What’s it like to be a Real Talk audience member?

There’s a certain kind of hush that comes over the room when a storyteller stands up to speak at a Real Talk storytelling session. Maybe a little hesitancy on the part of the performer, or perhaps nerves from the audience sat watching them, unsure exactly what they’ve got tickets for. People who have been here before sit calmly, knowing what will come but waiting to be surprised by the different approach this story takes.

Real Talk Storytelling for Wellbeing event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre - 28th February 2019.

Real Talk Storytelling for Wellbeing event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre - 28th February 2019.

The first time I attended a Real Talk storytelling session, I didn’t really know what to expect. I applied to volunteer without going to one. From a young age, the topic of mental health has impacted my life in many ways and I wanted to be involved in something that had an effect on the stigma that still prevails.

When at these events, I am in volunteer mode: I hand out surveys and pens, I stand at the back to take photos, and most recently, I live-tweeted a session. I always have one foot outside the process, outside the bubble in which somebody is talking openly and often emotionally about their own experience, thinking about the latecomer at the door waiting to come in…

However, around halfway through, this usually changes. I get sucked in. I always do. Maybe a story resonates with me on a personal level or I notice a change in the room’s atmosphere, a warmth that wasn’t there when these strangers walked in and sat down together. Discussion and question and answer sessions are great opportunities to decompress afterwards and have honest chats about what we just heard.

My favourite part of the night is usually when Lily asks anyone in the room to shout out one word that the night has made them think about. At first some people glance around, reluctant to be the first but once the initial word is spoken, the flood gates open and a stream of words pour out into the room: inspiring, eye-opening, humanity, etc. Every session is different but those words usually suggest a similar theme.

There’s something about being in a room full of people who listen to each other, and I mean really, truly listen, that changes how I think about how I interact with those around me. Over the course of the night, the audience and the speakers go through a process together of sharing stories, listening, and communicating around topics that are usually taboo or repressed. It’s a temporary community, a group of people united by an experience that can never be repeated.

Afterwards, people leave the room slowly, taking a moment to process what’s happened or chatting to other audience members they met for the first time at their shared table. Eventually it’s empty, the roller banner comes down, and the evening is over but the lasting effects remain.

Written by Molly - Real Talk Volunteer

Lily Asch