Being a storyteller in the digital age can sometimes feel like a double-edged sword. On one end, you can potentially tell your story to literally the whole world. At the other end, there are so many stories already being told, it can feel like you’re shouting in the void. We had the pleasure of talking to Evelyn from the Internets about what it takes to tell a compelling story, and how she is able to do so across multiple channels and platforms.
Evelyn from the internets
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Channel Type: People
User Created: Oct 28th, 2007
Evelyn Ngugi is a filmmaker, writer, comedian and host who has been making online video content since 2008.
Her all-encompassing term for what she does is digital storyteller. Across multiple platforms, Evelyn uses wit, experiences and knowledge to engage audiences in compelling stories.
Evelyn’s desire to tell stories dates back to her childhood. She reflects how, “…When I was younger I would burn things onto cassette tape, then DVD. And then when the Internet was more accessible to me, I would find ways to host things online. And YouTube was really the first place that you could host videos online and that was super interesting to me.”
Pursuing this further, Evelyn went to college where she studied magazine journalism. She admits that at that time, she knew she wasn’t going to get a job at a physical magazine. But she saw potential.
“I took the magazine specialty because I wanted to learn how to write really long stories or follow someone around for a month and turn it into a story. And so at my particular university, the only program that I felt would teach me that skill of long term reporting was the magazine department. So I went with that.”
Today, Evelyn posts videos on her personal channel Evelyn From The Internets. There she shares videos covering everything from personal stories to stories that explore ideas of race and culture. Her internet musings have led her to become a co-writer and co-host for a PBS digital studio series called SayItLoud. It’s a show about black history and black cultures. She has also hosted shows for the educational YouTube Channel Crash Course.
Finding and telling stories is what Evelyn is all about. She explains, “The stories I like to tell are usually stories that have to do with culture or when you noticed your cultural differences or similarities. When you feel welcomed in and when you feel excluded. I like to kind of tap into what it means to feel like you belong or not.”
Telling your story
Every story has a beginning, middle and end. But if you want your story to stand out, you have to do more than what is standard. For Evelyn Ngugi, WHY you’re telling the story is almost more important than what your story is about. She explains, “I think what a lot of people are missing from their stories is the why. So I think a lot of the times people tell a storytime or they share their emotions but then there’s no tie-in to the larger theme of life.” Connecting to that larger theme allows people to not only enjoy your story but relate to it as well.
An example of this is in Evelyn’s video called “The Only Chocolate Chip In The Cookie Dough” where she shares how it feels to be the only black person in the room. Looking back she explains, “…I could just say that ‘there’ve been a lot of times where I’m the only black person in the room’, but my stories (and visuals) tied to the larger concept [of] belonging or feeling included or left out. So people can latch onto those bigger concepts regardless of maybe what the story actually was.”
Specificity is key
In an effort to reach a larger audience, many believe you need to cast the widest net to get the biggest reach. Evelyn from the Internets believes the contrary.
“I think what makes a good digital story is being as specific as possible. Communicating how things make you feel because of who you are and the way you move through the world lets other people kind of decide whether it’s relevant to them.”
By being very specific about her experience and her perspectives, Evelyn has found that she actually connects to more people from different backgrounds than she expected. Expecting that, “…if you are like a black woman who lives in the south, you’ll probably understand my references. But I also run into like middle-aged dads. [Or] I get a lot of comments from older ladies who are like, ‘You know, I’m old enough to be your grandma but I love your videos.’ So it’s always interesting.”
In the PBS Digital Studios series SayItLoud, Evelyn from the Internets uses her specific perspective as the lens in which she sees Black culture, context and history.
“So I represent the perspective of a black person in America who’s history here is relatively recent. My parents moved here in the ’80s. So I have one perspective about the country and life here. And then the other co-host is the descendant of people who were enslaved.” Their respective backgrounds allow them to tell unique stories from their perspective as it applies to each topic they cover.
Finding new stories
Drawing from personal experience is a great way to start telling stories. But how do you discover new stories? Part of that is knowing your tastes. Evelyn from the Internets tends to listen to the kind of stories she likes to tell. She describes how she likes listening to, “…stories that are funny, that are about what does someone do when faced with a decision or a problem. I like listening to stories that are insightful and also don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Additionally, she listens to herself and lets her mind figure out the story first before even turning the camera on. “I always say I’m an avid talk-to-myself-out-loud type of person. So whether it’s in the shower, in the car, while I’m cleaning, while I’m cooking, I always have like this dialogue going in my head of things.” She details how it’s good to let your mind wander because, for her, it allows her to find her perspective on the subject. Evelyn says, “ I make sure every once in a while when I drive somewhere I don’t have Spotify on just to let my mind actually wander in a healthy way. And so wherever my mind ends up wandering to is usually what [my] videos end up being.”
From there she writes the ideas down for reference. That way, when she gets to the point of filming she is just referring back to her notes and can focus on telling the story instead of trying to figure it out. She recalls, “Back in the day, I used to sit in front of my camera and just start talking and I would have to edit 45 minutes of me talking. And that’s just not … like who has the time anymore? In this economy? No.”
Another great way to find new stories is to collaborate and listen to other people. Evelyn from the Internets shares how she works closely with her little brother to bring a lot of her stories to life visually: “I collaborate with my little brother a lot and because we have that sibling telepathy; we’re kind of on the same wavelength when it comes to visuals. We use editing as comedy on top of the actual comedy of what we’re saying or doing.”
Advice for aspiring storytellers
When it comes to sharing your story online, one of the biggest hurdles to get over is getting started. Evelyn shares, “The biggest piece of advice is you have to be internally motivated because if you are motivated by things outside of yourself, like views or really any sort of feedback, you might be disappointed.” This can be a challenge since the dream of many storytellers online is to be seen and recognized.
“You have to be motivated to get your story OUT,” she explains, “not your need to get the stories SEEN.” This is a regular practice for Evelyn Ngugi, as she describes, “Every time I make something I have to make that conscious decision that what matters is that I made it. Not if it gets seen.”
Additionally, she shares that her background allows her to stay grounded and focus on the story. She shares, “What keeps me grounded is remembering this is a website. Like, a website. Like ‘am I really going to get stressed out over a dot com?’ Don’t do that to yourself.”
Evelyn continues, “And what helps me honestly is — which is why I’m kind of worried about the younger generation — is since none of this existed when we were younger, I’m able to detach my existence from it. Because I’ve existed before it, I know I’m going to exist after it and so that’s always helped me.”
This relationship to the internet has been a big help to Evelyn Ngugi when it comes to balancing internet life and offline life. She admits, “I feel like I’ve always tried to temper people’s expectations. At the end of every video, I’m like “See you on the Internet somewhere.” I did not tell you where or when, but I said somewhere, so it’s inevitable, we’ll cross paths eventually.”
Keep telling stories
Though it can feel overwhelming, the most essential aspect of being a storyteller is to tell your story. Regardless of whether the masses see it or not, you have a story to tell. And though the internet may seem like a place that has enough stories on it, it does not have your specific story. As Evelyn Ngugi advises, discover why you want to tell your story and be specific about your perspective. Get your story out on the internet. Then go live your life offline so you can discover more stories to tell.