Maybe it’s just me, but the concept of storytelling used to be a simple thing. When I think of storytelling, I think of kids sitting on the floor in a circle having a book read to them. Or, Uncle Buddy telling folks around the table at Thanksgiving about his escapades as a cab driver in Philadelphia. Or, sitting in a barbershop trying to decipher the lies from the truth as guys share some of the most unbelievable tales of their magnificent lives. Or, maybe it’s tuning into NPR or a PBS documentary where people tell their life stories to the interviewer.

Last night, the folks at Chester Made continued their series of group sessions on the topic of Digital Storytelling. This time, we had to pleasure of hearing from Lisa Nelson-Haynes, the executive director of Philadelphia Young Playwrights, who shared her knowledge gained from capturing stories all over the country of the philosophy and technique of facilitating community storytelling sessions.

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Lisa Nelson-Haynes demonstrating the device she uses to capture stories

Let’s pause here. I’m still having a hard time understanding this Digital Storytelling thing. But the greatness of these small sessions is discovering how others are having a hard time understanding it to. In a room where no question is a dumb question, it’s so comforting to be around folks who aren’t too proud to ask the dumb question, especially me. By the time the session ended, I had a much clearer understanding of the role of a storytelling facilitator; a better understanding of the power of storytelling; and a good idea how the technology behind Digital Storytelling works.

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I came to the table acknowledging the importance of hearing people’s stories and capturing them for others to see and share. What I learned last night was the role of a well facilitated process to get the most out of the story in order for it to serve the intended purpose. We learned some of the techniques that help storytellers share their stories, which are not the same techniques used by journalists interviewing folks to get a story; or for a film maker creating a documentary; or for the storyteller who just wants to spout off at the mouth with their own oral history.

Some of these techniques involve group dynamics, images, and prompts, with the sole purpose of capturing an authentic narrative on a specific theme. What results is a collection of stories that can be repurposed in various forms for people to consume as they see fit. These stories create an alternative view on what may be known or believed of that theme, especially if the only existing information on that theme is a traditional account in a book, magazine, newspaper, news reel, or what you perceive on your own.

There’s something about authentic storytelling that brings a fresh perspective on things, particularly when you’re lucky enough to have a cluster of storytellers contributing their own unique content.

I’ll confess to still needing another session or two to really grasp the power of Digital Storytelling, but I’m beginning to understand that capturing the story is only a small part of the power of storytelling. The real power is in the person bringing the story. When a facilitator can create the perfect environment for storytellers to execute, it makes all the difference in the world.