001: Rita Boersma - On Story Truth


Well, here we go!  It's the first one.  Wheeeeee! And I can't think of a better way to go about this adventure than by starting with Rita Boersma. Rita and I have worked together for many years at Youth Frontiers (YF) - a wonderful nonprofit whose vision is to change the way young people treat each other in schools across America. It's an easy organization to love! At YF, we speak to thousands of students and teachers every week - so it's an awesome place to hone the craft of public speaking. Shoutout to YF!

We talked about a lot of big ideas, including humor, storytelling and improv - among many others.

And dear listeners/readers/friends and all others: thanks for jumping in with me.

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(Drum roll please... )


On mastering the balance of content you've scripted and letting go in the delivery... 

"...I was saying something important, and these kids were hearing it, and it was affecting them... and when I could finally be comfortable enough with that talk that I SAW the kids in front of me and realized who I was talking to, it clicked in me. I have to make sure that I see them - that I see my audience every day.  That helps me find that balance, and know these words are in me... I know the things I want to say, so I don't get so caught up in how exactly I've scripted it out.  It helps me get out of my head and just notice the people I'm talking to."

On how difficult subject matter impacts the process and delivery...

"I can't get up there and lie to them... not because they shouldn't believe this, but that they shouldn't believe it from me. I had to have that script so in me, and know the language I was going to use or I wouldn't have made it through.  The words were my safety net. My insecurity and self-doubt and everything that I'm trying to get them to rally against is eating me alive in front of them!  I had to grab on to what I had mapped out so I wouldn't lose it... "

The power of comedy...

Chris Bliss: Comedy is a verbal magic trick.  They think they're going one direction, but that joke can take them in another direction. Humor brings us mental joy, and sends endorphins into our brains - so it helps us talk about really sensitive issues.

In Rita's work at Youth Frontiers, we use humor to let students hear us through the humor - which opens them up to these ideas.

Feeling all of the feelings...

It can be so infuriating when people speak without feeling. And Rita MEANS IT when she speaks.  That is the only way a talk can be transformative.

Rita's Purpose as a speaker...

Inspired by this quote by GK Chesterton:

"Fairy tales are more than real, not because they tell us that dragons exist but because they make us believe that we can beat them."

That's what Rita is out there to do every day.  

"Kids know that there are 'dragons' in their school and their lives that they deal with, and I am out there to make them believe that they can beat those dragons. To give them hope, and what it could be, and to empower them to fight for that."  

Story Truth Vs. Happening Truth...

Happening truth is just not as important as story truth. Like Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which he calls - "The truest war story that never actually happened."

Where does it turn into manipulation? It's not about fabrication (we can tell fabrication); it's about finding the truth of the story for you.

"So when a kid comes up to you and asks you when it's done and you've done your job and written it well and you've connected the way you need to connect to, and he asks you if it's true, you can say yes, because it's true for all of us."

Like A Million Little Pieces - and Oprah being upset because the Memoir's story truth wasn't happening truth.

Or like

Lying by Lauren Slater, where she uses epilepsy as a metaphor to explain how she feels.

Both help because we as speakers grapple with the value and importance of story truth.


This Moved Me Moment:

Robin Williams death. His job was to give joy to everyone else, and he had no outlet for himself. The

Chris Bliss TED talk helped - Comedy as Translation.


- Not deep, but really sweet: Lip Dub "I think I want to marry you Engagement video... love it, until the end, when he asks her.  Then I think we should all leave so they can be alone. :)


You can find Rita on Twitter at @ritemaria, or catch her performing at various places throughout the Twin Cities, including HUGE Theater and Comedy Sportz.