As a professional public speaker, Michel Neray has had plenty of opportunities over the years to hear some top-notch presentations and performances.
What came as a surprise was the amount of demand from others wanting to hear and share stories.
Neray, who lives in the Bathurst and Eglinton area, is the driving force behind MoMondays, a monthly storytelling event that allows professionals and newcomers to take the stage to speak of incidents or experiences that stand out.
“I started it because I was a professional speaker and this was just a way for myself and my friends to rehearse bits and practice bits,” he said.
Neray was inspired by the open-mic stand-up comedy scene in Toronto, in particular the regular open mic at Spirits Bar and Grill, hosted by comedy stalwart Jo-Anna Downey.
“In comedy, there are open mics all over the place, but there’s nothing like this for public speakers,” Neray said.
MoMondays started out small, with just a few public speakers gathering at a tea house near Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue. As word spread, MoMondays quickly outgrew that space and moved to the Trane jazz bar before the event became too popular for that venue as well.
“It grew so much bigger than I expected,” Neray said. “I asked a lot of people ‘what made you come out here?’ and a lot of people said they wanted to go on stage and tell their stories but a lot of people just love the atmosphere and get inspired hearing other people’s stories.”
Whereas many public speaking engagements have a networking component, MoMondays serves simply as a way for people to share experiences in an informal setting. While many of the stories are funny, they are not as cynical as stand-up comedy routines tend to be.
“People have incredible personal stories,” Neray said. “A couple of months ago, we had a French teacher who left Toronto in 2008 to teach in Rwanda who told a beautiful story talking not about what she taught them but about what they taught her.”
While every MoMondays event features professional speakers, they typically break from their usual routines and share more personal stories. Neray recalled that Whetstone president and CEO Adrian Davis spoke of his early struggles when he was forced to sleep in a stairwell, while professional speaker Tim Hurson shared some of the difficulties his family faced when trying to split a will.
“There are great speakers, but some of the best performers and speakers we have are people who are going up (on stage) for the first time in their life,” Neray said. “They tell stories that are really from the heart and that are so powerful in their honesty and authenticity.”
MoMondays currently take place the last Monday of every month at the Pilot Tavern, and additional events take place in the Oakville/Burlington area and in Winnipeg. Neray is hoping to expand the events to four more cities over the next two months and is even looking at eventually expanding into the Middle East to help foster a spirit of communication and understanding.
For more information on MoMondays, visit www.momondays.com