My stories used to ramble across hill and dale and sit down for a nice turkey sandwich before eventually ambling off to the end.
But producers only give you seven minutes on stage to tell a story. So I set a timer and timed my story. I came in at twenty minutes. Positive that there was something wrong with the timer, I tried again. But this time I cut out the bit about the boat ride.
There was nothing wrong with the timer – I was at 18 minutes the second time – but I realized that I’d accidentally hit upon the solution.
I set the timer (making sure I couldn’t see it, so it didn’t distract me) and told the story again. This time I cut out the ferris wheel and my grandma. 14 minutes.
It took two weeks, but eventually I whittled away at the story, cutting out the deadwood, and I hit the magical 7 minute number. (Then I did a big happy dance all over the living room with Peter the cat. Peter was not as happy as I was.)
Why did this work?
I heard my story. Over and over and over and over again. And because I heard it a hundred times, I knew what I could cut and eventually my story was tight, simple, compelling and exactly the right length.
How can you shorten your story?
1. Set a timer, make sure you can’t see it.
2. Tell your story. Note the time.
3. Tell again, cutting out unnecessary bits.
4. Repeat until goal is met.
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