Storytelling with Scott Anger

Yesterday I attended Content Strategy Los Angeles Meetup “Story telling for business with award-winning journalist Scott Anger” organized by Heather Worthingon.

I came to the event because I’m interested in improving my story telling skills and learning new techniques. About 20 people showed up at Coloft to hear Scott talk about best practices of story-telling and content strategy.

Scott, formerly a video content Director at LA Times, is currently consulting and making documentary films (one on Polish youth discovering its Jewish ancestry is in works). Scott had made many documentaries, especially from front lines.

Story telling is everywhere. All you do is storytelling one way or another: it is either our story or somebody else’s story.

We discussed why videos are not that popular in online newspapers compared to text and photographs. One of the suggestions was to provide subtitles to videos so that people can turn the volume off and not distract their coworkers by audio. Another reason was that videos are hard to skim, so a video should have a synopsis of what it is about and tags; then the viewer will decide whether to watch it or not. Due to no captioning provided, videos are considered to be time-consuming.

Measures of video usability are not clearly defined. The important criterion is not the clicks but customer engagement via sharing and commenting.

Scott showed us several examples of videos with great story telling: Girl Effect One and Girl Effect Two. It is interesting that almost everyone liked the first one better, which was simple motion graphics (could be done in PowerPoint or Adobe After Effects).

In my opinion, in the first video the viewer is not distracted by imagery and moving objects and his attention is more focused on text and its meaning, which makes it very powerful. In the second one the viewer attention is diverted from text to images.

At the same time, I’ve noticed that at least in blogging, text+image is better than just text, as you need some visuals to help readers relate to text, but not too much to get distracted and unfocused.

We also watched ETSY video about Liberty Vintage Motorcycles, which was a great example of creating your story around the character. That video was part of the campaign to raise ETSY’s brand awareness via storytelling. The main character is likeable because he is very passionate about what he is doing and the topic he is covering.

The questions were: how do you know what content users want and how to engage them? One of the ways is to ask them directly.

Scott mentioned that there is no PR as per se anymore but branding. Data is king (not content or cash). When you know what people want, you can reach them.

There are many different strategies both in content creation and storytelling. Good examples are Hulu, jivesoftware, Planet Money (fun and creative way to tell about investing), The American Life with Ira Glass.

Other suggestions: Make complex story simple, use Solution based storytelling. Check out Story Structure video on TED “The Secret Structure of great talks” by Nancy Duarte.

Ask your customers tell their stories. Ushahidi from Somali speaks use mobile SMS to gather content.

Someone from the audience gave this example: a business owner sent cameras to all people who received technical help from him, asked to video-record their feedback and mail those cameras back to him. It really worked and he received a lot of testimonials that he posted on his website.

Your story may not always be an epic one with character development and a story arc, but at least make it interesting. Good quality content is very important nowadays, be authentic.

Story arc is usually about conflict and resolution by means of characters. If there are three acts in your story, state your conflict in act 1, then start resolving it in act 2 and come to resolution in act 3. In ETSY film, the statement/conflict was “What is next me?” and “America lost its usefulness”.

Then you would build your story with sequencing events: state event one and what your character feels about it, and then sequencing events and character reaction and development.

Another video we watched was “Mr. Toilet”, which was brilliantly done. It wrapped up with a strong call to action and I really related to it. It reminded me of another video I watched with Vijay Govindarajan, who spoke at Ted Big Apple Disruptive Ideas about reverse innovation on Feb 4, 2012.

Another highlight of the evening was a 13 min film made by Scott, which is part of the series

It was funded by Open Society Foundation (George Soros). You can find two other ones Scott made about detention of prisoners in Cambodia and sterilization of women in Namibia. The film we watched was made in Ukraine and called “50 milligrams is not enough”. In Ukraine government regulation restricted morphine and other medication to relieve pain for hospice patients. To see the video, go to Scott took 40 hours of footage, and I must say the story is very powerful. Quite a few of us were sobbing in the room and surely all were profoundly impacted by the film.

It was impossible not to feel the boy’s pain, but he was grateful to his friends and family for caring about him and distracting him from pain. The most memorable quote by the boy who was dying:

“I know that this life is nothing but a vapor, like from a kettle. It is not worth worrying that much. Because this vapor is our pass to heaven. Thank you for supporting me through my pain and my suffering. I’m grateful to you and God for it”.

Thank you, Scott, for your great work and for presenting at the Meetup. We learned so much from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: