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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E91. Storytelling that Won't Kill Kittens with Sage Tyrtle

Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.

Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.

Welcome to the story powers podcast the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco first, I guess today sage turtle sage is a professional storyteller for hire. With over 15 years of teaching and performing before audiences of all sizes. She has won the math stories Lam multiple times in the Grand Slam once she has also appeared on the PBS show stories from the stage and been featured on NPR, CBC Radio and many more. Sage comes across as the nicest person. But I also know that she hates hockey. She thinks children's folktales are boring in her storytelling workshops. Sometimes she kills kittens. So this episode should definitely be interesting. Ladies and gentlemen, Sage theatre. Sage, welcome to the show.

Sage Tyrtle 1:50

Hi there. Thank you so much for having me.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:55

I just got to hit let the killing kittens bit thing. Maybe we need to tackle that one.

Sage Tyrtle 2:02

I think that there's a tendency with people when they're telling true stories to feel like every single moment is precious. And I was teaching at Seneca College and people were really struggling with how do I know what to cut out. So I ordered these little tiny kittens who are crazy, adorable off of Etsy. And I gave out six of them. And then I had those six people tell the story of Little Red Riding home. And at the end of it, I asked the other people in the class, which kitten do we have to send to the farm. And they really hated doing it even though it was just little teeny, you know, stuffed kittens. But it certainly stuck in their heads as right. Sometimes you just have to cut it out and understand that unless it's adding to the climax, unless it's adding to the end. It is not relevant. And especially with oral storytelling that's so important for people to understand that you have maybe seven minutes and you are competing with people's phones and people's phones are very attractive. They're meant to be addictive, right. That's other setup. So So to cut it and cut it and cut it until you are giving the absolute essentials of the story. That's what's going to keep the audience excited by what you're saying.

Francisco Mahfuz 3:37

So this is your very graphic, creative and traumatising version of Kill your darlings.

Sage Tyrtle 3:45

Absolutely. And I will say children are they love it. Adults have a much harder time with average children are like great. Can we send them all to the farm? No, just the one.

Francisco Mahfuz 3:56

Yeah, so this is something I you know, I'm a parent of young children. So my oldest is now five and the youngest is almost two. And you know you get to that point where you start thinking about life and death and how much do you explain to this children what you know what's really going on in the world and they have you know, they have older grandparents the next 10 to 15 years they're gonna have to tackle we're gonna have to tackle that for sure. And they my oldest goes to a school that is incredibly advanced in many things in they recently started, they talked about death. There's a whole thing that they talked about when she was foreign something and she got very used to the idea of you know, the things die, although she keeps saying that someone is going to dive instead of die. And we have a cat who who's 11 I think and she was saying Are they out really like a dog. And I was like oh we can't have a dog you know because we live in an apartment that's not easy. And now so you know we Have we have parsley? You know, more parsley is around? We can't have a dosa? Yes, but she's gonna die one day, right? When she dives, we'll get a dog. You don't seem particularly upset about this idea. It's become very functional for her, I'm afraid. Right? So before we get into into the weeds of of what exactly makes a story better or more engaging, or more compelling, I just want to take a few steps back and and the first one is, is just clarify something I heard you talk about in another podcast, I believe, where you were just trying to draw a very clear line between what is a story? And what is what is just an anecdote. And also, what is the story about an anecdote versus an actual story? How do you draw that distinction?

Sage Tyrtle 5:50

So for me, stories, must have a very strong balance. If you have a story that is almost entirely positive, awesome, that stand up comedy, if you have a story, that's almost entirely negative. Great, you have Schindler's List. And while that is an acclaimed movie, for 1000, good reasons, I've met one person in my entire life who has ever seen it twice. So what we want when we are telling a story is to have a beautiful balance of negative and positive anecdotes are light, their light on purpose, and, and certainly stand up comics can keep an audience's attention for half an hour with the story about how they lost their keys. But for me, personally, that is not storytelling, that's making people laugh, that's light and fun. But nobody's ever gonna think two years later, I was so emotionally affected by that story about the keys, they might think I laughed a lot. That's, that's as exciting as it's gonna get. Meanwhile, I have people come up to me on the street, I happen to have blue hair, so I'm very recognisable. And they'll say to me, I saw you tell a story two years ago, I still think about it. And that's because I making sure that there's a very clear balance, there's a lot of negative, there's a lot of positive. And when you have that, you have something that feels like real life when nothing good ever happens. It doesn't feel like real life. But when nothing bad ever happens, that also doesn't feel like real life. So for me, that's a clear distinction. And I personally don't have a whole lot of interest in any kind of story that doesn't achieve that balance. I think it's vital.

Francisco Mahfuz 7:43

I think, given the pretty much the last two years we've had the the the story where it's almost all negative doesn't feel like real. If we might have to reevaluate that slightly.

Sage Tyrtle 7:56

Well, okay, you say that, but I know so many amazing stories of people who, when they suddenly had limits to what they could or couldn't do, found amazing passions, found really fantastic ways have adapted to this very difficult time, in in 1000, exciting ways. So I think even now, even though we're in the middle of a pandemic, even though as omachron is looming, they're still so much positive. And to embrace that to embrace the balance rather than to say, Oh, well, we're in a pandemic, so everything is negative. But people have, you know, welcomed new babies into the world during this pandemic, like there's some amazing joy that's, that's happening, that I personally would love to see, get more attention.

Francisco Mahfuz 8:47

I mean, I've had, I've had my favourites child in this pandemic. So Alice, if you're listening to this, I'm joking. Okay. Why would you listen to this? You're five years old, but who knows? Right? The kids get into their phones quickly these days? Yeah, no, I think it's interesting because I don't disagree with you. But I it's, it's, I think the first time I've seen someone make that distinction based on based on that criteria of, you know, the balance of positive and negative and emotional resonance, because a lot of people tend to, a lot of people tend to do talk about elements. So you know, if you need to have learning tends to be one of the main things like if nothing is being if you can't learn anything from the stories, the characters haven't changed, so change and learning seems to be fairly common ones and some people tend to think it's to do with, you know, a good one becomes a story like a weak one is just an anecdote, but I hadn't I hadn't seen that distinction being done on positives and negatives.

Sage Tyrtle 9:48

I was just gonna say that I absolutely agree on change, change is vital and but I think you can have change in an anecdote. So

Francisco Mahfuz 9:57

the way I tend to see it is I think the learning is the one that sticks with me usually. So, because I always go back to this evolutionary thing of stories became, are something that stayed with us for all this time because they had a purpose. And the purpose was it wasn't just learning, there was a whole bunch of there was bonding, and there was entertainment, that was all part of it, the social aspects of it, but the learning of it was essentially, what stories were for right in the beginning, are these one of the things they were for. And to me if someone says, they just tell me an amusing tale, but there's absolutely nothing to like, they're the same, you know, you just went to this bar there lots of crazy people, you wouldn't believe what happened there. It made to me, that's just an anecdote. Whereas they now see the world in a very different way, because of what happened, then then it probably it has now become a story to me.

Sage Tyrtle 10:52

There's a sketch show, I will say it hasn't aged very well. But this specific sketch has a it's called the Catherine Tate show. And one of her characters solely tells terrible stories. But what's very charming and sweet about this sketch is that the one telling the terrible story is telling it as if it's Mission Impossible. And her husband is reacting as if it is the best story that he's ever heard in this life. And that's another teaching tool that I use, I actually show this sketch, you know, I say, Okay, what is wrong with this story? Nothing ever happens to this woman. And she adds 1000 irrelevant details and the where she starts has never had anything to do with where she ends. And so yes, I, as I say, the sketch show has not aged well, but that specific sketch I still love.

Francisco Mahfuz 11:49

Yeah, I have a friend who I had on the podcast recently during Gibbs and he's done something similar on LinkedIn, he created this character called storytelling guru, Steve, or story guru, Steve. And in every, I mean, I struggled to watch those videos that he puts out because they're so terrible. It's like four minutes, and you know, the stock is not gonna go anywhere. There's so much medicine, somebody mango, a story. You know, at least for me, like I get the point. It is a very painful exercise.

Sage Tyrtle 12:22

Well, I'm sure with the with a five year old, I'm sure that you've heard those stories that you know, you're you're in it, she's she's in a cave, and then 40 seconds later, now it's in the sky, and there's a pony and but there's a magical ring, you know, five year olds are my favourite storytellers. Your stories are not anything that I would personally tell. But to listen to them is amazing. Just the massive leaps our brains are taking. And yeah, I think they're wonderful. I've listened to those all day.

Francisco Mahfuz 12:57

So I've heard you you had, I think believe I heard you say that you had an issue with the idea of you know, everyone has a story. And I, I have an issue with this, this thing that people say all the time, which is like, you know, we are born storytellers, and just look at children children's stories all the time. I have children, the stories suck. They are awful. There is nothing usually like if that evolution did not make those stories last, like that is not what what's what, why they stayed with us all this time, because as you said, Not only they leap from one thing to the other. It's the our this happened, and this happened. And this happened. And this happened. It's like, so why, again, poor kid. So my kid loves stories. He loves me to tell them to her. She loves me to read them. And she likes to tell them in she she my parents live in Brazil. So she wanted to tell my mom, her grandma a story. And I said, Really? See it's you know, you have to you have to go to the shower soon. And you know, it's you've been on the phone with your grandma for a long time. Can you can you make it a quick story? She's like, I'm not sure. I'll start today. And if I don't finish, then I can tell the rest tomorrow.

Sage Tyrtle 14:09

Amazing. That's amazing. Yeah, I my issue that I have with everybody else's story is well, I think it's a big part of attempting to monetize storytelling, rather than it being something beautiful that people share. My issue with it is yeah, I do think everybody has a story. I think about 5% of those people are willing to tell that story. There's 1000 There's so many reasons that people don't want to tell the important story and that is totally cool. Tell the story that you're eager to tell not the story that you feel somebody is you know, digging out of you. But I think the cause there's this monetizing of storytelling because people are watching television or looking at the Internet and they're saying everybody has a story. Then there's this like, oh, well, I lost my keys. Why? So I should get up on stage and tell that story. So So I do believe that everybody has a story, I just think almost nobody is willing to tell that story and and then to what you said about being a born storyteller. I read a wonderful article a few years ago, which was, there is an idea that people are born with an innate talent. But very often, when you think of somebody who is born with an innate talent, like Mozart, you have no idea what they went through in order to get to the point where it looked like they were in with Mozart, his father, from the point that he could walk was forcing him to practice piano for hours and hours and hours every day. So that by the time he was five, yeah, he was amazing, because all he had done his whole life was piano. So So I believe that you can teach storytelling, I don't think it's an innate talent. I think that that it's something that you can absolutely learn and if you're willing to immerse yourself in it and and, and listen to the stuff that's hard rather than the everybody else's story. I've been telling me last year GIS is amazing. If you're willing to work really hard. You can you can be a preeminent storyteller. Absolutely, anybody can. But again, I don't think very many people are willing to put in the work that's required to to get to that point, the talent

Francisco Mahfuz 16:26

thing, I them to find it kind of offensive, because so I've been doing public speaking for a very long time. And, you know, unbeknownst to me, the best things I ever did were stories. And I had no idea I was doing any type of storytelling. But you know, when I competed, and I want things, it was always a story. And it took me a long time to figure out that that's what I was doing. But I know full well. And I have evidence that the stories I told, even two or three years ago, were like, I knew nothing compared to the way to what I think I know now, you know, just just yesterday, I wanted to post something on social media about about my uncle, who's like this super, self obsessed person. And He only talks about how great a cookie is. And like, eating with him involves him sharing every single aspect of how great a cookie is. And is this the best result you've ever had and this type of thing. And I knew that I had written that story in the book, I wrote about public speaking a couple of years back and I said, you know, surely I can just like copy and paste. And that'll be that. It wasn't, I looked at it. And I'm like, there is no dialogue in the story. Like it's just meat like, it's a decent story. But it's a lot of tailwind, no show and it was way too long for social media as it was and like, I can do better than this. And I had the whole story, which was, I don't know, would have been like a page long or half a page long. I had it in like 12 lines of dialogue. And I know I couldn't have done that two years ago, which is why I did it. It took to do that it took you know 10 storytelling books it took during 90 episodes of this podcast, it took talking to a tonne of people that that know this stuff. And then we'll go Oh, you're you're so you're so talented.

Unknown Speaker 18:25

Like no. I mean, I'm not hopeless. But this is like a lot of effort has gone into this thing.

Sage Tyrtle 18:34

Yeah, tonnes and tonnes of hard work. That's where success comes from, not from, you know, somebody being born from Zeus his forehead and becoming the goddess of whist sitting down and putting in the hard work and, and being willing to fail so and like you I look at things I did two years ago, and and I think, Oh, I could have done much better if I knew what I know. Now, of course I didn't then. So I think to be willing to say okay, this is my absolute best right now. And in two years, I'm probably gonna think I could have done better. But how exciting to be two years down the road and be like, wow, I've gotten so much better in those two years, because I worked really hard in the interim,

Francisco Mahfuz 19:20

talking about what you knew then and what you know. Now my understanding is that you weren't born talented. And one of the first times you told the story, you you almost caused your uncle Doug to crash the car and kill the family because it was so boring. But then I also I have also heard you say, but first of all, like, are we actually allowed to do that but not crashed according to the family. But when someone's story is that boring? I don't think that usually, if I say to them, Listen, I will kill myself. If I have to listen to the end of the story. I don't think most people his response is going to be, you know what, I should work on this. This is going to become my goal for the rest of my life to become a much better storyteller, and not potentially put my life in danger. That feedback is not usually the way we want to give feedback to people who are you know, murderously boring with the storytelling.

Sage Tyrtle 20:21

Absolutely, absolutely. And nobody, nobody ever accused my family of, of being soft on each other. For me, it was well to briefly tell the story, I was telling a story in the car, and my uncle had been driving for a long time. And he said, if you if you continue with this story, I will die of boredom. And then we'll all die because I'm driving the car and, and I had that moment of, you know, never telling a story again, or doing what I did, which is to say, will you tell it? And he did. And it was amazing. And that it was like, it was like a masterclass in storytelling in which I went, Oh, like you did with your story. What were you said, Oh, his page, but I could tell him 12 lines, he told it briefly, but including all of the best parts, the marrow of it. And I wasn't a great storyteller the next day, but I had that in my head for years of what do you need, what do you need and to cut it down as I went, so that when, when the pandemic happened and stages disappeared, I did go to a lot of online storytelling shows, but was disappointed to find that it tended to be the same people who were there. So what I was hoping was to go from the Toronto audiences to an international audience. But it didn't happen that way. The same people who were interested in show a, were interested in show B and C and D. And I didn't want to be part of closed circle. I wanted to meet new people and find out new things. And so I said, All right, what what can I do that doesn't involve online storytelling shows or stages in the middle of a pandemic. So I began to write, and I've found a lot of success just in the past year, which has been very exciting. But certainly, the fact that I can tell a story in 200 words that really affects other people, is, is a definite outgrowth of knowing Okay, I have five minutes to get up on this stage and tell this story, what do I need? What's the marrow of it? Because cutting out what you don't need isn't about saying Little Red Riding Hood is, uh, you know, you don't get up on stage and say, well, there was a girl and then there was a wolf. And then there wasn't the end, right? It's not that it's, it's turning of a wedding cake into a perfect lemon tart, that perfect lemon tart has all the same ingredients. But it is very small and very tasty. And you wouldn't want to eat six of them. You would only want that one little lemon tart. So Yeah, certainly. Well, it was not the most pleasant experience I ever had. It has resonated throughout. You know, I guess that happened about 35 years ago, so long part of my life.

Francisco Mahfuz 23:32

So now that I think you mentioned this twice already. You talked about the marrow of the story. In your experience, correct me if I'm misquoting you, but I believe that you've, you've summarised the most important things, if you had to do not just I think it was four things in I believe what you said was that the most important things for any stories that you need to tell it in order, you need to have emotional connection, risk and change telogen all the I think it's straightforward enough is like it's not Pulp Fiction, you shouldn't be messing about the timelines. When you when you tell a story,

Sage Tyrtle 24:05

people are not always paying laser attention, even if your story is amazing. So if you're telling about your grandmother in 1943, and then you suddenly leap forward, and then you leap back, and they're confused, then that's it. They're lost for the whole rest of the story. And so for oral storytelling, yeah, tell it in order, please go join.

Francisco Mahfuz 24:30

I don't think this isn't necessarily an exception, to tell it in order. But I've gotten used to sometimes doing something that I've, I know Marsha Shandor, who I had on the podcast, who I believe you know, she she calls she says you're her mentor, or that if this is an official relationship, but she says it herself. Elementor and what she likes to do is say you know, start, start with action. And then if you have backtrack, just give the comment Start fill out the context slightly, but don't spend, you know, 30 seconds or a minute, giving us context to then have some type of physical action or movement in the story. And I found that I can do that fairly easily. But I find that a lot of people get very confused when you tell them, like, can you just not start a lead, start on that action? And then give us in two lines, all the context we needed to know so that that action makes sense, I found that some people don't they struggle with that. They know the, the brain struggles to like, what can I just tell you what came before, so you understand like you can, but it's not as exciting.

Sage Tyrtle 25:42

I think if you're reading a book, or if you're watching Netflix, you're able to rewind, and you're not able to rewind with an oral story. And it is very easy to get distracted in the middle and to, you know, I've said three sentences. And now the audience members, like, did I feed the cat, and now they've missed it, they missed it. And now they're lost. And you cannot get that person back. Because they probably aren't going to put in the brain power required to figure out what the hell you did. They were thinking about their cats. So So yeah, I think I think we're distractible society right now. And it is vital to go just in order and and I think also, there's a, there's a tendency to try to be like a movie. And this is not what Marcia does at all, I think she's fantastic at what she does. So this is something completely different, to tell the end of the story. And then to tell the beginning until you get to the end, I have never heard somebody get up on stage and do that. And I found it emotionally satisfying, because I can predict the trajectory of the story. So nothing surprises me. So it doesn't matter if we're heading for now I'm holding on to the elevator of the elevator, the ladder of a helicopter, and there's a shark underneath me, because all I'm doing once they rewound is figuring out how we're going to get there, which is not me enjoying the story, it's just me taking apart the radio and seeing how it works. Mostly, when I'm not mostly every single time that happens, I'm just bored and waiting for the story to be over. For me, it's a it's a storytelling style that does not work. But as I say nothing to do with what Marsha is advocating.

Francisco Mahfuz 27:41

Yeah, no, I think I think what she talks about and it's something I tend to tell people to do too is is you know just have just have some you know, time and place are very useful right at the beginning of the story because people can start that movie in their in their mind, but also I like the idea of some some physical activity or some movement. So you know, I have remember was talking about sorry about putting together an Ikea wardrobe and and it was something like, you know, I I walked into I walked into the empty room of my new house and and I knew my wife and I knew my wife was just wrong because and then I and then I just had I had just come back from Ikea or whatever. So I just I just dropped that there and then immediately filled out what the context was instead of saying I had just moved to a new home. Or the one the one I liked Delhi more is the one that I started saying the first time my wife my girlfriend and I went skiing together. I found out she was cheating on me. And then like the whole story like she wasn't cheating on me the whole story is about how guilty this baby like how is he gonna like how what is the scheme gonna tell if they're cheating and it has nothing to do with her. Like she's not cheating on me though. That's kind of the the whole idea. I don't find the telogen order tends to be a mistake I come across often that people don't what I do find is that they want to feel up they give you so much context before anything hap actually happens. That is like okay, can you tell me that in two lines because if you can turn that into lines, we can get to the interesting bits

Sage Tyrtle 29:13

I find Little Red Riding Hood of fantastic story to use as an example the crocodile in the monkey also works beautifully here. The crocodile and the monkey are friends. The crocodile comes every day to visit monkey. And then crocodiles mother decides that she wants to eat monkeys heart cartel goes to monkeys Island. They're halfway across to crocodiles house in the lake when crocodile admits what's happening. Monkey says oh shoot, I left my heart in the tree. So we got to go back so the crocodile takes the monkey back. He goes up in the tree and crocodile has to go home with no monkey and they are never friends again. So that story and most folktales is a really fantastic example of start with what's important to the climax and the end? How did the monkey get to the island? Who cares? How come the curricula doesn't have a dad? Who cares? How to crocodile and monkey meat? Who cares? None of that is important. The only thing that's important that we know is that crocodile and monkey are friends. That's it. So Little Red Riding Hood. Similarly, what was her first day at school? Like? Who cares? Where's her dad? Who cares? Why does her grandma live by herself in the woods? Who cares? None of that is important. And I think we get so involved in but the audience will be wondering, but they really won't. If you are fascinating up there on stage, you can be explaining that you're a mermaid alien from outer space, and they are not going to question a thing. They just want to hear the story. So So folktales are a wonderful place to look for. How do you start? And and how much information do you give, and it's almost always about half of, of what you'd like to include.

Francisco Mahfuz 31:08

Although it is fair to say that now that I read some of those to my children, they're horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible things sometimes. And I've got trying to explain some of them. And what if I had this one where it was Rapunzel. And and I maybe this is just a translation I have I have a weird, like children's version of it with some cartoon characters that are popular back in Brazil. And essentially, it's like the mother's pregnant, she wants the red dishes that are being grown in the witches garden. Then her husband steals the red dishes, the waitress, the Witch catches him and says, Well, you know, I'm gonna kill you, unless you give me your firstborn. And, and then she takes proposal. And I was trying to explain this to a three year old and she was like, yeah, he made a very bad deal. A bad deal. She was like, ah, sounds like a bad deal. Radishes for baby. Yeah, I was like, I don't think was a good deal now.

Unknown Speaker 32:08

I'll do is when they see that. When did they see the baby again?

Francisco Mahfuz 32:13

Not sure they saw the baby again.

Sage Tyrtle 32:18

Yeah, that's, that's the version I grew up with to.

Unknown Speaker 32:22

The whole thing is just horrible. Yeah,

Sage Tyrtle 32:25

yeah, I was, I was. So one of one of my most exciting story moments growing up. I was 11. And I came across a book called red as blood by Tina fillet. And it was a retelling of all of the fairy tales that I had grown up with, and, and I read it and I went, Oh, you could tell these in a different way. That That, to me, I think was as formative as that moment with my uncle to just say, these stories in which women are helpless. They're only important if they're beautiful, in which men have nothing to do except save beautiful women, in which men and women have no interest in each other's minds. You don't have to have any of that you can take the amazing, awesome part of of somebody defeating a wolf, it doesn't have to be the lumberjack who comes in and defeats the wolf, give Little Red Riding Hood on knife, and then she saves her grandmother. I noticed recently that you never see a woman who is unrelated to another woman saving her ever. I've seen it one time, and I'm 49 years old. And and the idea that you can take what's exquisite and exciting about fairy tales and tell it in a way that says to not just little girls, not just little boys, but all the kids. Gender roles are nonsense. You don't need to be fulfilling any of this. Beauty doesn't matter. What matters is being smart. What matters is being kind. What matters is being funny. What matters is your behaviour. All of it bravery. Women are never brave and fairy tales. And and so to retain the bully and say, Oh, right. There are other ways of looking at this. I think I think the one that really got me was the frog prince. Because I had read that story before without ever thinking about it. And 10 Natalie's version is she loses the ball in the well and the frog in well, who's holding it and saying yeah, I'll give it back to you. But you have to do all of these things for me and she says yes, I will do that. And then you really start to get it. Oh, this is her rific he wants her to hold him in her lap all the time. He wants her to share his food or her food with him. He wants her to have him sleep in the bed. And then when he does turn into a prince, he's a super creepy evil prince who spirits her away in his super creepy evil carriage. So yeah, I think there's so many horrific messages that are that are being transmitted to girls and boys in fairy tales and to it just felt so exciting. And it still does, you know, all these years later, to say, right, this doesn't have to be the narrative that happens for kids, you can you can do something new, you can do something different. Free to be you and me was another big exciting moment for me in which they told the story of Atlanta. And at the end, in the story of Atlanta, she says I won't marry anybody unless he can beat me in a foot race. And then somebody does beat her in a foot race and she marries over that scene, but the story free to be you and me. They're in a foot race and they're racing and they're racing, they come in at exactly the same time. So here I am five years old and listening to the audio tape of you know, the cassette tape at my little Montessori School and I'm like, okay, married, and the end of the story. And I'm gonna get teary saying this because it's such a beautiful end is, and maybe they got married, and maybe they didn't. They went on adventures. They stayed friends. I was like, Oh, that's

Francisco Mahfuz 36:38

so what you what you are saying is that folktales and fairy tales do not need to be a dystopian patriarchy. And that frozen in spite of what some people think he's not a feminist masterpiece.

Sage Tyrtle 36:55

Yeah, I, I couldn't point you to any Disney masterpiece.

Francisco Mahfuz 37:04

It's something that something that is I mean, it's, it's this should have happened 30 years ago. But it's, I find it incredible how it's finally happening with for example, superheroes. So, you know, there was this big controversy back home in Brazil a few months ago, because I think DC announced that the current Superman, which is like Superman son is going to be bisexual, and they had, they show the custom images of him kissing the you know, his when his boyfriend or whatever. And in some sports people, like started having a nervous breakdown, because, you know, Superman might like men or whatever, it became a big thing. And in I think now that you have a whole bunch of other other superheroes coming out as queer and stuff like that, but at the same time, you know, how can wonder woman is not is not that

Unknown Speaker 38:02

she's grown up in, like all of the women, they chose not to have men around. That's it. They've lived for how long? It is, like no one. There's no there's not one couple in that whole movie that maybe she doesn't need to be, but like, not when you fully hear

Sage Tyrtle 38:22

this, it's an it's an odd time to be alive because you have these wonderful moments where Superman is, is has a boyfriend. But then you have this like, backlash where I'm like, What year do they think it is? It's like, and also the people who are upset about it like, what why? Why like, Superman wants to have a boyfriend. Awesome. She really wants have a girlfriend. Awesome. Superman wants to have a non binary platonic, sometimes romantic partner. Awesome. Great, let's silly. You know,

Francisco Mahfuz 38:59

what I love? Is this. What I love is this. Well, well, that doesn't make any sense. Well, he can fly around the world and turn back time.

Unknown Speaker 39:09

But do you think him fencing a guy is a problem?

Sage Tyrtle 39:15

That is very, very funny.

Unknown Speaker 39:19

Where people draw the line of what's believable. That story is crazy credible. But anyway,

Francisco Mahfuz 39:28

so Okay, so we had, we had one of the things was spell it in order. The other thing was change. We kind of talked a bit about that one. And then you had the other two points I think you had mentioned we're having an emotional connection and risk. When you say risk. I'm going to take a guess here and say that you're not talking necessarily. You're not talking about danger the way most people don't understand danger, right? It's not like it doesn't need to be an adventure where someone's you know, where your uncle is gonna kill the whole family because your stories are so boring. That's not the risk you're talking about. Right?

Sage Tyrtle 40:02

Yeah, that's not the risk I'm talking about. And one of my all time favourite stories actually does. It's a true story and, and I won't retell it as it's not my story, but I'll talk about it in a vague way. The person who is telling the story, their life is in real imminent danger because of a really scary political situation and the position that their family holds. And that story has almost no action in it. It takes place entirely inside a six year old girls ideas and opinions of what's going on around the around her and and it is one of my all time favourite stories that I've ever heard. There's another story about that has a woman who buys a lipstick, and that is the only thing that happens. And and it has risk. It has changed. It has emotional connection. I always cry when I hear this story because it is so good because it's talking about something bigger. That is not a story about lipstick. It's a story about immigration. It's a story about being a refugee, it's a story about male female relationships. It's a story about being a child and and seeing your whole cultural landscape shift, right. That's what it's about, even though the only thing that happens is lipstick. So yeah, when I say risk, it could be a story about a woman by lipstick. But there has to be something that that is at stake. What's at stake in that story about the lipstick is this woman's identity, this woman's progressing into a completely new life in a completely new country, this woman's marriage, like there's so much that's at stake in this story that even though I've heard it a bunch of times, I'm always on the edge of my seat. I know it's gonna happen doesn't matter. It's such a good story. So. So yeah, I think I think risk can can be looked at, as you know, it's got to be about something bigger. If it's just about losing your keys, then it's a fun anecdote to tell your friends around the you know, the table at a coffee shop. But but it's the bigger stories that belong on stage. It's the bigger stories that make you a storyteller.

Francisco Mahfuz 42:29

So the way I've I've described that just to get away from the language of stakes, which I think once you're once you immerse yourself into storytelling, I think you automatically get right, the moment you say stakes, you don't need to say anything else. Does the story have stakes? No, it doesn't. I think to some people, they might struggle with what the stakes are. So I have described that and I said, there needs to be a problem that the characters care about. That's it. If they don't care about it, then you are not going to eat though. If you don't have that, then then you know, you got nothing. And I've had people tell me like, obviously, it's like, I'm trying to run a marathon and whatever. And I'm like, okay, I can see you struggling to run a marathon. But I don't understand why that matters. Like, what happens if you don't run the marathon? Maybe Maybe there was you were trying to help a charity. And that was super important. You may be just because you've your whole self identity is based on that you were an athlete, or whatever it might be. But why do you care about it? Other than, well, it sucks if I don't finish, because if it sucks, if I don't finish, there's not a story you need to be telling anybody? Really?

Sage Tyrtle 43:38

Yeah, yeah, I'm with you. I you know, the thing with I've lost my keys. Okay? If there was a baby, who is about to drink bleach in the house, and you're outside, and you've lost your keys, now I care. If there's a flyer, and you have to go in and put it out, you know, there has to be, as you say, a problem that you care about in a in a deeper way.

Francisco Mahfuz 44:03

If your relationship is in the rocks, and you're arriving at three o'clock in the morning drunk, hoping to sneak back in bed and pretend you've been there for a lot longer, and you've lost your keys. Now, all of a sudden, that story has stakes. And I have clearly just come up with this scenario. This is not something that's ever happened to be or would have to be just to be completely clear here. Okay, fine. So so I get risk. Now you have I think there was the last one there was having an emotional connection in that. So that's the thing where where there needs to be a connection there between those two things, right? Because what matters, the stakes that matter to the to the character might not necessarily generate an emotional connection in the audience. So in your view, what what does generate that emotional connection?

Sage Tyrtle 44:55

So So I grew up in the States and I only came to Canada in 2004. And though Canada and the US have a lot in common, there are aspects of Canada that are much more like the UK than like America. And one of them is in how emotional people are willing to be. So I didn't just grow up in America, I grew up in California. So I am, you know, I wear my heart on my sleeve. And everybody always knows exactly how I feel at any given moment. So to move to a place where emotions were viewed as something that you didn't talk about, and then have people come to me and say, How do I tell a story? That was the first thing I had to say was, we don't care about that time you were frustrated at the airport, because your air your your flight was late, we don't care about that. And I think if you think about on Facebook, if somebody is complaining about their flight being late, you are way less likely to say, Oh, tell me more than you are. When somebody is like, I found a high heeled shoe on my doorstep. And it's not mine. Oh, now I'm interested, tell me more about that. But I do not care about your flight being late, or you whining about it. So so when I very first started out teaching storytelling, I would say Alright, so let's make a list of emotions. And the Canadians would be like, irritated, frustrated, bored. And these are not emotions. Facebook posts, I am scrolling fast. So. So for me, that's why the big emotional component has to be there. Because I think there is a general and of course, not everybody, but a general idea here in Canada that nobody cares about your emotions. So you better talk about how irritated or frustrated or bored you were, that way, you're completely keeping yourself from being vulnerable. But if you want to involve the audience, in your emotional moments, then you have to be vulnerable. I don't mean that you need to be telling a story, you're not ready to tell, you always have to have the emotional distance to tell the story that you're on stage telling. But when I perform my half hour show, that ends with me on the subway and a complete stranger, telling me that I am the ugliest person he's ever seen in his life. And the best I could hope for is that somebody might find me acceptable someday, when I tell that story, I am emotionally ready to tell it. But I'm also vulnerable in telling it. And because of that, whenever I tell that story on stage, I have 10s of hundreds of people coming up to me saying that was amazing. And we loved it. And that was because I was willing to get up in front of people and say, this awful thing happened to me and it was devastating. So emotional connection means being vulnerable on stage when you are emotionally ready to be vulnerable, but never before. Never before.

Francisco Mahfuz 48:13

There's a shorthand to that idea that I picked up from I think was from Simon reybold was another speaking coach and presentations coach and I had him on the podcast a while back and he calls that scars, not scabs.

Sage Tyrtle 48:27

Absolutely. Many, many years ago, I saw a young woman tell a story. She had seven minutes to tell the story. 17 minutes in she had the mic it had a very long cord and she was wandering around the audience asking various men like me, like he broke up with me and now we won't go on me but like should I call you guys should I call him in to put the mic to the guy like he was sobbing and everybody was just like, Please God let this was a person that was not ready to tell that story. Absolutely. Not in any way. Yeah,

Francisco Mahfuz 49:10

I the vulnerability thing. It's some in some ways it feels like it's been done to death in the last few years. But at the same time a lot of people just don't get what it means. And I remember that when I when I was writing that part of my of my book and there was a big part of the book the book was called is called bear a guide to brutally honest public speaking and has the cover is like this card game type of character opening his shirt that you can just see like the skeleton and a beating heart in there. And I came across the Democrats know I came up with this idea of, of how wolves and I think a lot of other wild animals solve you know, the reason why they don't kill each other all the time. Is is because is because of vulnerabilities because you know once once to war Are are growling at each other. And if none of them backs backs off, then then the only way that's going to be resolved is through violence. But the moment one of them shows themselves to be vulnerable, you know, they they show their throat and say, fine if you want to, if you want to tear me to pieces you off you go. That's when it stops. And they go, Okay, fine. We don't think you're a threat anymore. You've made yourself vulnerable, you're not a threat anymore. You can now join the pack. Now we can look after each other. Because you're stopped being a threat because you stop being aggressive. And this is what I think people don't necessarily get that this is just like, see, I'm messed up too. And like, Oh, welcome, welcome. We're all messed up, come over here. Let me tell you about the boat problems. Whereas did the opposite, which is the which is the super competent, super successful, I've got it all figured out. It just like who is this alien? Right? Like, I don't know who you are. Which, which is one reason why Superman is such a horrible character is that there is no emotional vulnerability to him in when he is vulnerable. It's not even him is like an alter ego of Superman. So is this thick, there's no way you can possibly relate to him as a person. And even Clark Kent becomes a crappy way to do that. Because you know that really, he's not like that. This is like the the American teenage movie where the girl that is meant to be ugly, you know, she's a knockout, you know, that it's just makeup and bad hair. And you know that if they just kind of, you know, do hair makeup on her. She is now striking, that like, that doesn't work. Like there is no, like, you can relate to that. If that's something that you're concerned about yourself. And I don't I just don't think people get in. You know, I do a lot of I do work with a lot of business people. And they really struggle with the whole vulnerability thing. Because like, Well, should I be telling about my daddy issues, I was like, you can and that can actually work really well. But sometimes it's just something as simple as you're going to talk about something where you were successful at the end, you know, a project that ended up being well, but you share all the doubt and you share all the wrong turns and you share how it definitely look hopeless at some point in their in then you found the solution.

Sage Tyrtle 52:25

My partner when he was just starting out, he was 20 years old. And he was really struggling at work. And his boss took him aside and said, Hey, let me tell you a story. I used to be a roadie for a rock band. And they weren't super popular. So it was like me, I was the roadie and when I was three o'clock in the morning, and they finished and so now it's up to me to put everything away and I got up on the stage and I just felt like crying it was you know, 1000 tables, and I'll all the speakers and I thought this will take forever and I just want to go to sleep. But what could I do, I took the very first chord and I began to wind it. And I did that until everything was put away. So when you're feeling overwhelmed with that moment of trying to it looks like it's just a tangled mess, pick up a chord and start winding it and eventually you will get to the end. And I think that's a great example of, of in a business setting somebody being willing to be vulnerable and, and, you know, that was that was 30 years ago, my my partner still tells that story as you know, here's, here's how how you can face a difficult situation so so yeah, I think it is possible to be vulnerable in a business setting and and not just be a success but to really inspire other people

Francisco Mahfuz 53:52

in even if you are going to talk about your your very issues. Now you know that that can go horribly wrong. There's there's, it's not something you would automatically suggest people do. But one exercise that I do when I'm when I'm giving training on presentation skills is I will have people do what was often called like a path first speech. So something about like your biggest disappointment or your biggest fear or whatever. And with almost no exception. I because people are like, they hate doing it. They don't want to do it. They they, they will they resist the idea, but know that because everybody else is gonna do they go along and do it. And then you ask people afterwards, just like how do you like, how do you feel about the person that has just spoken and they say, I just feel like I know them so much more. Like I respect them more, I feel so much closer to them. And it's sometimes it's the most awful possible story that you would never want to tell anyone and then they're like, oh, and I I'd never like I had such a different idea of who you were as a person. And now because you just told me this thing. Now I feel like I already know you. So yeah, it's it does work. I'm Brene. Brown does know what she's talking about. I have I have sort of one last question to you, which is more of a style, stylistic question. And I have described this to people before that the way they should tell stories is as if they are in a bar, not as if they were on Broadway. And I've heard I think was Matthew Deeks that called this the dinner test? So you know, if you wouldn't tell it in those words, with that type of tone of voice, or gestures, or whatever, over dinner to a friend, then don't do it on stage. Now, then I have I've heard some of it. I've read some of your stories. I've heard you tell maybe three or four different stories live. And one thing that struck me about your style is that, by that definition, I'm not sure I don't know the conversations you have with your friends. I'm not sure that a lot of your stories would pass the dinner task, because I think the language at times is a lot more beautiful. There's a lot more metaphors didn't seem unnatural in any way to me, but it was definitely not something I can imagine you just naturally sharing it in that that exact way. So what are your thoughts? I mean, based on what you do your own performances, I get a feel for that. But do you think that the the language you use when you tell a story should be as everyday for most people and then sell it for you but should be as everyday as possible, or you you don't have any issue with people being more literary with the way they tell stories?

Sage Tyrtle 56:34

I think that there are people who write their story as if it's a short story, then memorise it, then get up on stage and save the thing that they've memorised. It doesn't feel good to the audience because although they are not reading it off a piece of paper, they might as well be my favourite story in connection with that is a performance I wasn't at but heard about years and years ago, a woman was reciting a 20 page poem, she got 10 minutes, and she couldn't remember the next line. She went back and started at the beginning, and then told the entire poem and did it correctly the second time, but that meant that the audience was sitting there for 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes because they had to hear the first 10 minutes twice. So that is such a perfect example to me of why you should never memorise your story ever, ever, ever. However, I bridle when I hear people say you must speak this way or fuck off? Well, who made you the king of storytelling or the queen of storytelling, if you want to speak in a more lyrical way, then do it? If you want to speak in a more everyday way, then do that all I ask people to do is not memorise because I think the way that you feel most comfortable telling a story is the way that's going to engage the audience the best. So if you feel comfortable being more lyrical, then do that. If you feel comfortable being more straightforward, then do that. But But yeah, I think I do bridal with that, do it do it this way. Or you're not worthy of being on stage that that AI doesn't sit well with me,

Francisco Mahfuz 58:27

you might rethink that that very reasonable and empathic approach to people styles. When you hear the 100 and 50th businessperson go up there and say, in so we struggled with our competitiveness against our competitors. And to say to them, first, what the hell are you talking about, too? Would you possibly ever talk that way? If you were explaining this to a mate over dinner, or a bar or to one of your relatives? Like you wouldn't use nine out of the 10 words you just use? So can you maybe try that? And then you sound like a human? I've often said can you do this again, but but like a human being now.

Sage Tyrtle 59:20

I think that there is a tendency to think of what's on paper and what is being said as identical. And although as you say, my personal style is not dinner conversation, when I adapt a story that I've told on stage for paper, they are very, very different though they're telling exactly the same story so so I do think it's important to recognise that what will keep an audience's attention in theatre will not keep an audience's attention on paper and vice versa. They are such different tastes. And they have so many different ways to make each one strong. But but they do not translate. They don't translate directly. There must be changes made for for either medium.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:00:13

Yeah, no, I completely agree. And and it's an I think when people are good, then there is there's no shortage of styles that that work and work very well in people who have their personal preferences. But I do tend to find a bit, the problem I'm fighting against is not a problem you are mentioning, and I fully buy into the whole, you know, don't write it down and then try to memorise it because it sounds like you've memorised a written text. And that never comes across as natural. If you say it 10 times. And once you've now kind of got it in your head, you want to write it down, because for reference, Sure, no problem. But you you're writing down a normal story, you're not trying to tell a written story, they're very different things, to me is the easiest way for me to cut the lingo, or the corporate speak out of someone's storytelling or speaking, is to just say, how would you tell it to a mate, because if you wouldn't tell it this way, then that we have a bit of a problem here. And I'm not saying don't use if there was a short like one word that that like if you're gonna say steaks in have explaining what steaks are over, you know, 30 seconds or minutes, just say steaks, because everybody will understand what you're talking about. But don't say don't say, leverage your influence and 10 acts your impact when you just try and say you talk about a story?

Sage Tyrtle 1:01:35

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:01:37

So if people people want to want to find out more of your stuff, where what's the best place for them to go,

Sage Tyrtle 1:01:43

the best place is Tyr, I run a series of low cost writing workshops. 100% of the fee goes to the facilitator, they are 10 pounds, 17 Canadian dollars, about 14 American dollars. And they take place across a wide variety of time zones. So they accommodate a lot of people. We're also we I say we it's really just me, I'm also beginning a free writing group that's going to meet weekly, there are two versions one for one sort of group of time zones, and another for another group of time zones, which are open to everybody. And as I say, free so so I would be wonderful to see you at any of those workshops or at the writing group, which begins in late January.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:02:33

I'll put that on the show notes. But for anyone who's too lazy to check them, Her website is And turtle is spelled t y RTLE. So the same as the animal but with a Y instead of you, sage, thank you very much for your time this. This was great fun.

Sage Tyrtle 1:02:49

Thank you so much. I had a vault. Thank you for having me.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:02:52

Alright, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.

I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tab. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find this. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story

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