A Tale to Tell: Getting Beyond Small Talk with Booth Stories

By Tanya Fraser '15


C10 held about 20 students sitting on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, laptops closed (mostly) and phones down. The presenter, Samba Patnaik ’15, was recounting his stint on Chinese reality TV and the room was held in rapt attention. Patnaik slowly built up his story, winding through mini anecdotes and interjecting jokes or asides with a crackling fireplace projected on the three screens behind him. The theme: “What I did to impress someone.” The forum: Booth Stories.

Booth Stories is an informal storytelling hour during which students share personal stories on a theme in front of an audience of their classmates. Driven by a desire to learn more about her cohort, Linh Lam ‘15 launched the first event last December. She remarks, “I think it’s hard to get to know people (at Booth) because there are just so many easy and casual ‘small talk’ topics. You really have to invest a lot of time to get beyond that.” Lam had heard about storytelling traditions at other business schools that enable students to practice communication skills through the sharing of personal experiences. A follower of audio shows, The Moth and This American Life, she recognized a unique opportunity to build something similar at Booth. “Everyone here is amazing and awesome, says Lam, “it’s just a matter of asking the right questions and giving people an excuse to share.”

Students arrive with prepared stories on one theme that is distributed to the group ahead of time. Others, swept up in the moment, volunteer to share on the spot. “Everyone was really welcoming and encouraging,” says Booth Stories veteran, Shawn Thomas ‘15, “it quickly put my initial nervous jitters at ease.” For Lam, stories that stand out have two qualities: first, they reveal something surprising or unexpected about the teller and second, they are colorfully detailed. She notes, “Jason Arican (‘15) is the greatest storyteller of all time. The ones that stick make you feel like you were right there with them.” Attendee Melissa Liu ‘16 appreciated hearing about the motivations that led to particular choices noting, “What struck me most was the additional layer of insightit's another example of how Booth culture pushes us to be thoughtful about our experiences.”

Boothies’ appetite to organize around getting past the small talk goes back at least ten years. In 2005, for a series called, “Show and Tell,” participants brought personal items to the weekly sessions and did just that. Several years later, the Leadership and Influence group introduced a storytelling series and selected two to three speakers every week to share their personal and professional leadership experiences. Both events were sponsored by the Dean’s office. With three Booth Stories under her belt, Lam has already been approached about making Booth Stories an official group, but for now is happy about where things are.

Next month’s theme is inspired by Mortified Nation, a documentary about adults who share their most embarrassing childhood writings with strangers. Attendees are invited to dig through their old journals and letters they wrote and to read excerpts from their most interesting or awkward entries. You’ve been warned.

Tanya Fraser is a second year who loves stories and has had two careers sharing them: one for brands and one on stage.