Once Upon a Time

Having coffee with Matthew Dicks means hearing a lot of stories. Makes sense, he’s a multiple winner of the Moth StorySLAMS.

For the uninitiated, Moth StorySlams (and their NPR radio component, The Moth Radio Hour) are events where storytellers — pros mixed in with just regular folks who throw their name in a hat — stand up and tell a story. It is old-school entertainment that harkens back to a time when digital didn’t exist.

Dicks, who lives in Newington, Connecticut, has become a grandmaster of sorts on the storytelling circuit in just four short years. Since winning his first slam in 2011, he’s participated in 37 Moth StorySLAMS in New York City, winning 18 of them. He has also competed in 13 Moth GrandSLAM championships, winning three times.

Today, when he’s not writing a novel (he’s written four, the most recent of which is The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs), Dicks runs SpeakUp, a Hartford-based organization devoted to promoting the art of personal storytelling and to teaching people how to identify and tell their stories.

Here are a few of Dicks’ tips about the art of storytelling:

What makes a good storyteller?

  • “You can tell almost immediately. There is a pacing that storytellers understand. There are people that speak like a machine gun — every word is the same as the word before. That person probably is not going to be as effective.”
  • They ease into the story.
  • “I usually know when I feel the storyteller seeing the things they’re telling us about, coming as close to reliving that thing as possible. I can’t teach how to emotionally reconnect with the moment they’re trying to share. Most often on stage I’m back in that time. My vision is no longer the audience but what I’m seeing in the story. If it’s emotional, I’m seeing it again.” He gives an example. He was in a car accident when he was 17 and almost died. “Every moment, I have trouble getting through a certain part of that story. Every time I can see that same thing, it’s like I’m right back there. You get that sense from a storyteller.”
  • “You can hear the cutting to the bone versus the extraneous information. You hear the leanness of a story. You can sense it almost immediately.


Top image: Matthew Dicks | Photo Courtesy of Matthew Dicks
Michael KusekOnce Upon a Time