Have you heard of the International Day for Sharing Life Stories? It’s May 16th, the day that Pulitzer Prize-winning Studs Terkel—known best for his oral histories of everyday Americans—was born. It’s a day to celebrate the power of telling personal stories as a way to build community—any community, from rural to corporate.
Personal stories—first-person stories that speak specifically about personal experiences—often have great power to tell larger stories. Or, they can be as (un)stimulating as watching unedited home videos. The goal is to use personal stories in a way that not only keeps an audience interested, but that also reaches out to others with similar experiences and stories. And the trick to this is editing those stories so they are understandable to and digestible by the targeted audience, and then telling them in extremely personal and dramatic ways. In the end, everyone feels connected.
Although my main approach to digital storytelling comes from the field of documentary film and visual history archives, I’ve been thrilled to see digital storytelling used more recently in corporate settings to enhance teamwork and mindfulness. As a different take on team building and off-site corporate retreats, digital storytelling can help people who work together understand each other better—and therefore cooperate better.
Teams come together, with a non-company moderator, and create a story circle. The moderator puts forward a question that everyone has to answer in the form of an “I” story. Then the stories are developed further in breakout sessions, and film treatments are created to tell those stories on video, usually in just under five minutes. The work is clearly helped along by film professionals and the moderator, but each individual determines the development of his or her story and how it is visually told.
Finally, the stories are shared in a screening session. The first question everyone asks is: “How can someone create a short film without some technical background?” In fact, it’s easy! I’ve worked with ten-year-olds who have used various new technologies—iPads, filmmaking apps, iMovie—to tell great stories.
Digital storytelling, if done properly, is one new trend for bringing people closer together—and it’s growing more popular in many walks of life. The focus is not the digital technology. The focus is using that technology to link people and their ideas together as a community.
To see some examples, explore Berkeley-based Storycenter (check out “Roller Coaster”), which began helping people to create community-building stories before the idea became popular.