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My Best Friend’s Wedding Taught Me About Storytelling

A few weeks ago, I attended my Best Friend’s Wedding in Savannah, where I was tasked with delivering a toast. Despite my years of experience on stages and my passion for the written word, I was terrified. How would I sum up a 15-year friendship in five minutes? Would people think what I had to say was funny? Touching? Inappropriate? Would my best friend and her husband regret their choice to have me speak at their big day?

As someone who is constantly working on not taking things personally, this talk was big time personal. But, when all was said and done, there were laughs and tears and kudos. Over a handful of people approached to let me know my speech was the best speech they had heard—EVER. I was stunned.

That night, after the wedding and post wedding events, I went back to my hotel room and sobbed. Partly, because of the mix of feelings that arose from seeing my best friend in the world find happiness, but also because I knew that all of the hard work I had put into my speech was not in vain. People loved it. Most importantly, my best friend loved it. My work had been acknowledged. That night, I was once again reminded that my presence in this world makes a difference.

The next few days, I reflected on why that toast was so successful. I realized it had truly been an exercise in storytelling. For those of you who are already adept at telling stories as part of your business or in your life, or for those who are looking to start incorporating stories personally or professionally, here are my most recent lessons and suggestions.

Actually Tell a Story (or Three)
This may seem obvious, but do you ever notice how people actually don’t do this? A story has a beginning, middle and end. It has a conflict, drama and characters. It has a climax and a resolution. These are basic elements of storytelling that must not be forgotten.

But also, over the course of this five-minute toast, I managed to tell snippets of at least three stories. Each of these “mini” stories flowed out of the previous and each was an essential part of one big tale—in this case the tale of how an unrequited crush led to an unbreakable friendship. With each build, the audience was left in suspense of what would come next. The end of the story tied everything together.

Make Sure You Are Passionate About The Chosen Topic
The best stories are riddled with passion, be it in the writing or the way they are told in person. Not a problem in this circumstance. Of course, I’m passionate about my best friend and our friendship. Though, in the past, I’ve also written about topics that that really didn’t interest me at all.

Writing for the sake of writing, speaking for the sake of speaking … this just doesn’t work. You need to have a point of view about things you want to communicate if you plan to communicate them clearly and create an emotional connection with people. Apathy never leads to a strong POV. Not in life and not for brands.

Make It Personal Through Emotional Details
Essentially, throughout the course of my tale, I reminded my BFF of how our friendship came to be. I added specific dialogue that felt like both of us at that time in our lives. In our early 20’s, we were both a mixture of ambition, insecurity, jealousy and boldness. The conversations I included in the speech highlighted that complexity and gave the story more depth and realism.

Interrupt The Status Quo
Google how to write a great wedding speech and you will most surely see the words “Do not mention an ex” written in multiple articles. However, that is exactly what I did, numerous times. This particular ex was an essential part of the story. Bringing him up was part puzzling, part shocking and part amusing for the audience—exactly the reaction I’d hoped for when his name originally popped into my head a few weeks ago.

Get Over Looking Bad Or Stupid
Years ago I took a few improvisation classes in Los Angeles at The Second City. My key takeaway from this training was simple. Sometimes you just need to go for it.

You can tell when people are holding back in life, right? You can also tell when people hold back in their writing, talks or performances. The times when I’ve had the courage to go “all in” have been the times I’ve been the most proud of my work and generally when my words were best received.

Stories are meant to be told because people want to hear them. Stories remind us we are not alone. So tell one. Tell more than one. Even for all you introverts, or extroverted introverts like me, I promise if you practice sharing yourself, it will soon become a habit like everything else.

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Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

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Photo via Elephant Archives

“It is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends.” ~Joan Didion

15 was a good age, one of the best for me. It was the age of adventure, dreams, and above all, friendship.

When I was a teenager, I had a few close girlfriends who made up—basically—my whole world. They were slightly older than I was and in my mind they were bad asses—I tried to emulate them.

They taught me to stick up for myself and to question authority. They taught me that life wasn’t all about getting good grades and creating a resume for college applications. They brought me to my first parties and skip days.

I saw them as family, as the big sisters I’d wished for as a little girl. They were there to listen to the excitement of my first kiss, my first crush, and the stories of every hope and heartbreak a girl has at 15.

They were there for everything.

Then, in what seemed like an instant, they were gone. Each graduated high school and went off to college, leaving me alone in my small town to fend for myself and figure out my own way. This was my first real experience coping with loss.

For a long time—more than 10 years—I thought they would return. I thought that even though we’d lost touch quite quickly after they left, memories of the times we’d shared together would bring them back to me. I knew one day I would find them or they would find me.

Then over a decade after I lost them, one day the magic of the Internet brought them back to me.

Now that we were in our 20s and free to do whatever we wanted, I imagined we would relive all the crazy things we did as girls—as women—and do the things we’d always dreamed of together. I expected to feel that same connection we shared as teens.

But expectations rarely lead to happiness, and the reunion I’d hoped for did not come to pass.

My friends were not the same as I’d remembered. They each had a family, cars, and houses in the suburbs while I was single and living in New York City, still chasing my dreams and buying metro cards. My world didn’t mesh with theirs anymore. I remember thinking we didn’t have that much to say to each other.

“It was good to see you,” I told them after a few hours together.

It was good—and now it was over. Actually it had ended all those years before but I couldn’t see that. I didn’t want to see because if I saw it, I’d have to accept that those friendships had run their course. I had not been ready to let go of the past quite yet.

Saying goodbye to those friendships meant saying goodbye to 15.

Intrinsically I know goodbyes are a part of life, but I still hate to say them. More than anything else, I hate it when people go away. Even though I know it’s not the truth, it always feels like those people are leaving me. Oddly enough, I rarely think about the times I’ve left people—physically or mentally. I wonder if those people felt the same sadness at the end.

Now, I understand that this is the way it goes. The universe places people in our lives for a period of time and eventually it takes them out. I truly believe we are meant to learn from each relationship, and when we stop learning from it the relationship ends.

Sometimes we actually need it to end in order to grow up and move on.

I’m grateful for the friendships I had as a teenager. They were real, powerful and in many ways unlike any I’ve had since. They helped shape the woman I would become and taught me how I wanted to show up for the friendships I’d create in my future. But I know that I don’t need them to be happy anymore. I don’t need them to be me.

Turns out the thing I was most afraid of saying goodbye to wasn’t worth worrying about after all. That 15 year-old girl never really went away. She’s still there pushing me forward, helping me find the strength to be vulnerable, and reminding me to go out in the world and have fun.

Click here to read the original article on Elephant Journal.