Word of mouth

The art and value of live, personal storytelling

Among the many ways to tell a story, the most primal is aloud and face-to-face. And among the infinite stories that can be told, perhaps the most transformative are those that are personal, and true.

Since 2017, I’ve served on the Board of Directors for Ex Fabula, a Milwaukee nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening community bonds through the art of storytelling. At the center of our efforts is an annual series of StorySlam events, where audience members of any skill level are invited to take the stage and tell a 5-minute story on the night’s theme. The catch? The story must be true and must convey the teller’s own experiences.

The power of story to bring people together – even complete strangers – is undeniable. In the stories of others, we see our own strengths and faults reflected. We relate to events and emotions that remind us of our past. We recognize the common humanity that connects us despite our beautiful differences. And when we gather in the same room to hear one another’s stories, we forge new relationships based on that shared experience. We promote a culture of listening that reinforces the worth and dignity of everyone.

Oral storytelling is an ancient art that is alive and thriving in our modern communities.

In the spirit of sharing, here is a brief story of my own, recorded to promote an upcoming Ex Fabula StorySlam. While there’s no substitute for the energy of an open stage, a live mic and a packed house, I hope you still discover something in this brief video that resonates with you.

Beginner’s Luck “mini-story”

If you feel inspired, please check out Ex Fabula for yourself.

If you live in southeast Wisconsin or northern Illinois, join us for an upcoming storytelling event.

Or if you are far from the Midwest, you can still hear our stories through the Ex Fabula radio show, a partnership with WUWM, Milwaukee’s NPR.

Header photo by israel palacio on Unsplash
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Five tips for improving your deadline efficiency

Become a more reliable writer

Better late than never? Don’t settle for either.

Your ability to meet deadlines is the trait perhaps most demonstrative of your dependability. You may be employed in public relations, marketing or journalism. You might be a freelancer or a student. Even as an author or editor, it is important to build trust with colleagues, clients and other associates.

Timely communications can cement that trust, but failure to meet deadlines can erode it. Simplistically, the key to deadline efficiency is effective time management. For writing projects, however, you may benefit from specific strategies that put you in position to hit your completion targets.

1. Start early

I might have called this “don’t procrastinate.” It is easy to postpone work on the project that requires a telescope to see the finish line. It that’s a tendency of yours, ignite your effort by assigning yourself mini-deadlines. Create a calendar that includes due dates for project components. Appoint firm dates for the completion of initial steps, such as taking inventory of reference material or organizing contact lists. Set that alarm clock and don’t hit snooze. You’ll appreciate the early start.

2. Prioritize shrewdly

Breaking a larger project into smaller, manageable tasks is classically sound advice, but how you order and schedule those tasks will affect your deadline progress either positively or negatively. Determine which components of your project require external input or feedback and focus on those first. You can address items fully under your control at your convenience, but you don’t want to be chasing information at the eleventh hour. At a given juncture, if you are choosing between reaching out to sources or content owners for information and penning your opening paragraphs, you should make those phone calls or send those emails first. You will have time to write while you await responses.

3. Preemptively strike problems

There are pitfalls in every project, and chances are, you already know which challenges could disrupt your deadline. Do you know a source is particularly difficult to reach because they travel frequently? Do you have an editor or a manager who is notoriously heavy on revisions? Get copy to them early. Do you need to request statistics from an agency that updates data on a periodic basis? Learn its schedule – the day of the month or the month of the year its reports are released – so you can run with the timeliest information without holding up your deadline. If you predict problems, you’ll be poised to overcome them.

4. Coordinate with other projects

I don’t need to tell you how busy you are, but I encourage you to find common threads in your work and thereby identify opportunities to save time. Juggling multiple projects requires you to maintain a longitudinal view of your deadlines. Don’t let a single project consume all of your thought and effort. Instead, look for efficiencies across your projects. Designate a day to pound the phones. Book multiple face-to-face interviews or field research on the same day, regardless of project, for travel economy. Block large periods of time for writing to minimize interruption. If you sustain momentum on all of your projects, you bring each closer to timely conclusion.

5. Play mind games

You won’t forget the drop-dead deadline for your project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a pseudo deadline to ensure you meet your goal with time to spare. Giving yourself a deadline cushion relieves some of the pressure associated with final due dates for deliverables. The key is to establish your pseudo deadline right from the start. Coach yourself to accept the pseudo deadline as authentic. Base your schedule and your mini-deadlines on it. You’ll benefit by regularly exceeding expectations while providing yourself with a safeguard against crisis or other unforeseen complications. The size of the cushion should be proportionate to the project. Anything from several days to several weeks might be appropriate, depending on circumstances. Ultimately, it’s about your comfort level.

Deadlines may sound morbid, but they ensure that communications are lively and relevant. Meeting them will help ensure your professional relevance as a writer.

Do you have additional tips for meeting deadlines? Share them in the comments section below.