By Stephanie Thompson
Name: Mark Lovett
Course: Storytelling with Impact
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is more than just a line from a Broadway smash hit. Instructor Mark Lovett has built a career and a passion for helping people tell their best story. He spent 25 years in the world of corporate storytelling as a c-level executive before changing lanes to work in the world of TEDx events, speaker coaching and storytelling workshops. He has worked with numerous CEOs and executives, writers, entrepreneurs, and military personnel to help them craft impactful narratives. This was his fourth year organizing TEDxSanDiego (founded in 2010) and he co-organized TEDxMonumento258 (the first cross-border TEDx event) and TEDxDonovanCorrectional (a TEDx event held in a San Diego prison). This is his first time teaching a course at UC San Diego Extension. He says, “Almost everyone I’ve ever met has a story worth telling. It may not be life-changing or earth-shattering, but every time I talk to people and I dig into who they are or what’s important to them, invariably they come up with a story of something they believe in or something they’re passionate about, or something that happened in their life worth sharing. Often people who say they don't have anything to share, I find it to be the opposite.”
How did you get started with TEDx?
It started in 2009 when I was consulting for a gentleman named Jack Abbott, who started TEDxSanDiego in 2010, in one of the first wave of TEDx’s to be launched around the world. I went to that first event and I thought it was amazing. It was the difference between watching a music video and going to a live concert. To be able to see the speakers on stage, to interact with the audience, to feel the energy, the laughter, the applause—it was very different from just watching the video.
In 2012, I was invited to speak at TEDxNewBedford, on the East Coast, so I got to see it from the inside, what it’s like to be a speaker. In 2013 Jack Abbott invited me to co-organize TEDxSanDiego, which got me into the administrative side of it, and then I like to say after that event he slipped some drugs into my wine, and I woke up the next day holding the license to TEDxSanDiego.
What are you looking for in a TEDx talk?
The TED mantra is “Ideas worth spreading.” So this isn’t just a campfire story. The talk should contain a very specific idea, with value associated with it, and that people will perceive as worth telling other people about. I tell them the audience should see the world differently after hearing your talk.
Is there a particular topic or kind of speaker we get more of in San Diego than in other markets?
We’re blessed here with a lot of tech and science, both on the practical side with Qualcomm and Illumina and so forth as well as the research side with places like the Salk Institute and all the universities. A lot of other cities don’t have that, especially if they’re a smaller city. San Diego’s population is about 3 million people, so finding 12 speakers each year is still a challenge, but I have a lot to draw on. We also sometimes go outside the region to find speakers.
How does what you’re doing at TEDx tie into the course you teach at Extension?
My tagline is “Storytelling with impact”—helping people tell stories that have the power to affect other people’s lives. I’m not really interested in fictional stories or campfire stories or “What I did on my summer vacation.” These are ideas people think other people should hear. Over six weeks, I will take the participants to a point where they’re going to stand up in front of the class and tell a five-minute story in a fashion that really focuses on impact.
How is your field changing?
I think storytelling has become more top of mind over the past five or six years. Between TED and TEDx, they’re going to get over a billion views on YouTube this year. Storytelling is everywhere. If you get a scientist who’s working on something for 20 years and you give them 12 minutes on stage, they have to tell a story in a way that people can understand it and assimilate it. I think corporations are seeing that and moving in that direction. Every single facet of a company comes down to story—how you market yourself, how you handle customer responses, how you interact with each other. It’s story in a different way than just throwing out a bunch of data or a tagline or a marketing blurb—it's connecting who they are to the people that they serve.
What advice would you give someone looking to do what you do?
Ten years ago if somebody told me I was going to be into storytelling, I would have laughed, although from a very young age I’ve been mesmerized by the power of the spoken word to transfer images and stories to others. When I was ten years old and my mom thought I was sleeping, I would actually pull out my little battery-powered radio and listen to old radio dramas like Sherlock Holmes and the Green Hornet. So even though I took a very long break and did some corporate storytelling in between, when I got into TEDx I renewed that passion for storytelling.
If you want to get into what I do, number one, you really have to have a passion for storytelling. I would not advise getting into this just because it sounds like an interesting topic. If it’s not in your DNA, it’s not going to come out right. The other thing is to just study it. A couple of months ago I was at TEDxMileHigh in Denver, and that was my 50th TEDx event. I’ve been to TEDx events from San Diego, LA, and Berkeley to New York, London, and Berlin, and I’ve seen a thousand speakers on stage—and I’m still learning. I still find something different in every single story. I’m in this constant state of evolution of my storytelling skills and practices, and I’m always incorporating new things into what I do.
Learn more about Extension's Performing Arts courses on our website, or contact the department by phone at (858)534-5760 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.