Skip to content
Mar 13 / King Kaufman

Telling stories: Narrative conference highlights that most human skill

When you’re writing on a tight deadline and you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get this fact and that opinion and the other piece of sharp, witty analysis into this mess, it’s easy to forget the bones of it.*

We’re telling stories here.’s Kristen Hare has a piece about the annual Power of Narrative conference in Boston next month. Poynter is a sponsor. The conference, a decade and a half old, is built on the idea that storytelling, one of the oldest things we humans have, will always be in style.

“Good stories are good stories,” says Adam Hochschild, co-founder of Mother Jones, to Hare in an email. “We can all learn important lessons in technique from them no matter in what medium they are told.”

Hare writes aboutone of the scheduled keynote speakers, Raney Aronson-Rath, a deputy executive producer for PBS’s “Frontline.” Aronson-Rath was 22, a young reporter in Taiwan during the handover to China:

She couldn’t get at the big political stories, though. There was a senior reporter for that. So she found another way. Aronson started spending time with a group of young Taiwanese. They’d vote for the first time, their parents never had that chance. Through them, she told the story of mainland China and Taiwan.

Before then, it never occurred to Aronson that she could tell a story about real people that would resonate beyond just those people and their lives. But it did.

Telling stories well is a huge part of engaging an audience. I was struck recently on a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco by snippets of interviews with Walt Disney that appear on screens throughout the exhibits.

Disney is remembered as an innovator in animation, TV, movies and theme parks, and as an astute businessman. But just listening to him talk, off the cuff, to one interviewer or another about something that had happened in his boyhood or his early days in business, I kept finding myself hanging on his every word, even though the actual content of the tale meant almost nothing to me.

I really don’t care what Walt Disney’s dad did for a living when Walt was a boy. But dang! That guy could really tell a story!

I bet it’s not a coincidence that he could really draw a crowd too.

* * *

* I learned the phrase “the bones of it” from the legendary baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. He said that whatever stories, catch-phrases or style a baseball announcer put into the broadcast, “the bones of it is ball one, strike one.”