Storytelling Resources

In an unexpected organize-and-clean-up frenzy, I have decided to use Delicious for keeping track of the online storytelling resources that I come across. You will find the embedded Delicious feed below, for your leisurely perusal.

You are of course also welcome to subscribe to my Delicious feed.

 

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Stories from 2011

The last few months of 2011 were a flurry of exciting stories! Overall, November and December were a couple of busy months, with a lot of time spent on the road. It’s always great to get out in the field, where the real stories are, and I hope to do much more of that in 2012.

Now, a couple of highlights from November and December 2011:

In mid-November, I traveled to South Africa to participate in the International Forum on Water and Food. It was a great conference, which focused on some of the most pressing water and food challenges that the world is facing.

Before the conference, I had worked closely with six different scientists, from three different continents, and coached them on telling science stories about their work. One was Sabine Douxchamp, who told a story about why Burkina Faso is still a very poor country, even though there are an abundance of NGOs trying to lift it out of poverty.

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Back in Asia, I helped organize the Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy in early December. The day before the forum began, we took a group of reporters out on the Tonle Sap river in Cambodia. We visited some of the fishermen whose livelihoods may or may not be threatened by the many dams  scheduled to be built in the Mekong River basin.

One result of the trip is this article in the Bangkok Post: Food Security Issue in Mekong Dam Debate (December 11, 2011)

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Finally, later in December, I went on a trip to Xieng Khuang in northwestern Laos to learn more about the country’s problems with UXO (unexploded ordnance).

I met kids like these,

who are in danger every day because of unexploded bombs like these:

More stories from my trip to Xieng Khuang will be publicly available in the next month or so.

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Finally, of course, Happy New Year to all! I hope we stay in touch — here on the blog or on Twitter (for more frequent updates).

To South Africa

I am flying to South Africa this evening to participate in the International Forum and Water and Food 3. I’ll be conducting a storytelling workshop, and I’ll be cheering on as the six people whom I have coached in the past month or so get to tell their science stories.

Last time I was there, in May, we made a small trip to the zoo in Johannesburg (but I think there’ll be no time for such adventures this time).

If you want to follow the International Forum on Water and Food 3 live, check the #IFWF3 hash tag on Twitter.

Tell stories to make them listen

One of the things I am working on right now is to help create engaging and interesting presentations for a CPWF event later this year. As part of the preparations, I was asked to write a blog post on why it’s worthwhile to introduce storytelling into a research program:

“My brother used to hate school. He didn’t fit the bill for quietly sitting down to listen, and he was always really bored in class. He would much rather run into the woods to chase insects or search for not-so-ripe plumps. As he started middle school, the fights with his teachers got worse, and his grades started to drop.

Until the day a new history professor arrived at our small village school. My brother braced himself for more yawn-inducing classes. But, the historian turned out to be a world-class storyteller, who painted vivid images of kings and queens, revolutions and political intrigues, and who had my brother and his classmates fighting out battles with wooden swords. The stories this teacher told made my brother listen.”

…read the rest of this post on CPWF’s website

Advertising in the Bangkok Post, Cambodia Daily, Thanhnien Weekly, or Vientiane Times?

Last week, I was researching newspaper advertising cost and options in Southeast Asia for a client. We wanted to print an ad in an English-language newspaper in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

It proved surprisingly difficult to figure out who to get in touch with and where to find details on cost, artwork, and deadlines, so I thought I’d share what I found. (Note that I am not affiliated with any of the publications below).

In Thailand, the Bangkok Post, which was established in 1946, is the largest English-language newspaper with its 72,000 copies a day. I received a written profile from the paper’s advertising department, which reveals interesting facts. For example that 72% of the paper’s readers are male and that 21% of the readers are Europeans. While in correspondence with the Bangkok Post, I didn’t receive a rate sheet, but they are, not surprisingly since they have a much greater reach, more expensive than the other regional papers I contacted. Ms. Apisada Mahattanan, account executive, would be able to put together a quote for you. You can contact her at apisadam @ bangkokpost.co.th.

There are no less than two big English-language newspapers in Cambodia: The Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post. The Post advertises their rates online, while the Daily were quick to send me their rate sheet. Note that the Phnom Penh Post offers a discount on job ads and education and training announcements. You can contact Mr. Meng Dy, business manager at the Cambodia Daily, at dy @ cambodiadaily.com or Jesse Gage, business development manager at the Phnom Penh Post, at jesse.gage @ phnompenhpost.com.

In Vietnam, the ThanhNien paper seems to be at least one of the biggest papers in the country. Note that the Daily is in Vietnamese, while the Weekly, which is published every Friday, is in English. Their rate sheet is quite instructive (with prices naturally in Vietnamese dong), but you can also contact Tram Thi Bach Loan in the advertising department at bachloantrang @ gmail.com for more information.

Lastly, there’s the Vientiane Times in Laos, which offers very affordable advertising. A quarter page ad, in black and white, is 350,000 kip – approximately US$44. I picked up a rate sheet, which offers more details as well as contact information.

And the thing we were advertising? An open call for a Research Fellowship Program announced by the Mekong Program on Water, Environment, and Resilience and the Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Show, don’t tell

One of the universal principles of storytelling is to show, rather than tell, your listeners what it is you have to say. It seems counter-intuitive that in storytelling you’re not supposed to “tell”, but rather “show” your listeners. However, one of the main strengths of a good story is its ability to transport your listeners to a new setting, mood, or mindset: to show them what it is really like.

I came across the ad below on Adfreak.com last week, and, as they note, it’s a good example of this principle applied in marketing. The ad takes us through a regular day of a regular person: Jeff. Jeff is, however, also a blind person. Rather than telling us that “it is more difficult for a blind person to navigate traffic than it is for person with perfect vision,” this ad shows us what it is like for Jeff to commute to work. The story — because it’s told from Jeff’s perspective – puts us into his shoes and allows us to experience his reality for ourselves.

The key of showing, rather than telling, also lies with the details: the “sound shadows”, the explanations of how to know when to cross the street, how it gets so much harder to hear traffic in rain are the details that make Jeff’s reality real – to us.

This is also why it resonates when Jeff says “I think television is part of society, right? It’s where we get our information from. It’s where we get our entertainment from. And being able to access that medium on par with everybody else in society is fantastic.” We fully sympathize with his endorsement of the products that the ad is promoting: full-text spoken-word versions of articles and voiced descriptions of action happening on TV.

This aspect of storytelling — to allow your listeners to experience for themselves, rather than just to tell them what it’s like – is naturally one of the reasons why storytelling is such a persuasive tool. What you are able to experience for yourself, even when it’s just through a story, is more real and believable than anything you’re told.

Cool Tees and Totes

I spent a couple of weekends in Bangkok recently, and my time there was a welcome reminder of the pleasures of big city life. A trip to an actual blues bar, several trips to, perhaps, Bangkok’s biggest bookstore, and a visit to the Chatuchak Weekend Market were among the highlights.

At Bangkok’s weekend market you’ll find a slew of young, up-and-coming designers, who produce cool and original stuff. How Many T-Shirt stood out to me: she designs mainly t-shirts and bags and has a non-Asian, almost Scandinavian style. (I noticed no less than three other Danes browsing in her little stall during the time I was there).

 

 

Beyond her great designs, I also admire her simple (and, I am sure, low-cost) marketing. A URL is printed both on the tags in all items and on the front of the little bag I received my purchase in. The URL redirects to her Facebook page, which features lots of photos of her products.

 

 

While the page is mostly in Thai, I get the sense that she succeeds in using Facebook in the way that most big corporations wish they could figure out: she establishes a personal connection with her customers. Her Facebook fans are her friends.

Perhaps the reason is that she runs a start-up, and most of her customers are her actual friends. Or perhaps it’s because she names her photo albums things like “Friends and Tees”. Either way, I find myself happy to be her friend-fan, and I’ll definitely visit her again the next time I find myself in Bangkok.

Why We Respond to Stories

Do you know the feeling of “but that’s what I’ve been saying all along, why did it take you guys so long to get it”?

I bet Jeremy Hsu, who wrote an article for the Scientific American on “Why We Love a Good Yarn” in 2008, feels that way. Judging from recent business book titles – such as Tell to Win and The Dragonfly Effect – my google alerts on “storytelling”, and Twitter’s #storytelling hash tag, you could almost get the impression that the power of storytelling is a brand-new, recently discovered miracle. Though really, it has been around for a while.

While I may have to let up on the storytelling-obsessed posts soon, I think it’s worth spending a few minutes on Hsu’s article. He, unlike most others, dives a little deeper into why it is that we all respond so positively to stories.

He argues that storytelling is a universal human trait that has always served as a way to practice, form, and strengthen social relationships between people. We, as human beings, have learned how to interact with each other, how to show empathy and interpret emotions, through stories. In fact, Hsu says, scientists are beginning to agree that

“Stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition.”

However, Hsu doesn’t get much further into the details of these cognitive aspects of storytelling. If you want to continue to explore the subject I recommend turning to Austrian-born Monika Fludernik, who is a professor of English literature and culture at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany. Her research is academic (and perhaps only for nerds). In 1996, she wrote Towards a Natural Narratology wherein she precisely approaches narratology, storytelling, as cognition. She reasons that stories are meaningful because listeners will connect the stories they hear to life experiences:

“Unlike the traditional models of narratology, narrativity […] is here constituted by what I call experientiality, namely the quasi-mimetic evocation of ‘real life experience’.” (Fludernik, 1996).

In essence, Fludernik supports the view that Hsu is highlighting: Storytelling is tightly connected to human cognition and the way in which we think about the world.

The practically applicable conclusion from Hsu’s writing is, of course, this:

“[S]tories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.”

It is no coincidence that marketers, advertisers, managers, and so many others have success with using storytelling in their communication – even if they are just beginning to discover this. It will continue to be true that we as people are preconditioned to respond to storytelling, to feel persuaded, motivated, and to change.

Periodic Table of Storytelling

I stumbled over this on Twitter a few days ago, but I actually think it deserves a bit more than the 140 characters I gave it then.

This table, put together by ComputerSherpa, is pretty ingenious (and fun to explore). It’s a collection of tropes that can be combined in a great number of ways to describe different kinds of stories.

Clearly, this was put together using a good deal of humor. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to point out that this table, as well as any other narrative model, only has descriptive, not formative, value. There is no finite number of ways to construct a narrative.

Storytelling is a complex and ever-evolving form that cannot be reduced to dogmas. I used to call it “the pancake approach” when people would assume that it is possible to come up with some sort of recipe for stories — recipes that would list a certain combination of “ingredients” (tropes) that when combined would surely produce stories — in the same way as following a recipe for pancakes will surely give you pancakes.

Historically we know, of course, that this is not true: The narrative form has always been evolving, and what we consider a story today was not considered a story a hundred years ago. Hence, it is impossible for any static model to grasp the non-static narrative form.

However, I do believe that the ongoing evolution of the narrative form feeds off of any presently existing tradition. It is by contrasting what is, and what has been, that new – intriguing — forms of storytelling develop. It may be the true value of the periodic table of storytelling, and other narrative models, that they provide the necessary contraposition for new kinds of stories to develop.