Reason #11 Why You Should Attend Greenhouse Open 2016 – Porchlight Storytelling

Our top 10 list of reasons to attend Greenhouse Open 2016 has just expanded!—We are excited to announce that improv storytelling series Porchlight will be featured, sure to add an engaging & fun aspect to our annual event, taking place May 25-27th in San Francisco. (For more information on Greenhouse Open, click here).

What Is Porchlight?

Porchlight has been San Francisco’s premier storytelling series since 2002. Each month, co-founders Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte invite six people onstage to tell 10-minute true stories without using notes or memorization. (Improvisation is key!). Past storytellers have included anyone and everyone—entertaining school bus drivers, mushroom hunters, politicians, socialites, musicians, systems analysts, and social workers. In addition to the monthly shows, Porchlight has worked with the San Francisco Film Festival, the San Francisco Sketchfest, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Bay Area Science Festival, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi, and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris. Beth and Arline’s popular podcast lets people all over the world get a little piece of the wild and diverse San Francisco Bay Area.

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Q&A

We recently chatted with Beth and Arline. Here’s what they had to say about why they started Porchlight, how storytelling can be used to shape your employer brand and sell your company to prospective candidates, and what they have in store for us at Greenhouse Open:

1. What inspired you to start Porchlight?

We met when we were working for SF Gate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle (Arline was a journalist and Beth was writing a nightlife column). So we were both writers interested in telling stories about the San Francisco Bay Area. We shared a cubicle and became fast friends and then discovered that we had both previously worked at the weekly paper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and had also dated guys in the same band. The Moth (“True Stories Told Live”) did a show in San Francisco around this time, and I did a story for them. I loved how simple the concept was. I had been involved in the national poetry slam scene in the '90s, and anyone could start their own slam in their city. So we thought, "Why not do that with a storytelling show?" We’re both from the San Francisco area, so we both knew a ton of people close by. We rounded up some friends at a club, and it was really successful right off the bat. It made us even more excited after that first show—the thought of all the different kinds of people and stories we could feature month after month.

2. Why have you chosen the storytelling format you’ve chosen? (specifically: 6 people; 10-minute true stories; no notes or memorization; brand new stories that haven’t been told elsewhere). How does this format enhance the experience for both the storyteller and the audience?

The format was taken from my experience with The Moth. Six presenters at 10 minutes each creates the perfect length for a show. We only added in the "brand new story" requirement a couple of years ago after live storytelling really took off, just so that we weren't getting people coming in and reciting something that sounded canned. We also added a short audience story into the mix. At intermission, people who are watching the show can put their name in a hat. That's always really fun. Listening to stories makes you think of your own stories, so it's great to have someone get up onstage who didn't think they were going to do so when they initially came to the show that night. This also helps fuel the improvisation aspect of the show.

3. On your website, you say: “What we are looking for are stories that feel fresh, risky, and not over-rehearsed.” Why do these elements make for the best stories, and how do stories that have these elements differ from their counterparts?

The main thing we've learned from doing our show for so long is that people love authenticity the most—authenticity in a story and in the person telling it. When people play it safe or worry too much about how they're being perceived by the audience, a very crucial element gets lost. One of the reasons people go see live performance is because they want to experience the energy and excitement of fellow humans engaging with them. A veteran performer or someone with natural talent can make a well-rehearsed story feel fresh, but a lot of people can't do that. And that's OK. If someone is onstage being real and they tell a story where they reveal something poignant about themselves or their life, that can often be enough.

Storytelling can be an art form and it can also be an interesting person talking about something weird that happened to them. In the best cases, it's both, but we'd rather listen to someone who is a little nervous and makes a few mistakes than feel like we are on the receiving end of a monologue that was practiced over and over again in the mirror.

4. The most important story that our core audience of recruiters and talent professionals tell is that of their company, which shapes their employer brand. What is your advice for creating a great company story, that makes companies stand out from their competitors?

Ha! We have no idea. We are definitely not corporate coaches. We do know, however, that authenticity resonates and that most people are equipped with pretty good B.S. detectors. We imagine that if a company understands its purpose, its reason for even existing, and why it's important in the industry, then that's where to start. People love personal details. They love the story of a journey, a struggle, a failure, a triumph. The challenge is in taking a non-human entity—a brand—and figuring out how the group of people running it have coalesced to create something unique and memorable. That's hard.

We do believe the language you use for the story is incredibly important. We heard a woman say the other day that at her company they "create content for edgy multicultural millennial moms," and it was such a turn-off even though that is probably exactly what they do. Was it the overused word "edgy"? The robotic sound of "creating content"? "Millennial" when perhaps "young" would have served just fine? Case in point: Pay attention to buzzwords and trendy phrases—and then don't use them. A woman once started her story with the greeting, "Hayyyy, bitches!" and it was so lame and inauthentic to who she truly was, that no one wanted to hear her tell her story for the next 10 minutes. (But then we've also seen that greeting work just fine coming from the right person).

5. How much of storytelling is about having a great story versus finding a way to connect with your audience? Which is more important?

The most bulletproof, killer story can fall flat if the person telling it can't connect with the audience. That said, you can still connect to an audience even if you are nervous, sweating, and stuttering. We've seen it! Showing vulnerability is hard and people recognize it when they see it. Having a great story is huge, but it's not essential. Out of six stories in a show, we might have one or two stories that are absolutely off-the-hook in themselves, but most of the storytelling works overall because the storyteller is an engaging person being genuinely who they really are.

6. What is the most memorable storytelling experience you have had personally, or seen someone else have on stage? What made it so impactful?

Some of our favorites are the one-offs—the people who come to tell the best story they have and the one they were really burning to tell. We've had a Jonestown survivor talk about getting out before the mass suicide, an alcoholic talk about why alcohol truly feels like medicine to him, and a Chinese dissident discuss government surveillance. There are always plenty of funny stories, but it’s the heavy ones that stick with you. That goes back to the vulnerability thing. It's so brave. Those of us listening feel privileged that they chose to share something so personal with us.

7. What do you have planned for us at Greenhouse Open?

We are presenting three of our favorite storytellers who will talk about jobs they have had. We don't want to spoil anything, but we've picked people who are funny and poignant and live their lives with a real sense of adventure. They'll definitely illustrate some of the points we've talked about here—about how opening up and being honest and detailed is essential for helping a story connect with an audience. And if it's anything like our regular shows, it will get everyone in the audience thinking about their own personal (and company!) stories—that’s our goal!


Check out the sure-to-be momentous Porchlight storytelling session at Greenhouse Open, May 25-27th in San Francisco. Click the button below for more information and to register!

Greenhouse Open 2016

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