By Limor Shiponi
Look for it on FB in the group called “storytellers” (I hate sending you to a place you need to log in to, but in this case, that’s the situation). It started with Eric James Wolf asking “If theater uses the word storytelling to sell really good theatrical performances… are you comfortable using the word theater to sell really good storytelling?”
By now there are 85 comments and still counting with a large variety of heartfelt responses. The conversation led me to post an elaborate response which continued into a post by Eric while continuing the conversation on the wall. I referred to Eric’s post on FB, he edited his point of view into that document, people are responding as we walk along this conversation and debate together. So now I have another document of FB but this time I’m pulling it over here too, feeling people who are not members of that group might want to respond or just read:
Thanks for everything people wrote, it helps to continue sense-making this conversation. I think I have a clearer understanding of where the gaps in this conversation are and I’m suggesting a rearrangement of issues to look at, together with my personal opinion about some of them:
- If we look into the storytelling community, there is a general understanding of what storytelling is as an experience.
- If we look into the storytelling community, there is no general understanding of what storytelling is as a form of art or practice.
These two above suggested statements are relevant everywhere storytelling is mentioned, not only in the ‘oral storytelling’ community.
Concerning the art of storytelling
- There is core and there are applications. Since these are not defined in a way that is agreeable upon a large group of practitioners, the definitions are open to any kind of interpretation. Even to interpretations that take the experience and not only the practice – away from the undefined core.
- Since some of us have gone into the trouble of defining, we can say that the word ‘application’ has in most cases skipped the core of storytelling and is being defined from other discipline’s perspectives. My suggested list of storytelling (undefined) applications can be found here.
- The list unraveled in that post derives from the core of the art (the way I see it, it’s a suggestion) and does not cross into other fields. It is relevant when speaking about the art form even though as mentioned before, it has no agreed definition.
Regarding ‘story’ and ‘storytelling’
- There is a great misconception about the difference between ‘story’ and ‘storytelling’.
- ‘Story’ is seen as ‘dramatic text’ (in the better case) or any kind of text (in the worst case).
- ‘Storytelling’ is perceived in most cases as a channel for delivery and distribution, the early primitive form of other delivery and distribution channels from books to iPad apps, games, robots, movies, social media etc.
- The above is the most problematic misconception storytelling suffers from these days. Why is it a misconception? Because story-telling is not just a delivery and distribution channel, it is a CREATION MECHANISM which other channels of story delivery cannot imitate or scale. Business wise and I’ve said it before – all those thinking they are storytelling while they are really producing, delivering and distributing stories are enjoying only 33% of storytelling ROI – if they care about business outcome.
Concerning how we call what we do
- This depends on your point of view. If you are looking for the benefits of storytelling in teamwork for instance, you’ll want the person who does the job to know something (or a lot) about teamwork. You’ll want him to have a degree in organizational behavior. Hence story-practitioners that arrive from other fields and call themselves ‘organizational storyteller’ ‘corporate storyteller’ ‘chief product storytelling executive’ or ‘brand storytelling experts’.
- Some of these practitioners come from the art, most of them don’t, yet the latter have a great advantage selling their services. The customer wants to know they are keeping their eyes on the wanted outcome – for the organization, storytelling aside, although nice.
- Where I agree with Eric is how to name your services and what knowledge to acquire in order to approach other fields with (also) our storytelling knowledge. Where I disagree with Eric is that ‘storyteller’ does not sell and is bad branding. You need to know what you are doing in the business/marketing/organizational arena so they can trust you but you needn’t need to hide or wear a mask.
- If you work in another field with your storytelling they are interested in a required outcome. Accumulate your blessings and don’t leave storytelling out.
- If you work as an artist, storytelling is the single blessing you need. Be magnificent, never stop learning and practicing, market well, educate your audience and don’t be afraid.
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