The symposium welcomed speakers for short presentations on their research with the theme of story and place. We heard a wide variety of interesting projects, everything from the stories of Scottish Italians during the war to modern theatre to archaeology. A point repeatedly stressed is that when it comes to education and engaging the public, telling a good story is invaluable regardless of whether you are in a museum, library or archaeological dig. A second point common to many of the presentations was the responsibility you carry when listening to, or repeating personal stories. Stories can be intensely personal and need to be handled with care!
The second event I attended was a storytelling workshop led by Dr Michael Williams. This was a day of learning how to tell better stories. Now, oral storytelling isn’t my cup of tea. There is something uncomfortably intimate and group therapyish about sharing stories with near-strangers that I find awkward and at odds with my sense of personal space and ‘proper’ emotional distance. I’d rather read a book. However this workshop was excellent. I was already convinced by the value of a good story in engaging people with what you have to say but it was very useful to get some practical guidance on storytelling. We covered how and why you might choose to tell stories in academia, some practical techniques, and a bit about the underlying structure of a good story.
If a story conforms to our preconceptions of how a good story should unfold it is more satisfying and engaging. This is just as true when communicating research as it is with fairy tales. A story a very human method of communication that is much more likely to be talked about and shared which is often what we want in academia. Of course an academic paper should conform to certain strict standards and for good reasons, but when you are presenting something at a conference or down the pub, a good story can be the better choice. The very best and most engaging of the TED series of talks are good, simple stories.
I have only recently started my research project looking at at enabling the location-based searching of books so I don’t have much of a story to tell yet, but when the time comes to communicate the value of what I do, I will be looking to the Hero with a Thousand Faces for some guidance.