Storytelling

by | Jun 16, 2011

Please indulge me for a wistfully creative moment…

Before I became an event amplifier, I studied Creative Writing and New Media, where I learnt various techniques for telling stories using digital media. Many of these inform the way I work today, but I rarely get the opportunity to be really creative, as most of my activities revolve around reporting and presenting the story of an event in a factual way.

However, I often wonder: why don’t conference organisers tell stories to present their event more creatively? Short stories told through images, video or audio in the run up to an event could help with marketing, and effectively communicate the context of the event without subjecting potential delegates to a wall of dry text listing often over-inflated aims and objectives. You can also present something of the character of the event, which might help to attract the right people. Make them good enough, and people will share them via social networks, thus promoting your event for you.

To be clear, I am not talking about viral adverts. In my admittedly purist view, conferences should be brought together to review and solve problems for their target community. Where there are problems, there are stories which can stand alone and entertain. The story, whether dramatic or comic, will establish a context for your event, which the viewer might associate with either intellectually or emotionally. A link to your event at the end is then all you need. You have given someone some entertainment, made them think about an issue they might be facing in different way, and established a connection between this story and your event. They could even engage further by voting for the character’s next move to complete the story, which could be shown at the event itself.

This wouldn’t necessarily be an easy undertaking. You’d need a good writer and quite a lot of insight into your event’s audience to be able to create something that your audience will empathise and engage with. Many commercial organisers may not have the time to get this level of insight, nor do they necessarily have an appropriately skilled writer on their team. Marketing departments are often geared up to think in terms of promo videos and brochure copy, rather than in terms of stories.

There is also not just the quality of the storytelling itself to worry about, but the quality of the production. Producing professional videos can be extremely expensive and time consuming. However, there are lots of different, more cost effective options to make a well written story come alive on the web. I’ve experimented with a number of different ways of creating online stories which can be achieved relatively cheaply, including:
 

Podcasting

 
Get yourself a good microphone, find someone with a good reading/acting voice and some royalty-free background music, and you can produce some effective pieces. If your audience are used to receiving content via podcast, this will be a great way to reach them with something a bit different.
 

Machinima

 
If you want to produce an animated video, try using screen casting software to capture video footage from a virtual environment like Second Life, then overlay an audio track. There are areas of Second Life where permission is granted to film, which are listed here. Circulate this via video sharing sites to help people discover and share your video.
 

Comic strips

 
If no-one wants to appear in a video, have some fun taking melodramatically posed photographs and use these to create a comic strip version. This could be animated with audio (the easiest way would be to screen cast a PowerPoint presentation transitioning between the images, then overlay the audio), or simply circulated as an image via a photo sharing site like Flickr.
 

Conclusions

 
To be successful, such a project would need to be both original and well executed. It would undoubtedly fall within the marketing budget for the event, rather than under the amplification, but could be more effective than traditional marketing materials at building an engaged online audience around these digital objects in advance of the event, if structured the right way. Many of these techniques could also be used to create some more imaginative representations of an event as part of the post-event coverage.

Might be fun to try out anyway!
 
Photo Credit: Chris.
 
 
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