Beyond Borders Storytelling

Stories for Wanderlusting Adventurers.


Jenn Lo: "It's Like Toastmasters on Steroids"
Will Spargur

We went behind the scenes with the ever-vibrant Jenn Lo, who bravely tried storytelling for the first time at our Good Times Story Jam in December. Check out this animated interview where we pick her brain about how she decided to do it, why she chickened out, and her advice for dealing with every storyteller's worst nightmare: forgetting what to say next.

BBS: Jennifer tell us about yourself

JL: I am a new storyteller with Beyond Borders Storytelling, but I have been really interested in storytelling for a very long time. In fact, I was so serious about storytelling that I put it on my professional development plan about 2 years ago. But it just stayed on a piece of paper because I didn't know how to do it.

BBS: What steered you into putting storytelling on your development plan?

JL: I started noticing that national speakers and good facilitators all had stories in their back pockets. It was their secret arsenal. Whenever a complicated topic would come up, or maybe the room was full of tension, those stories helped to break it up or make a concept more relevant to people. It brought people closer together in a really special way.

BBS: How did you hear about Beyond Borders and what motivated you to eventually go to a workshop?

JL: I saw it on Facebook. It popped up numerous times. I signed up for the May workshop but I chickened out. I thought, it's not for me, it's for other storytellers. But I happened to be at a craft fair and next to me was Pamela Dudzik (another storyteller with Beyond Borders Storytelling).She and I started hitting it off and talking about the things we were selling at our tables. She noticed that I was telling a story about the things that I was selling and she commented on it. I wasn't even aware I was doing it. And then she started telling stories about the photography she was doing. Next thing you know, we, two random strangers, found out we had actually signed up for the May workshop at the same time. When we left we thought, see you there. But I chickened out and didn't go. I didn't connect with her all summer. When we finally connected, I asked her, 'Did you ever go and do that storytelling thing?' She did, and went on to tell stories on stage. She told me about it. She shared a podcast, a blog, the things that you're doing. She shared her story with me and I was inspired. Wow, she was a newbie just like me and she got up there and did it. How brave! I thought maybe it's not so bad. Pamela said, 'You should check it out. There's another workshop coming.' I said, 'Okay, I am not going to chicken out. I am going to do this.'

BBS: When you went to the workshop did you have the intention of going on stage at the next story jam?

JL: No….It was your windsurfing story that got me. Because at some point during the workshop I started feeling pretty good. Everyone there was a new storyteller. It was fun. Then towards the end of the night we were supposed to tell a three-minute story. I sucked. I was horrible. I couldn't piece it together to save my life. I thought, man, this just isn't for me. Then other people in the room started asking you about what it was like to tell a story on stage. You compared it to your work teaching windsurfing. You said, 'it's hard to describe what it's like until you actually do it.' Like windsurfing, you have to be on the water, feeling the wind in your hair, the water in your face in order to really know what it is like.' It hit me. I am a group facilitator. I run workshops. I teach, and I coach. All day long I am telling people, 'you have to learn by doing.' And so I was already trying to talk myself out of this opportunity to be on stage, then when I heard that story I thought, I have to walk the talk. I got to learn by doing, throw myself out there to see what it's like.

BBS: What was the preparation process like?

JL: I treated it like a workshop I am planning. I created a map of what I should do. I wrote it out, using OneNote so I could take it on the go. I would read it to see how it felt. Then I would record it to see how it sounded. Then during one of the coaching sessions you and Justina said, 'You've got to tell real people. You just can't tell it to yourself. Or tell it to a stuffed animal. You have to tell your story to a real person.' I thought to myself, how am I going to do that? I am not ready to tell the world I am trying to do this storytelling thing. But I started calling friends on my way home or my way to work. I started practicing on the phone as I was driving.

BBS: What was that like?

JL: I said, 'I am trying to practice a new skill, getting out of my comfort zone. It's like Toastmasters on steroids. Would you mind listening to something that I am working on and tell me what you think?'

BBS: What was the response?

JL: They'd say, 'Oh my God that's so funny! That really happened? No way!'

BBS: So, they were game right from the start?

JL: Yeah! That was a real big hook, because I thought it would be harder.

BBS: So you got a lot of good feedback from your friends?

JL: It was a select group of friends. Then I started practicing with strangers, like my hairdresser, or random people.

BBS: In the preparation process what were some of the most helpful things?

JL: It's funny that you asked because at some point during the prep, as I was telling myself my own story so many times, suddenly I felt disconnected from the story. I felt like it wasn't my story anymore. I was talking about somebody else's story. I would phase in and out of this connection with the story. This is mine, it really happened to me. No, this isn't mine. I am trying to craft the right words so other people could hear it in a certain way. Finally I let the emotions do their thing. This is my story. This is what happened to me. How do I feel about it? Why is it important to me? Why do I want other people to know about this story? What is the significance? As soon as I got to that point in the process I felt yes, I am going to share a piece of my heart.

BBS: So you're feeling the story and it's not this memorized piece.

JL: Yeah, it's not a like a staged thing.

BBS: Which brings me to you on stage and you're talking, suddenly a pause which grew longer and longer. You faced one of the most feared moments of storytelling. You forgot..

JL: … where I was.

BBS: What was that like? You recovered beautifully. How did you recover?

JL: I was hoping nobody would notice but of course that's just in my head. I freaked out a little bit. I looked over and saw the iPad clocking me down and I freaked out. But, I remembered something you said: Have these guideposts, in terms of your story. It was embedded in my mind somewhere. During the writing process I put some of my lines in bold. These are my posts. I went back to them and that was how I recovered.

BBS: So you brought a big posse. I saw a whole bunch of people. What was it like having so many people there?

JL: Initially not many people knew about it because I was scared. It was my first time telling a story on stage with real people. When I saw the post go up on the Beyond Borders Facebook page with my picture and my boyfriend I thought, maybe I should tell my friends. I posted it on Facebook with a little story about what I am going through, 'Hey, I am going to try this new thing, if you're free…' I didn't think anybody was free. It's in the middle of the week, downtown. A lot of my friends are moms. I posted it thinking no one would show up but then PEOPLE SHOWED UP!

BBS: Did it help, or did it make you more nervous?

JL: A little bit of both. It was very surreal because I never thought of putting myself out there like that. First, a personal story then if I mess up in front of all my friends and people I know. I'd rather do it in front of a hundred strangers that I will never see again. But it helped because I really felt the love. They were supportive. I got this outpouring of support and encouragement through my Facebook posts, from people I hadn't heard from in a long time. They were saying, 'You got this! You go! You are going to be great.' And I am thinking, 'Man you have not heard my story! How would you know?' I thought they were just being nice. It was more real when I saw them show up. Even more real after I posted the video for those people who really wanted to be there but couldn't. After they saw it, I got even more encouragement.

BBS: Thank you for sharing your story? Are you going to do it again.

JL: I want to. It will be exciting.

Interview by Will Spargur on December 22, 2018. Edited for brevity and clarity.