Storytelling requires taking the setting down a notch—unless your friends are Jay and Bey, they’re probably not ready to pace Madison Square Garden with a mike in hand. So try creating a comfortable and inviting setup—something like a Raymond Carver-inspired outdoor living room in your back (or front) yard. Just run an extension cord, and set up lamps, couches, and chairs to create something more comfortable and down-tempo. Call it the “anti-stage.”
Diversity is clutch. While your close pals make for a dependable base, it’s good to hear more than three accounts of the same night you all got “totally wasted.” Bring on that uncle who always embarrasses you, that old Korean War vet down at your local dive bar, or ask your wife to tell the real story about how you met. Putting up fliers and posting the event on Craigslist are certainly advanced moves, but highly encouraged.
Plan on providing ample drinks for all parties. Both listening and telling are best done with a little bit of courage. I go by the formula, “whiskey for my tellers and beer for my audience.” The Irish know that dark liquor is good for a tale, and there’s nothing like a cold brew to put a golden glow on a night of entertainment. But make sure your storytellers aren’t flammable by the time they get up to tell a story. Snacks are encouraged, but stay away from serving crunchy foods that could distract the teller (sorry, no popcorn).
Good storytelling comes from that visceral, spur of the moment feeling, and it takes some guidelines to get you there. So: Make sure people don’t bring notes with them on stage. It’s an important measure for making sure Jeff’s prom night story doesn’t sound like a TED talk. Also, themes are a great way to temper the mood of the evening, so you know what kind of stories to expect. Come up with something universal, like “escape plan” or “mission accomplished”—anything setting-based (such as “prom night”) is going to be too specific. And a time limit is clutch, to ensure that your uncle doesn’t go on a whiskey-fueled rant. Otherwise, the night is a success waiting to happen—because everybody has that one unbelievable story up their sleeves, and they’re the only ones who can tell it.
Photo: "The Boyhood of Raleigh, 1871" by John Everett Millais