In mid-May I was in Denver for the ATD 2016 conference. It was a huge affair and there were about 11,000 participants, many from overseas. Near the end of the conference, I recorded the following video clip giving an update on the state of storytelling from the conference.
There were 14 presentations on storytelling. This highlights just how ubiquitous the notion of storytelling is. But, there were many different takes on storytelling on display. Here are a few observations.
Numerous presentations had storytelling in the title but had very little to do with storytelling per se. These presentations covered topics like content creation, branding and instructional design. I love this 2-minute video clip from Stephan Stagmeister that nicely sums up my thoughts on presentations like this. Beware, it’s got some strong language.
Several presentations purported to convey important concepts about storytelling but had very few stories. Some had no stories at all…none. This is one of our pet hates – there is no point giving a presentation on storytelling if you don’t have clear and relevant examples (stories) to illustrate your messages. Anyone can read a few books on the subject and put together a slide deck and lots of bullet points. I had to force myself to remain seated and not walk out of these sessions.
Entertainment and performance
There were several presentations from excellent professional storytellers. The best were The Second City from Chicago and Doug Stevenson. These presentations approached storytelling from entertainment, arts and performance perspectives. These were great presentations with some great stories told. But a word of warning…these folks are professional entertainers. In business, if you focus on performing your stories it can be easy to appear inauthentic.
Then there were the absolute standout presentations from people who don’t portray themselves as storytellers. In particular the keynote speakers Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. These sessions weren’t about storytelling, but they both built their presentations around their own experiences and told story after story. Great presentations, high impact and very memorable.
These were excellent examples showing how all of us can be effective storytellers.
As I sit at my desk and reflect back on the conference (which finished 2 weeks ago) the only content I remember clearly are the stories told by Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Doug Stevenson and The Second City. Not all that surprising really.
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: