STORYTELLING is a CRAFT...you have to have a PASSION for capturing, telling, and sharing stories. This blog is dedicated to that craft. What is your story? We are listening.
Here I lay in bed thinking, nine years ago Saturday…I was boarding a plane for Houston. Katrina was slamming into New Orleans and I was on a plane with a bunch of my colleagues…headed right into the aftermath.
This one event changed my life…I came back from those 10 days in New Orleans a different person. I did not tell and amazing story, capture an unbelievable image, write some amazing copy…I did my job. My job was to support WWL-TV, a Belo owned television station whom had the only transmitter sending out a live signal before, during, and after the storm. Why…because a few years previous, Belo just invested millions of dollars to raise the transmitter 20 feet.
It was this night that WWL-TV broadcasted live and CBS News broadcasted their local coverage nationally. This is one of the first major news events to stream live across the Internet, and it took so many hits…it fried Belo Interactive’s servers.
I was a part of team that just helped keep WWL-TV on air along with supporting all local and regional news gathering initiatives. We were not just going to outlying areas for the 6 o’clock news…we were broadcasting raw video elements 24/7. This was not only for public consumption, but also so local, regional, and national authorities could see the devastation from our lens…to make critical decisions.
Remember…this is 2005. Twitter and Facebook were not born. Smart phones were not around yet. Citizen journalism and high speed connectivity was barely available. The way we communicated was text messages, our Nextel touch to talk, and satellite phones with expensive service. So…it was vital for journalists like myself to drive far enough into out-lying areas, carry enough fuel to get us back, to capture footage and an interview with a local authorities so decisions could be made.
I slept in my car for about four days outside the LSU Journalism School. We took showers in the LSU dorms and inside the LSU football stadium facilities. Parents from all parts of Louisiana were bunking with their kids in dorms because their houses were destroyed.
I remember driving into New Orleans two days after Katrina and it looked like a war zone. Military helicopters flying survivors to main land and rescue boats departing to look for survivors sitting on their roofs waiting for help. Visuals captured in my brain for eternity.
My first helicopter aerial shoot was three days after Katrina hit and I am still moved and perplexed by this experience. My eyes have never witnessed such devastation along the mouth of the might Mississippi. As we flew over New Orleans, we realized why they just changed the minimum altitude over the city to 10K feet…stranded people shooting at aircraft. Yes…we heard the pings of a bullets and immediately climbed.
To this day…I still hold these memories as a reminder of how 90 miles separated peace and destruction. As we were based in Baton Rouge…life was carrying on as normal. But as you moved down south…the war zone emerged.
This event changed my life…I returned speechless. It took me a few months to start actually processing this event and begin articulating verbal thoughts and reactions. This was my last major news event as a front line journalist. I was done!
Many journalists probably view this decision as a sign of weakness or even lack of commitment to the trade and craft. I was just done. I had done my share, seen enough hurricanes, gone to enough shootings, documented enough riots, traveled with more than enough political campaigns including two Presidential campaigns, crossed the Mexico/US boarder enough to know the secret paths…I was done. I was ready to find good out of all the mess.
This single event taught me that I can use my skills and talents to tell stories…stories of change…not just document stories of the past.
Meet my friend Sarah…I met her this past Friday at the SC Mission 2014 event in Columbia, SC. She is 62 to years old, walks with the assistance of a cain, and needed glasses. Yes…her vision is not good, but she knew that if she could find her way across Columbia…she could have the opportunity to get a new pair of glasses.
SC Mission is two day event that provides free medical and eye care to those in need. This year’s event experienced 535 patients in search of multiple services over a two-day period. There were 744 patient encounters including 331 eye exams, 275 free eye glasses, 413 medical exams, 101 mammograms, and 381 prescriptions. Over 100 total volunteers made this event possible, including the 500 clinical volunteers.
Sarah was definitely not alone and you can see the happiness in her eyes. So let’s step back from the numbers a bit and learn a little more about Sarah and her journey to SC Mission.
SC Mission 2014 was located at the State Fairgrounds right next to Williams Brice Stadium. Sarah explained to the volunteers at SC Mission that she walked from a location near Providence Hospital downtown Columbia. If you look at the Google Map below, you will see the potential routes she could have walked from Providence Hospital to the SC State Fairgrounds.
You will see that Google estimates it will take her roughly an hour and nine minutes. But, let’s consider Google estimates it takes someone to walk 15-30 minutes per mile, then factors in terrain, walking in downtown city setting, hills, traffic lights, etc.
Now, let’s look at another shot of Sarah…a wider shot of her.
You will notice she is sitting in a golf cart holding a cain. Now, this visual represents so many things.
First, she is probably not going to walk at the same speed as someone who does not need the assistance of a cain. I am guessing that the above Google Map (based on walking speed and distance) is probably not a fair representation of Sarah’s travels.
Second, since she was in need for glasses…she knew she had to be one of the first in line. This is because there is a limited supply of glasses provided for free. She wanted to be there early. Many people were lining-up outside the State Fairgrounds as early as 12:30am, the morning of the event.
Third, Sarah probably walked overnight and it probably took her two or three hours to get to the State Fairgrounds. Her goal…eye glasses. This means she probably did not see that well at night when walking to the event.
Her smile is represents so much. I think she is just happy…happy that her travels got her there in time to receive a pair of glasses.
Faces tell us so much. There are so many, little stories behind the faces we see each day. I love documenting faces, capturing the emotion, the texture of a person’s expression.
Sarah’s smile touched my heart Friday morning at SC Mission 2014.
Here is a slideshow of the many faces that have captured my attention of the past few years.
As an undergraduate student at Clemson University, I majored in Mathematics and worked on a minor in Art and Architectural History. It appealed to my desire to blend my creative pursuits with my interests in mathematical proportions. One of the artists we studied was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was a religious painter, one that many times spoke to my soul, especially inside a public institution like Clemson.
In the mail today was a package that made me think back to my undergraduate days…and even challenged me to connect with my work today as a communicator.
Every quarter I receive a small book called Christian Reflection, A Series In Faith and Ethics from Baylor University’s Institute for Faith and Learning. It is packed full of good reading material that really helps me stretch and broaden my perspective.
This quarter, Caravaggio’s Inspiration of St. Matthew, the altar piece inside the Contarelli Chapel in Rome, Italy, was on the front cover. I flipped through the book and found a short article by Heidi Hornik titled, The Urgency of Inspiration. As I read this article…I began to think.
As you look at the painting…read this final excerpt from the short article:
“Caravaggio conveys urgency in Matthew, who is not seated as a scribe deep in thought, but is rushing back to the table to write down the inspiration from God via the angel. Matthew becomes an example of the faithful reader of Scripture: captured by the immediacy of the experience and intent on remembering that moment of inspiration.”
Let’s unpack that a bit…let’s dive into a few of those phrases in the paragraph above and reflect.
“rushing back to the table to write down the inspiration”
“captured by the immediacy of the experience and intent on remembering that moment of inspiration”
Have you found those moments of inspiration? Do you find yourself running back to write down something that is on the tip of your mind. During those moments of inspiration, epiphanies…do you run to write them down, record those thoughts, craft that inspiration and bring it to a reality?
Finding Inspiration Inside the Organization
One of the biggest areas large organizations struggle…time and bandwidth, especially when it comes to their communication initiatives. Time to find the stories, time to document those sharable moments, time to manage the people to share those stories. Time is and can be a bummer for many communications practitioners who are trying to share rich stories from inside their organization.
Sitting in a meeting with a hospital, time feels overwhelming…time to find, tell, share, and engage rich stories for a rich, broader social experience. Time can get in the way of inspiration…maybe?
Solving The Inspirational Bottleneck
We have been working with lots of hospitals to help with this inspirational bottleneck. We have been working with groups to implement our Content Advocate Program, we call it CAP. We help groups find content advocates inside the organization, those with rich with inspirational experiences, all with a desire to create and share. They all have rich talents ranging from writing, drawing, photography, video, animation…content creation that tells the story from inside the organization.
Our goal is to help find these content advocates, identify these voices, and channel their talents using rich social tools. But before we can begin, we have to engage the organization to shift in thinking. We have to help them think about content buckets, not marketing initiatives. We have to connect inspiration with content that connects with the organizations’ audiences.
Content creation can be fun and time consuming. So…you have to find those Matthew’s inside the organization that are rushing to tell a story. Sometimes you have to provide the space and the technology to unleash their skills.
Miles is my little nephew and I spent the afternoon helping Tom and Jennifer take his newborn pictures. Tom used to be a baseball player, catcher for Erskine College. You can see in the picture above his bat and glove from his college days.
Tom literally prayed for a boy, especially since he is a pastor and father to two sassy, little girls. I think he needed some testosterone in the household. So…we knew we had to incorporate his baseball bat and catchers glove into this shot(s).
But the image above was meant for Tom. Why? I wanted to call attention to his glove and bat. Now, let’s look at the image that was meant for Jennifer, below. Notice what is in focus?
The same shot, different images, different focal points, different audiences, different messages, same camera, same lens, and even the same camera position.
By merely choosing a fast aperture speed (f2.8), I was able to create the desired look with a distinct depth of field. This allowed me to chose what to have in focus and what to “blur”.
Stories require focus…focusing the audience’s attention…drawing the eye to the details most important. This is a reminder that every viewpoint might have numerous story-lines, but it is up to us as communication practitioners to choose he most appropriate message for the right audience at the right time.
Think about Gestalt Principles. Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. Have you seen this diagram before?
“This principle maintains that the human mind considers objects in their entirety before, or in parallel with, perception of their individual parts; suggesting the whole is other than the sum of its parts. Gestalt psychology tries to understand the laws of our ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world.”
Some of us see two faces, some of us see a vase. Some of us see both in the midst of this chaos. But regardless, something in these images draws our attention to a specific part of these images based on our viewpoints and associate pre-dispositions.
So as you scroll through Facebook, what video, what image catches your attention. Which parts of this social media communication puzzle catches your eyes as your scroll through your news feed? What videos make you stop scrolling, even though there is no audio. Which ones do you notice in this new world of auto-play and video ads released by Facebook?
Here is one from Clemson that caught my eyes and ears.
First, I scrolled through Facebook and the graphics caught my attention. Yes, I am a Clemson fan…so the bright orange and purple colors using motion graphics stopped me from scrolling…just to watch. Since it auto-played, I could not hear the music. Heck…I watch the whole thing silent without the music and I understood the storyline.
I even shared it with friends without even hearing the music. It was not until I went back, looking for the video did I listen to the sound.
My point here is that the motion graphics caught my attention while scrolling through a visually complex Facebook newsfeed. It caught my attention. It caught my focus. I was the target audience and I stopped scrolling to allow this silent video to play. It did not give me an action at the end to “Share”…I just shared it because I connected with the storyline.
Think about it for a second. If we focus on the story, focus on the audience, and focus on the message…we might achieve the desired result.
There is something awesome about these pictures…something so normal. This is my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and their children. They just had their third child. These pictures showcase their most recent appointment with the physician that delivered their third child, baby Miles.
Here we have one doctor’s visit with lots of smiles.
What makes these pictures so awesome, everyone in these images seem so comfortable, happy, and willing to have their pictures taken together. From the physician, the staff, the kids, everyone seems like family.
The role of the primary care physician, especially the physician that delivers a family’s child, is crucial to building a formative role in the health of a family. This is the entry gate for most hospitals. There is one thing that is hard to capture…images like these. Feeling completely unguarded, not worried about the technology, and willingness to share a moment in time…especially knowing these moments will be uploaded for all to see.
Before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and all the other social media outlets emerged…sharing moments like these could only be described in-person. Why am I sharing these moments…because we preach to our healthcare clients…if you create a positive culture of sharing…moments like these will naturally emerge.
Let’s unpack this moment!
How can we create a positive culture of sharing? How can we engage healthcare groups, hospitals, physician offices to engage in a positive culture of sharing? What does this mean?
I just finished training another department within one of our healthcare clients, and the one thing I stressed…create a positive culture of sharing. But before you can create this culture, you have to understand the rules, how the technology works, how images like these impact HIPAA, how to manage commenting, etc. This requires complete communication and transparency across the healthcare organization.
Not only do you have to engage, train, and have consistent conversations with all involved…but you have to listen to those who want to be a part of this social sharing opportunity. From physicians, residents, nurses, food workers, technicians, leadership, marketing, information technology, and so on; you have to talk about policy, procedure, technology, brand…but you also have to discuss the community and what a positive culture of sharing looks like.
Healthcare organizations have the greatest opportunity to engage happy faces like these.
I just love these pictures!
I was sitting and meeting with a dear friend…and a great client. We were chatting about an upcoming group of projects, talking about the creative approach, budgets, logistics, etc. The more we talked, the more we began critically thinking about the visual message, the scripting, and the overall impact.
She looked at me and said, “I am just so thankful to work with you. You just get it…you are more than a video production crew, you truly are a storyteller. We know when we work with you…we know we get someone who truly helps us shape the story through out the whole production process.”
I was speechless and re-affirmed. She articulated what I have been preaching for so long.
Just the other day…I was meeting with another client and she was sharing the news they were hiring a senior level person for their business.
Their business is technical in nature, yet they value the idea behind creating a wonderful online experience. They hired someone who will focus on content…specifically a strong writer, a strong storyteller. There is a shift in culture that is happening. Groups we (here at Gray and SHI) are working along side are investing in stories, content curation initiatives, and taking ownership of their brand message. We are all storytellers…but we have to find the space, the platforms, and the willingness to unlock that capability.
We are all storytellers…but are we willing to allow those stories to come to the surface?
I have you noticed video auto-playing in Facebook when using your laptop, desktop computer, or even your mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. I have noticed the these auto-play videos on my iPad, iPhone, and my desktop using my MacBookPro.
The videos that are auto-playing are those uploaded directly to Facebook. This auto-play initiative is also a part of Facebook’s Premium Video Ads offering set to release to brands this fall, possibly October.
Video auto-plays were released in September 2013 with the goal to mirror, or closely resemble, the Instagram video and Vine experience. So this leads me to what type of video content might actually work using this new Facebook offering.
When you scroll through the news feed and a video auto-plays, the audio does not play…just the video. The only way to hear the audio of a video is to stop scrolling and click the video. The audio then starts playing.
So this is an indicator of visual cues…how can you stop someone from scrolling and intrigue them enough to click to play a video without sound?
Take a look at this video created by Mashable.com. This video auto-played when I was scrolling through my newsfeed, catching my attention. Why…the motion graphics and animation caught my attention.
I am a big fan of motion graphics and videos that utilize motion graphics to engage the audience. One of the reasons, you can tell a story visually if the person cannot hear the audio. I like to encourage video producers to not only create visually compelling messages but also videos that can stand alone if you could not hear the audio.
I have been recommending our clients create short videos for Facebook that include motion graphics. Why? When someone scrolls though their newsfeed, the motion graphics will catch their attention. This will stop them to want to click and explore. Then, include a link in the status update so the audience can watch the whole video or read more.
Short pieces of video content on Facebook I think can be a big win, if executed properly. Specifically, creating attention grabbing visual content that catches peoples’ attention then driving them to an action. If you read the release from Facebook surrounding their Premium Video Ads…you will see they are limiting the length to 15 seconds. I think this is smart. I think they have to include some visual cue, using motion to stop people and force them to explore.
Did you watch the keynote address from Apple’s #WWDC14 opening day? Did you happen to see the first video before anyone walked onto the stage? I did and I was inspired.
How many story-lines can you list while watching this video? Here is what I came up with…I was typing in real time as watched and listened this video.
- apps we cannot live without
- social media
- marine biology
- global connectivity
- dreaming for a better tomorrow
- art of being a musician
- connecting apps to health
- bionic arms
- intersection of technology and art
It is amazing how the use of storytelling and streams of themes come together in one piece…yet never really mention Apple. This is the power of connected content pulled together in one video, to tell little micro-stories that raise awareness for an over arching brand…one that we all can relate.
Powerful storytelling allows those who have language and passion to share their experience. Who are your storytellers?
So I found this on a pr/marketing firm’s website…and I think they raise an interesting question. Let’s look at this statement:
“Successful companies tell their stories well. Multiple channels today allow for storytelling on many levels. Our team helps clients tell those stories in the traditional way as well as through the digital and social media channels. It’s one thing to get good publicity and another to leverage it. We also help clients navigate the choppy waters of storytelling in less than ideal situations. Our advice to clients is simple: Tell your own story (good, bad or ugly) and tell it fast or someone else will.”
Yes…so who is telling your story? You? Your organization? The people in the organization? What is a good story?
Here is the biggest question of all…why do people really care about your story…your organization’s story. Why will they listen…or better yet…do *you* even know who the heck is supposed to hear your story.
Let’s go back to the above statement a few lines into this little statement:
“Our team helps clients tell those stories in the traditional way as well as through the digital and social media channels.”
What does that mean? What does it mean to tell a story in a traditional way? Does that mean we will be sitting down and listening from a book two weeks after it was published? And I noticed the dichotomy placed between traditional and social/digital channels. There is a huge fallacy in this statement…one that assumes social and digital are only channels for just sharing and not platforms for storytelling along with the multiple layers of curation opportunities.
Let’s move on to the next part of this statement:
“We also help clients navigate the choppy waters of storytelling in less than ideal situations.”
What does this mean? I am confused…what are the choppy waters of storytelling? Oh…you mean crisis communication…yeah…that’s it. So, it sounds like “we” are inferring that storytelling creates a crisis that needs immediate attention…oh…yeah.
What are we sharing about storytelling and the methods behind the craft. This makes it seem like that trials and tribulations arise from “bad” storytelling? Really!? What happens after a bad movie after you leave the theater? It is not a bad story…you just forget about it faster. But, you don’t create a crisis situation from your reaction…maybe if you cuss about the bad movie and offend someone around you.
HEADLINE…there is no such thing as bad storytelling. We are human and we are all attracted to different types of prose, visual communication, word-of-mouth stories…but who am I to say that your story is a bad story.
It is time to move away from this mainstream use of this metaphor that is turning into a buzz word…one that is as hollow as those who are selling these services. It is time to call a spade a spade.
Crisis Communication = Crisis Communication
So let’s wrap this dialogue up with the last line of this statement above:
“Our advice to clients is simple: Tell your own story (good, bad or ugly) and tell it fast or someone else will.”
My favorite part: “…tell it fast or someone else will.”
LIGHT BULB…there is no such thing as “else” in this or any situation. Everyone is telling a story, some are more well developed, some are in their infancy stages, and some have complex marketing initiatives behind them followed by tremendous organic/paid strategies.
So back to what this statement is really saying…PAY US and we will dump tons of money, time, and resources to make your story rise to the top beyond other well developed stories with limited paid efforts.
stories are still stories…
content marketing is still content marketing…
facebook/twitter/social ads are just like billboard/print/other ads…
organic search is just another form of digital word-of-mouth…
but…storytellers are still storytellers..some are just better than others!
So I leave you with this…from the American Storyteller Bob Dotson..
“Bob Dotson’s Storytelling tip: Tell me a story. Don’t give a speech. Don’t talk at me. Talk with me. Tell me something I’ve never heard before or tell it so well, I will want to hear it again, the way only you can tell it”
We are all storytellers…not just highly paid, highly strategic pr/marketing firms!
I often wonder…how we truly understand Memorial Day. It is a day off for many…a day to cook-out, have family over to spend time, go to the lake, or just work in the yard.
What is Memorial Day? For years I used to mix up this national holiday with Veterans Day…until I became a journalist.
I remember the first time I was sent to capture a story of a family that just lost a loved one while serving. Serving in the Armed Forces was something I want to do…really bad. I was one of the first in my family not to serve. I wanted to fly planes in the Navy…but one little thing held me back. I have asthma and this 5’10” with a mathematics degree could not even get past the recruiter, even though majority of my family had served in each of the armed forces.
I remember that first time…that first visit. I remember knocking on the door, hoping that they would not be overly upset that a group of journalist wanted to interview them just hours after they learned they lost a loved one.
We knew…never go to the door with a camera. Always knock on the door with lots of compassion and earn trust. We always shared “our little pitch”…our goal is to help memorialize his memory.
Were we memorializing or just leveraging that moment in time to use as content to gain an audience. At the time…I did not have language for the ethical dilemma faced. But as time grew…stories were produced…I began to realize the distance between my ethical dilemma and the stories I was producing for digital equity was getting ready to crash.
What is Memorial Day? Is it a day to honor those who have fallen in order to provide the very blanket of freedom we enjoy everyday? Including that same freedom we call freedom of the press?
I remember this one story…always remember. His name was Staff Seargent Jason Ramseyer and his family will be forever changed. His family allowed a team from WCNC-TV to come spend the afternoon with them…to share a small piece of his story.
The photojournalist working on the story was only given a few hours to help produce this story for a same day turn around. This story needed a little more attention…a little more commitment than just an afternoon to produce this story.
Memorial Day has always stuck with me…and this story has always helped me distinguish the importance of this day from all other days in the year. I never met his family. But I knew on that day when it was decided to give this story a little extra something…I knew I had to help memorialize this one story. As my ethical dilemma wavered, I have always thought about this story, and that it would bring some resolve for all the other times I knocked on those doors asking a family to allow us to tell their story. I am glad I helped re-produce this story back in 2006.
Today is not like any other day…it is Memorial Day. I just hope we Memorialize those who lost their lives while serving this very nation we call home. No more…no less.
***This story was originally produced for WCNC-TV by a team including Anna Crowley, Kevin Ridley, Allison Andrews, and Bobby Rettew.