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A Storytelling Imposter Was at The Moth!

I bombed at The Moth. Yep, in front of 300 people I performed so badly I was the lowest score of the night! 

I don’t have storyteller imposter syndrome, I am an imposter, a storytelling imposter.

Or am I?

Let me review.

On reflection I think my story structure was sound.  My story was heartfelt, it was personal, it was about a pivotal moment in my life and it was fun.   I had practiced my story with two other experienced storytellers and they liked it.

But, and its a big but, my performance was bad.  

My performance was bad because I lacked confidence.  

I lacked confidence because I told myself things like ‘this story is a bit too homey for the predominantly childless(?) audience at The Moth’. 

My performance was bad because I was the first woman who told a story, I was the first person over 25 who told a story (and I'm double that age) and I let these things rattle me.  

My performance was bad because I went with a friend and I was self conscious in front of her.  On the way to the event I told my friend ‘I definitely don’t have a winning story.’ With that belief firmly embedded, guess what, I didn’t have a winning story.  In fact it was a losing story. 

My performance was bad because eventually the dripping acid of self doubt reached a tipping point and the tension in my gut fed the doubts in my mind, and my self possession evaporated until I was dreading telling my story, when normally I am excited.  

My performance was bad, because like all bad performances, the space between my ears was entertaining negative 'what ifs'.  I had lost faith in my self and my story.

So how to be resilient?  

Firstly I look for the things that went well, that I can feel good about.  

I prepared well, my story was solid.  I told it to someone after the Moth and she laughed all the way through and said the oh so soothing words ‘You’re good at this.’

Then I look to see what I can learn. Here are a few thoughts I had:

A poor performance is inevitable, it is an inherent part of ‘performing’ that you will fail, have a bad day, at some point.  It is part of the territory.

Maybe it wasn’t a story I ought to have taken to the Moth? 

Maybe I should always go to The Moth on my own?

I've written about the brutal nature of 'The Moth' scoring systemelsewhere, so this time I was on the receiving end.  And if not me, then someone else.

I definitely need to pay closer attention to my state of mind, to my self talk and performance psychology, before I tell.

One bad performance does not mean I’m not a good teller or teacher.

Maybe the Moth isn’t the best place for me to tell my stories?

This last question saw me reflecting and reaffirming that meaning making is essential in my approach to storytelling.


I like stories people tell that help me understand how they are learning, growing and changing as a human being, how they are making sense of this life. And while this is not shunned at The Moth, comedy definitely wins the day.

So I will still occasionally try my hand at telling on the Moth stage; they’re a wonderfully warm audience that claps and hollers even when you’re not that good and its the biggest storytelling gig in Melbourne.

But comedy is not my story bedrock, and at the risk of being considered a serious and overly intense storyteller, I stake my claim as a story meaning maker.

And now its over to you, dear readers, fess up, tell all….. please… tell me about your bombed storytellings.

It can only make us all appear a little more human, and storytelling the imperfect art that it is.

And in the end, what is failure but another potential story.

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Comment by Kate Lawrence on October 2, 2016 at 12:39am

Hi Lois,  Thanks so much for your responses, they are very much appreciated.  i recovered from this moment quickly, which I why i could write about it. My aim was to tell a story about not telling so well, to examine the reasons why we (I?) might not perform at my best, so others don't feel so alone, and to show that one story does not make an imposter - it is not an indication of storytelling capacity.  And I too love the fox in the hounds image.

Comment by Lois Sprengnether Keel (LoiS) on October 1, 2016 at 1:15pm

I often hate the way replies (& blogs) give the most recent 1st.  Please start at the bottom to read this in the order I thought it.

I clicked out of this discussion and then took a look at your title, A Storytelling Imposter Was at the Moth!


A Moth-style of Storytelling Imposter was there. 

You are a storyteller.  We all have our styles that fit us.  If you want to move into this style of storytelling there will be a learning curve, but that does not mean you are a Storytelling Imposter.

I love your photo of the fox in the midst of all those hounds.  Whether you bring the hounds attending a Moth around to your style of storytelling remains to be seen, but that fox is a member of the canine family, so don't let them hunt you into beating yourself up.

Comment by Lois Sprengnether Keel (LoiS) on October 1, 2016 at 1:07pm

You wonder if "Maybe the Moth isn’t the best place for me to tell my stories?"  I see no reason we must all conform to that to be a storyteller.  You evaluated what your approach to storytelling requires for you.  It's great the Moth is getting under 25s to re-discover storytelling beyond thinking it is just for children.  Is it the Be All End All of storytelling? -- Oh I firmly trust it isn't!  You want to keep trying it.  Fine.  Your decision and your evaluations will help you do better, but whether it wins a Moth isn't guaranteed. 

I do this in music and know I'll never be a musician.  When I bomb or otherwise make a mistake, my fallback is: That's why I'm a storyteller and not a musician.  Does my music help my storytelling?  Yes, I think it does.  It certainly helps me understand when working with developing storytellers.

Also, as you say, "what is failure but another potential story."

Comment by Lois Sprengnether Keel (LoiS) on October 1, 2016 at 12:49pm

Oh, Kate, off P.S. we've talked a bit about how personal stories are rare for me.  Perhaps this is one of those reasons the Moth or "slam" style of stories is an area of storytelling I avoid.  Of course some of my stories are told from the viewpoint of a person -- my historical storytelling has me firmly as that person, be it a generic 1-room schoolteacher or a hired girl or the more specific 2 actual people I portray, but not . . . WOOPS! minor interruption here, I _do_ tell about the '50s from the viewpoint of my own years as a child, but even those would never fit the style a "Moth" requires. 

Space for reply is evaporating.  My reply continues in a moment.



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