inside this well-lit home through that home’s window and meowed his face off. He sat. He stayed sitting. He myeowed.
    • The couple living in that home noticed him but were wisely  leery of his nature! Was this a stray cat? Where did it come from? Isn’t this technically creepy?!
    • It would’ve been in the realm of reasonable decisions for them to have ignored Walter. The couple though pondered; revisited their first impressions; pondered some more.

They began to re-perceive this stranger chanting myeows outside their window. They started to view Walter as less of a threat, and more of a misplaced stranger in a vulnerable way. Sean and I are grateful for their courage.

  • Closing thought on alleviating potential tensions in risky decisions:Upon letting Walter enter their window, the couple started to think short-term and long-term. If Walter’s family was discovered in the next day, hooray! But if  a reunion did not take place, they were making a hospitality list for their new tenant i.e. litter box, food, and 600 little jingly toys. Their agility is a model for hospitality and for helping the stranger. They went from a risky initial decision all the way to sharing space with a stranger to planning for the stranger’s well-being. My goodness how I love this story and them.

Photo:  Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons when a baby, pictured with his Dad.

Recounting melancholy, and what it led to spiritually


I recall when air-quote dares hid tight behind the basics:
Pant legs drawn; floss used-tossed-n-gone…a drab routined mosaic.
One day Freedom accused Life: “Hey you’re numb & twisted!”
Life yelled back: “Oh Yeah?! Well you breathe like it’s fleeced & fisted!”
See Melancholic angst had trapped their debate like collaborative balloons crammed with fudge:
Their capacity for color could complement eachother but only thru dunes of loaded grudge.
Then one day these writhing pains sought restoration,
and caused Life n Freedom to lock arms toward healthy transformation.
They embraced psyche’s sandy sinks of vulnerable festoons;
they clutched & forgave bewildered pasts
none too soon.
Now Freedom spoke new prayer: “God …God…I’m yours for safe keeping,”
And God rekindled Life’s … sustained joys for the breathing.

How reflections on truth-listening & truth-telling showed up in prayer

What does it take to build authentic relationships and thus, authentic ministry?
It’s a hefty question to grapple with that last week’s sermon took on without restraint.  I gained a lot from it. Pastor T.C. Morrow gave a fantastic sermon answering this question of building authentic relationship through key messages like:
  • “Don’t hold back in authentic truth telling – or truth listening – in your relationships.”
  • “Don’t hold back in remembering God loves you, even if you are telling a truth that’s uneasy to say (or listening to someone else’s raw but truthful viewpoint).
She worked thoroughly with the story from 1 Samuel 3: 8 about mentor Eli insisting with his young pupil and future prophet Samuel — to not hold back telling the truth.
This particular story was new to me (ha, much of the Bible still is!). But she made her “Don’t hold back” words of empowerment resonate in different, very accessible, ways based on this particular story:
  • Don’t hold back from seeing Christ in the unhoused neighbor, the sick, or the hungry;
  • Don’t hold back in seeking God’s voice; it is all around us but often we do not recognize it;
  • Don’t hold back to transformation ourselves through ministry with others (it’s not just ministering TO others; greater authenticity is enabled by our openness to be transformed when we are engaged in ministry truly WITH others);
  • Don’t hold back your pain, your peace or joy, your torment, or your experience of resisting evils.
Authentic relationship and works toward justice take all of the above and even more of regularly not holding back. The sermon continues to reverberate in reflections.
As an initial don’t-hold-back response to T.C.’s sermon, out came this prayer and some sense of play.

Have a great weekend!

Written version of the video-prayer is just below:

I pray for strength to grow your justice 

for neighbors hungry and denied… Oh God trust us /

we need you, we need your liberating hand

to free our minds from self-addicted strands /


Oh God pride, it’s our pride high-5ing in endless selfie thumps

Lord transform, God transform our ego-echoes with your Holy Fist Bump /

And expand our doubting squints toward our lost, lone neighbor

to a wide-eyed willingness to lift her labor /


Now compel oh compel any privileged toward acts of sacrifice

so deprived neighbors thrive on — more than beggar’s lice / 

Please freeze our greed & melt it away with merciful justness

God seam anew all ego-separations to grow your justice /

I pray for strength to grow your justice. 


One husband + awesome courage

Roughly five thousand years ago (…it seems that long sometimes!), some friends including a philosopher named Sean Stickle agreed to help prepare me for a speech contest called Table Topics. Each friend wrote up a handful of surprise questions to ask in front of the group. One by one a buddy would pose a question my way while the rest of the folks stayed quiet and observed. Then for the next 2 minutes after each one, I’d stand in the middle of the seated circle of listeners and offer an impromptu response (aiming for any degree of cohesion!).

The speech contest would eventually be conducted in a similar format as with these friends, but in front of a crowd of strangers at a district-level Toastmasters‘ competition. I remember feeling really grateful to these supportive hobbits for their help. Then it came time for that Seán Stickle to pitch his question:

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Two things happened within seconds of hearing his question…as in huge rushes of heat burst in my heart on two different levels.

First my crush on this man went over the moon in that instant. He delivered that question with such an unforgettable, intense meteor of eye contact. He expressed himself with a distinct expectation of response too. Which granted, the whole goal of this friendly gathering was to jolt my brain into lots of improv-yet-still-clear responses. The depth though, and confident willfulness in Sean’s ask came as an unexpected wake up call on what primal vulnerability can feel like.

There was a layer to this vulnerable feeling that was lathered in urgent self-confrontation and morality. Sean presented in that moment a common sense purity as if any-and-all newspapers worldwide were confronting the very same question. The man had turned an informal speech prep session with friends into an arena for moral growth and assertion. It really was one of the hottest things I’d ever encountered.

…The other simultaneously occurring rush of heat in my heart resonated something like ‘Holy Cow how’my gonna answer this in under two hours let alone  under two minutes?!’

Words and phrases exited my vocal cords eventually (specifics though escape current memory). But years later as Sean and I celebrate 17 years of marriage, the core of Sean’s past question still engages inner ponderings between logic, humility, and human value. But what leaps out from that whole exchange with him during those young-days-of-a-crush, was his willingness consciously or not to jump into the arena of inquiry and growth. He didn’t shy away from that arena — he just went for it! There is a type of life lens for me that this has inspired over the years with him:

  1. Spiritual (and emotional) growth requires the taking of what may feel like vulnerable risk, and investing trust in these inner acts of courage.
  2. Love enables growth for individual hearts, for coupled hearts, and healing throughout partnership.
  3. Love does not mean side-stepping reality, or the uneasy or uncomfortable  truths life can present. To side-step such truth is to short circuit capacities to heal, forgive, grow.