Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chicago Ideas Week: "Storytellers" Talk

[On Monday, I arrived back in Chicago after a long weekend visiting my family in Kansas.  It was just what I needed... time to relax and catch up with people I love, lots of food and some shopping too.  I took a little blogging break, but I'm back now!]

Last week, I attended one of the Chicago Ideas Week talks, "Storytellers: The Power of Perspective."  (The full week's agenda included so many amazing topics... I wish I'd had time to go to more of the events!)

Storytelling is important to me as a writer, but beyond that, it's a part of all types of art forms.  To that end, the talk presented different perspectives on the topic of storytelling.  Bonus: due to a last minute switch, the moderator of the talk was Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (one of our book club picks!).

I wrote pages of notes during the 90-minute presentation.  Here are the highlights... phrases and paraphrases pulled from my scribbles:


There is a need to share in each other's human experiences.
Delivery methods of storytelling may change.

Rebecca Skloot - Author

Use storytelling to teach people.
Memory and emotion are connected.  Emotional stories are the ones we remember.
Good storytellers follow their curiosity and their passion.
Start with a "what" moment.  Ask "what" and go in that direction, look into it.
It's possible to trace stories back to something the storyteller was interested in before age 18.
Obsession is an essential part of story telling.
The biggest mistake of young writers is trying to figure out where the story is going before they finish their reporting.  It skews the story.
You never know how one sentence can change someone's life.
Stories are what you can learn from others.  Pay attention to your own stories.

Arun Chaudhary - Political Artist, Former Official White House Videographer

Craft the narrative.
At the heart of every story is authenticity.
Time on camera reveals who a person is naturally.
Video allows you to show, not tell.
Old adage in politics: when you're explaining, you're losing.
It's not just about the facts.  People want the story.
Transparency is a discipline.  Consistency is important.
Give information even when people aren't asking, not just as a response.

Susan Credle - Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett USA

Brands do have stories to tell.
"Storytelling will be over when the world is perfect."
Stories show us worlds we've never known, get our attention, shift us.
On our best day, we start to change the way people feel and live, the world.
Ads have finite time - 15, 30, 60 seconds.
Brands are like characters - what's their role or purpose?
The traditional way of telling stories is shifting a bit, moving from broadcast to an oral tradition.
Ads start stories that people are passing around, adding onto, etc. (for example, Secret's "Mean Stinks" campaign).

Carol Edgarian - Co-Founder, Narrative Magazine; Bestselling Author

"We become what we think about all day long" - Emerson
Fiction: people want to know if it's true.
New technology provides immediacy and intimacy.
If it isn't fact, is it less real? (for example, reality TV vs. a classic novel)
Reading addresses our want for connection.
Slow down enough to look behind and beneath things.
Where do stories come from?  It's a mystery... where I feel most urgent, afraid.
It's as if the book is already written, up on a high shelf.
Stories ask questions.
How do stories today find readers?
Readers are confused by the uncurated noise.
We need standards of excellence online.
The book as a vehicle for story is fairly new.
Death of the book does not mean death of story.
How people get our stories--that's structure.  What's important is quality.

A.J. Jacobs - Bestselling Author

His writing: "immersive storytelling" or "method writing"
Anthropology allows us to observe and participate.
In reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, he found the good outweighs the bad and progress is real.
In reading the Bible and trying to follow all 700+ rules within it, he learned that if you act as if you're a better person, you become one.
Change your behavior, and your mind follows.
Gratitude: give thanks all the time.
Hundreds of things go right every day, but we focus on the three or four that go wrong.
Stories allow the reader to see the world through different eyes, encourages empathy.

How is storytelling a part of your life?  Did any of these speakers' points resonate with you?


  1. The chicken tortilla soup was delicious...the first time and when reheated the next evening. Glad you posted it! Nice to see you and your Mom briefly after Mass.

  2. So glad you liked the soup! It was great to see you too. I love visiting home :)


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