Pocketful of Stories

By Sara Veltkamp, Minerva Strategies –

Digital storytelling has become a large part of the nonprofit communicator’s world.  While I’m an avid story consumer and story writer, I had little experience with the process of creating digital stories.  To get my feet wet, the Minerva team decided that I would head to Berkeley, California to attend a digital storytelling workshop at the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS).

This workshop was intended for people like me who have minimal technical expertise. We didn’t use expensive cameras, sound, or editing equipment; my entire project was to be shot, edited, and produced in three days via my iPhone 5S and a few relatively inexpensive apps ($5-$15).

I’m happy to dish the details of the workshop, but please allow me to use this space to share my biggest takeaways:

1.  The size of your equipment doesn’t matter. Really.  Don’t wait until you have the gear to start telling digital stories.  I don’t want to discount the talent of storytelling professionals; beautifully shot film, a wealth of experience, and a great camera / sound set-up make a difference in the production quality of stories, but it is possible to tell a fantastic story with enormous impact using a device that fits in your pocket.

2.  A lot of free or low cost and easy-to-use resources are available.  The staff at CDS recommended that we get the following iPhone apps: iMovie as the video editor, TitleFX, Image BlenderCamera+, and Filmic Pro app.  I am sure that there are similar Android resources available as well.  They also recommended a webinar on www.Lynda.com called “iPhone Photography: From Shooting to Storytelling,” by Richard Koci Hernandez.

Next time you sit down to play Candy Crush, Words With Friends, or some other noble mobile pursuit, play with these resources instead and learn what they can do.  Or, if you have the opportunity, take a workshop through the Center for Digital Storytelling.  They are excellent, reasonably priced, and held in various locations throughout the U.S. and worldwide.  Check out the schedule of workshops for more details.

3.  My story is your story. I was repeatedly struck with how the stories of my classmates resonated with my own experiences, despite being incredibly different.  I have no personal experience with marriage or divorce, being a guy, domestic abuse, or abortion.  However, the emotional response to each story resonated on a level the plotline did not. Hearing the stories of others in my class reminded me yet again that we are all connected in our emotional human-ness.

4.  Connect to the emotion of the story.  I felt so connected to the stories of my classmates because they didn’t simply tell the story of the experience, they told the deeper story of how those experiences made them feel. This connection is critical to engage audiences and inspire action.

Many of our clients have stories about people in remote areas of the world whose realities are very different than people in the U.S.  Do I understand what it is like to be a girl in Ethiopia who is shamed and kept from school because of her period?  Absolutely not, but I do know what it’s like to be a girl who is humiliated, scared, and feels like she is facing those feelings alone. As a donor, I’ll give to that girl in Ethiopia.  Not all humans share the same experiences, but we all share something deeper.  Digital storytelling is a powerful vehicle that can connect us to that deeper well.

Don’t misunderstand; this is not an art that one can master after a three-day workshop.  Our need and love for dedicated storytellers who draw tears, provoke action, and make us laugh will always be there.  However, the ability to create a digital story with impact may be a lot more accessible than you think.  I’d love to talk about the possibilities and share what I’ve learned. If interested, feel free to reach out to me at Sara (at) MinervaStrategies (dot) com.