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Pia Benosa and Dianne Mendoza only wanted to gather folks for a creative exercise; a monthly outlet similar to The Moth, where people can share their stories in front of other people, mostly strangers.

But in the two times that Word of Mouth has taken place, it’s become more than that. It’s become something of a hugot fest—excuse our comparison—where opening up and sharing stories in front of strangers have helped participants move on and heal.

This perhaps is the biggest revelation of Word of Mouth, the live monthly storytelling event put up by Pia and Dianne, two ex-colleagues sharing the love for literature: stories have power, not only to connect people but to connect you to your inner self.

It really is simple: Performers are given five minutes to share a real life story based on the theme. While there are general guidelines to the story—length and structure to avoid unnecessary rambling and rant—the story must be spontaneous; no scripts, no notes. And they don’t have to be heartbreaking: funny will cut it, as random, pragmatic, and cute do.

The second Word of Mouth was held at Z Hostel with the theme “Getting There”

It is the flagship project of Hulma Collab, a non-profit that aims to promote community-based participatory art and literary initiatives in the country. “As Hulma takes off, we envision the continuous growth of Word of Mouth through more storytelling sessions, a podcast, and even an anthology of select stories,” Pia says.

But at the moment, Word of Mouth is limited to 10 speakers per event—though the debut session, held at Legaspi Makati’s Local Edition, featured 11 speakers telling their stories about “Starting Over.”

“We are surprised at the number of people who are enthusiastic about participating as storytellers, baring their all to strangers, that we had to defer interested storytellers for the second edition, to the third on happening in May,” Pia says on email.

The organizers don’t “select” participants. They juyst fill up the slate in the order of the interested party’s confirmation. “Of course in the beginning, we invited people we knew were comfortable with public speaking or performance. We had people we knew recommending people they knew,” says Pia, essentially describing a word of mouth process for Word of Mouth.

Dianne and Pia at the first Word of Mouth

“We chose ‘Starting Over’ because we were starting this new project after a long hiatus from organizing book launches, book club meetings and literary festivals,” Pia says, referencing their past at the National Book Development Board where Dianne was Pia’s boss.

It was there where Dianne tapped one of her friends Charisse Vilchez, a PR practitioner, who, so moved by the experience, she became a volunteer helping out the girls organize the events. “I said yes in a heartbeat,” Charisse begins, “but that same night, I saw the person who played a huge role in my ‘Starting over’ phase. I kept thinking, ‘Am I ready to share my story?’ I wanted to back out but then I believe that there’s a reason why she asked me and there was this voice telling me to just got for it.”

She did and was immediately rewarded with three things: “I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking, sharing my story became part of the healing process, and I fell in love with the community that I volunteered to help.”

The second Word of Mouth had two participants backing out last minute that Dianne and Char—Pia is currently in the US pursuing her studies—decided to hold an open mic portion should any guests of Z Hostel, where the event took place in April, want to join. “A traveler from the US volunteered to share his “Getting There” story. We learned that he worked in China for a couple of years and is now in the Philippines to do a documentary,” Char enthusiastically shares.

Charisse Vilchez at the first Word of Mouth sharing her “Starting Over” story

When Dianne and Pia first conceived of The Word of Mouth—after Dianne had attended two Moth shows in the US—the two “thought it was just going to be more of a creative exercise for people who would be coming up to share stories,” Dianne says. “But in the first two sessions, we’ve seen how sharing has helped people heal when they open themselves up and tell their stories.”

The third edition of Word of Mouth will take place on May 20 at Testify Coffee and Rare Finds in Quezon City, with the theme “Game Changers.”

You don’t have to tell a story to attend a Word of Mouth. Pia says people can just go and listen. “There is a modest admission fee for the venue rental, as well as to give simple tokens to volunteer storytellers. Don’t worry, we won’t, and can’t force people who come in as listeners to become a story teller, though we do give the audience a change to participate by writing short answers to questions relevant to the theme.”

Says Dianne, “Stories can be a powerful tool to help us reconnect and see that there’s more to someone than what we initially thought, even people we think we already know. You’ll never know how much a person can surprise you once they start telling their story.”

The third edition of Word of Mouth is happening on May 20 at Testify Cafe. Check out the event page and volunteer to share your story!


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