Built around the idea that stories not only retell and reimagine important moments but, more importantly, they shape us and reshape the world around us, The Power of Storytelling is a one-of-a-kind conference in Eastern Europe that brings together accomplished storytellers from a multitude of industries.
This year, I had the pleasure of taking part in the story unfolding in Cluj-Napoca, as narrated by five incredibly talented speakers.
The first storyteller to take the stage was Pulitzer-prize award winner Jacqui Banaszynski. Entitled “From Cabins to Cathedrals” Jacqui’s talk focused on how to structure stories, as well as discover them. According to Jacqui, one way to write creatively is through giving complex stories a simple structure. She encourages a cinematic approach to building a story and thinking about our notebooks as cameras, capturing each layer of a story in one clear and crisp image.
For those of us looking to improve our storytelling, Jacqui advises reading children’s books, poetry, haikus, songs and even Facebook posts or Tweets. Once you’ve settled on a clear structure for your story, you can think about all the creative elements that bring the reader into the moment.
Using examples from ”AIDS in the Heartland”, her Pulitzer award-winning piece which follows the lives of Bert Henningson Jr. and Dick Hanson from diagnosis to death, Jacqui spoke about structuring each scene in your story but, even more importantly, learning to listen and discover the real story; with action, theme and meaning being the essential raw material to look for.
Jacqui was followed by Dragos Bucurenci, communication coach and activist with over 12 years experience as a journalist. Dragos spoke about how idols in religion, showbiz or politics rise and fall through the power of the stories their own public creates. He focused on how incredibly skilled we are at picking and choosing the information that validates a persona we’ve already defined.
"Stories build who you are in the minds and souls of other people." - Dragos Bucurenci
Using the example of well-known political blunders, he emphasized just how easily we register information that fits and validates our expectations. As a counter-example, Dragos didn’t shy away from displaying one of his own blunders, really driving home the point that the reason why none of us remembered the moment was because it didn’t fit his persona, and therefore, it didn’t validate a preconception.
Making the case for the power of stories in creating an authentic human connection, Mystery Show host and producer Starlee Kine took us on an exciting journey that began with a relatively obscure book that landed in Britney Spears’ hands, to the delight of its author, continued with Starlee taking on the mantle of Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to get in touch with Britney and find out how she got the book, to the lovely people she met and stories she gathered along the way.
“People are natural storytellers when they’re talking about things they know” - Starlee Kine
While the journey itself was interesting, it was the stories told by random people she got in touch with along the way that were fascinating. It’s amazing how quickly people engage in storytelling without being prompted at all, provided they’re knowledgeable about the subject.
Starlee recommends we turn to those who are genuinely excited about something when trying to find a compelling character, capturing a real human connection forming in real time; much like she did on her journey.
Photographer Alex Gâlmeanu spoke about the history of photography, the evolution of the profession itself and the stories behind images. He spoke about how photographers can bring value in an age when everyone has a camera-ready device and whether or not the profession itself is still relevant in this context.
Alex drew a very interesting comparison between the first image he ever took and the first image ever taken. He spoke about the technical challenges of taking and developing your own photos with old-school techniques and the ease with which we can just whip out our camera and snap a selfie today.
"Photography isn't about the technique anymore, it's about the idea." -Alex Galmeanu
According to Alex, the modern photographer builds ideas, not techniques and, by doing so, some become a one-man media trust with followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
The last storyteller for the day was National Magazine award-winning writer Chris Jones. With an amazing ability to instantly click with the audience, Chris spoke about the nine rules of creative work.
Chris urges that before you create something, consume everything that’s already out there, because it teaches you what’s possible. He spoke about the need for discipline in creative work, having to learn the rules and devise your own process, the loneliness that comes with being creative and the need to believe in what you’re doing.
"The work will not always love you back." - Chris Jones
In closing, Chris referenced Jacqui’s earlier remark that writing is not magic but it can be magical.
It’s not easy to keep an audience engaged for an entire session, let alone an entire conference but The Power of Storytelling has not only managed to connect to the audience on an emotional level but capture our curiosity, providing actionable insight into how to become better storytellers.