February 14, 2008

Thought Leadership: It's Not Enough to Just Think

Long time denizens of the storytelling community may not recognize any of the names that I've anointed with the term "thought leader." For example, I haven't included any of the community elders, who, in the thirty years of the storytelling revival, have thought long and hard about the art form, and have some pretty insightful thoughts on the movement and where it's been and where it's going.

But it's not enough to think those thoughts. Being a thought leader means making sharing and promoting those thoughts.

And leadership means sharing and promoting the hell out of those thoughts. Getting them out there. Getting heard. Evangelizing.

I'm going to take three examples of what I think of as "deep thoughts" and look at how fast they are catching on:

Carol Birch and Melissa Heckler collected some of the movement's thoughts in "Who Says?: Essays on Pivotal Issues in Contemporary Storytelling" (August House, 1996), and those essays are still pertinent (Which reminds me, I need to go back and read them all again).
Now, granted, this anthology most likely didn't rush off the shelves at August House when it came out. You don't see the storytelling community rushing to contemplate or debate "pivotal issues," except maybe for three days each summer at a conference. (You, dear readers, all ten of you, are the exception, of course.)
And there aren't enough university courses in the world for these essays to get out there, even should they be required reading (and I'm of the opinion they should.)

If Who Says? Volume 2 were to come out... we'd need to rethink its delivery vehicle. Reading about storytelling performance is like dancing about architecture. Short multimedia pieces depicting oral storytelling performances along with commentary from the essayist would not only be more digestible to storytellers outside of the university, but catch some attention from the world at large. A storytelling lab on YouTube-- why not? Hey, are the slide show guys who helped Al Gore available?


Jo Radner, current chair of the National Storytelling Network, created quite a buzz with her inspiring keynotes at Sharing the Fire in 2006 and the National Storytelling Conference in 2007. She looks at the current state of the storytelling movement and suggests some paths for the future.

And when I say, quite a buzz, I mean among the five hundred people who got to hear her.

I wasn't one of them.

I've been trying to track down a recording of the keynote for some time.

I happened to talk to Jo the other day, and got her to email me her speech, if I promised to remember that it was much more entertaining delivered live.

(She also was fairly certain that no one recorded the keynote at the 2007 conference).

/me smacks head against wall.
Is it really that difficult to arrange to record a keynote? Hell, fly me out to the conference and put my iPod on the podium to record it, and I'll have the speech up on the Web at the Internet Archive for anyone to listen to, for free, forever, the next day.
The speech was as impressive as I'd heard. I didn't agree with all of Jo's visions for the future, but I was quite excited that she put it out there.

She also told me it was now available in print as part of the latest issue of Storytelling, Self, and Society.
Good grief.
"SSS" is the international, peer-reviewed academic journal created in 2003 by the Storytelling in Higher Education Special Interest Group of the National Storytelling Network. I understand the vision that created the journal (i.e., the desire to bring storytelling into secure footing in the academic world), but the infrastructure of these journals is more self-serving (for the publishers who print them, as well as for the egos of those academics who are published in them) than community-focused.

Academic journals like these limit their audiences (they focus on university libraries and academics (yes, personal subscriptions are available, if you want to pay $65/year for 3 issues)). They have authoritarian copyright policies (most journals, SSS included, recommend that authors relinquish copyright and transfer it to the publisher. SSS's publisher does allow exceptions, as long as authors grant them exclusive worldwide publishing license).

I serendipitously discovered that my employer has online access to SSS, so I took a peek and was quite impressed with the articles I found there, and sorry to see that for most of the storytelling community, they are hidden away behind a locked gate.


Finally, I wanted to do a shout out to Kendall Haven --one of the first professional storytellers I ever saw perform once I discovered storytelling. Kendall is a former scientist, and he's surveyed the research out there in educational literature on the educational impact of storytelling, and found hundreds of qualitative and quantitative studies to back up storytelling's usefulness in the classroom, going way beyond the tired old position paper by the National Council of Teachers of English trotted out by every storyteller trying to book a school residency or assembly.

So where did I find out about this? SSS. (/me rolls eyes). He's also presented at the 2006 National Storytelling Conference. He's written a book about what he found, Story Proof: the Science Behind the Startling Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

I don't imagine the book tour that Libraries Unlimited set up included YouTube videos. (Nope, just checked).

Now I know Haven is a hard-working storyteller. He'll get the word out, one professional development workshop at a time, one reading conference at a time. But I have to say, he's sitting on an idea virus that needs to be liberated from its petri dish. Where's the Story Proof blog? Where's the Story Proof web site? Even the storytelling community's evangelists for storytelling in education --the ones who know how to use the web-- aren't picking up on this (hey-- Karen? Kate? Jackie? Dianne? Rachel? Kevin? the clue phone is ringing. Pick up, would you?)

Get those Oscar-winning slide shows guys back here again.


A presentation at a storytelling conference is not sufficient. An article in an academic journal is not sufficient. An article in Storytelling magazine is not sufficient. (SSS = throwing your ideas down a deep well. Storytelling magazine = less deep well, but a well none the less)

What is sufficient? Will I be happy only when every storytelling elder has their own YouTube channel, blog, viral marketing campaign, and ancillary line of products?

(Okay, yeah, I'd be happy)

There are more and more ways to get content out there. And I've mentioned a few of the leaders who have found ways to do that. Old school, meet new school. Make stuff happen.


BYRSTN said...

I thought about privately emailing you, but I want the record set straight. Jo Radner's 2007 NSN conference Keynote was taped. All the keynote sessions were recorded and all attendees had the opportunity to buy. I personally made the CD's for those who bought it. Whether they were mailed to those people...I don't know. I was asked to leave before that could happen. The master cds were in my office that day. The NSN position had been to only allow conference attendees access to the keynotes. We tried to change that. Recently some of the older keynotes are available on the NSN site. At the time of the original recording, the release only covered reproduction for selling to conference attendees. I hope releases to cover sales via the web have since been obtained from those 2004 and 2005 speakers.

The masters of about 5-6 year's conferences were in that office, also. And again, the release was written for only conference attendee purchase. All it would take would be to contact those great presenters and ask them to sign a new release and poof (well, maybe not that easily) they could be available to hundreds (thousands, maybe) people who could benefit from the wisdom sitting on a shelf. I know there was a fantastic panel presentation at the RI conference. People have begged to have to release. I think there was an attempt by the OUTLOUD discussion group a few years back to get it done, but it didn’t happen.

NSN continues to look for revenue streams. They are literally sitting on a potential one, but they would have to do some work to get it going. That's harder than sending out plea letters.

Maybe you can do something to help them come to this realization. I'll be happy to talk with you about this. Those recording should be out there for all.

BYRSTN said...

Oh, and Jo is right. It was better in person, but I can personally attest that her wisdom and humor came through on the cd.

Tim said...

Oh, believe me, I'm pestering the staff and board at NSN about the keynotes. David Joe, in particular, is being really helpful.

I actually don't think the speeches will be much of a revenue stream.

I suggested to David that NSN make recordings available for a set time, say two years, or three, and after that give them away for free (via the web) as a promotion and marketing tool for the conference. After a certain point, a single conference registration would pay for the "lost" revenue of giving the speeches away.

About Sean Buvala said...

Hi Tim! Excellent post again and yo left me out of the clue list. I am so hurt. LOL! I will actually have a useful response for you later today.

In the meantime:

Did you get *your* anonymous hate mail yet?? I did, just yesterday. Let me share it with you, I will clean it up for the easily offended. I am, according to it, "The largest (back end orrifice), without a doubt, in storytelling. (Procreate) off, (male genitalia)."
The IP address places it as routing through Knoxville TN. Hmm, we do we know in that area? I guess I complained about my website too many times.

Yay Me!

Tim! Keep sharing your opinions, keep telling the truth and you, too, can get some violent anonymous Email. Won't it be fun to have that in common.

Hint: They only send you hate mail when you are right and you have shaken the trees really really hard. If you want, we can send it to each other hate mail and build up our street cred'.

Yo! Peace out, onceuponatime man.

About Sean Buvala said...

Betty, did you let the cat out of the bag with "I was asked to leave before that could happen?"

BYRSTN said...

Sean, No, I don't think so. I had turned in my resignation. bm told me on the last Tues. of that notice to get out of the office. I had just given her my 3 page in progress list. If there was no follow through, well......

So you're getting hate mail. Doesn't surprise me. You tell it like it is. You and Tim, both do. Keep it up.

Betty Smith (I meant to sign my name to the other comments today).

About Sean Buvala said...


Thanks for the quick and honest response. I value your honesty.

BYRSTN said...

Tim, You said "I actually don't think the speeches will be much of a revenue stream."


I'm a penny saver. I'll stoop down to pick up a dirty penny off the ground. My efforts in 2003 resulted in a $20.00+ bottle of wine used to celebrate our return to TN. It added up.

A $15.00 cd sold to 10 people who are interested in the topic results in $150.00 less in house production cost and shipping. That's money not in the bank right now. And more importantly there are 10 people out there who have what they want from the national organization.

I talked about quality member services and the goodwill it would do until I was blue in the face last year. My belief has not been shared by the powers that be. Bottom line, unless the dollars are reciprocated by those who get such services, the effort to provide them will not be made.

Betty Smith

About Sean Buvala said...

Betty, your comment about blueness are frustratingly honest and I thank you for them- who knew? I am just worn out by all of this. "Monetize" is the mantra. I do understand that, I have some decisions to make now reflecting that for my own work, but Syd's comments to me that his sales have gone up after he gave it away...sigh..rattle in my head everyday. "Giving it away" has been the model at Storyteller.net for a long time and it has worked for us in many ways.

I am trying to be good. I have to stop be engaged in these conversations 'cuz it appears that I am the problem. Do I need anymore attention? LOL? An $85 rumor? What?

Delete me, Tim, if I'm way out of line.

Dianne de Las Casas said...


Love your blog. Will add you to my blog roll. BTW, I know all about Kendall's book (his publisher is my publisher). Anyway, I was on Eric's podcast earlier this week and talked about Kendall's breaking book. It is also in the new Story Biz Handbook. This is the qualitative data we need to wave in people's face. I also talked to DJM about the book just yesterday. So yes, I probably promote Kendall as much as Kendall does. He's a genius.


Dianne de Las Casas
Author & Award-Winning Storyteller

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...


Sometimes it is not enough to want to use technology to further storytelling, especially in the education realm.

In fact, a couple weeks ago on the monthly Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance Board call I suggested that we have a Facebook account as well as a group on the Professional Storyteller social network site. I half expected some "Oh yeah! That's what we need to do" attitude. Instead, I heard people concerned with the amount of time to run something like that.

Since then Dianne de Las Casas has created a "Storytelling in Education" Group on Professional Storyteller.

I suggested that college students studying to be teachers would connect better to our group through Facebook or something of that nature.

I still have people in YES! who do not understand how to post on a listserve let alone these other technology possibilities. This is part of the reason for the low use of the listserve.

Don't worry, Tim. I will keep at it. When something is repeated enough times, either people do it out of excitement or they do it out of annoyance so the person stops talking!

I hope to accomplish both excitement and annoyance. The nicer word is "persistence".

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

Tim said...

Dianne-- good to hear you're getting the word out. BUT no one has reviewed the book yet. There's no press. Zip. Not even a review on Amazon (hint, hint, Dianne)

Rachel-- keep at it!

And my point about technology isn't solely directed at storytellers. Marketing and promotion these days, whether you're an author, a performer, a software inventor, or a chimney sweep, is easier and more affordable than ever before. And you don't have to use the Web to promote your work. I mean, as long as you're not really interested in success.

BYRSTN said...

I went back and re-read your words Tim. I had a knee-jerk reaction to some things you wrote. And I don't apologize for that reaction. It was real and true.

However, you raised the point that there are good works being done that are buried to the hurgry storyteller. SSS requires membership, conference gems require attendance, essays require purchase.

Do the Youtubes, blogs, podcasts etc. stand alone? Are they an entirely different vehicle? Should they be incorporated into the same old, same old venues just to become that same old? Would they? Is there a new wave or just a desire to bring something new to the old?

I hear Rachel's frustration born of trying to move in a new direction. When the conference finally was able to have a fringe it couldn't be called a fringe. It had to be a lyceum. People might talk. There might be bad publicity. "Fringe" was treated as a dirty word. The next year without any discussion from Loren Neimi and those who did all the work down to me who did the grunt stuff, it was called fringe. And it has become the best part of the conf. structure.

The thought leaders are speaking. I want to help get the word out. How? (said rhetorically)


About Sean Buvala said...

Libraries Unlimited will not send review copies of anything. MRM had to buy book and send it to me. Why no review copies?

Connecting Stories said...

Thank you all ! I have been struggling with these same issues in stodgy ole New England for years.
There is a generational divide and, I fear, a class issue here. Some folks simply do no have the $$$ to get on line and participate in social media. Particularly those in very rural areas who would need a satellite to get high speed internet. The largest problem is also the most tractable; all of these real issues have been compounded by willful IGNORANCE.
I sigh a lot.
And then I try to educate.
The energy and thought at this blog rock my little world! And gives me hope. Keep on keepin on!