Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

Writing skill is the fundamental core competency of the communication/public relations professional. Why? What will you do to improve your PR writing style and ability once you graduate?


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In praise of books

As a college professor, I am certainly no stranger to books. Like a flintlock rifle to a pioneer, my books are my major tools of survival.

But these are textbooks. While I love them all, reading books of my choosing for fun is a wonderful holiday treat. During fall and spring semesters, I do not have time to read for fun. In addition to four classes/80-plus students, serving as faculty advisor for two organizations, counseling 50 advisees, hundreds of online correspondence weekly, and my two blogs, I take at least one doctoral class a semester. I can’t manage more than that with my existing workload. My doctoral classes usually add from two to five books that must be read, plus a weekly barrage of scholarly journal articles.

All that leaves little time for escapism reading. But now that I am out on winter break, I am catching up. I love good old-fashioned hardbound books whose pages I can turn, write in the margins, and mark memorable passages for easy retrieval later.

Yes, I read my fun books just like I read my textbooks — with pencil and marker handy.

My first read of the winter break was the incredible People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. Much of this wonderful book takes place in a special city to me, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I went there a few years back to speak at a conference, and it was a life-changing event. I studied Bosnia’s proud and at times troubled history before I left, but being there made it all come alive for me. I made some very dear and lasting friends on that trip, and after reading the book, I contacted each one. I also asked their help in contacting others with whom I have lost touch.

Many scenes from People of the Book take place in familiar areas to me — Sarajevo’s old town, the hotel in which I stayed, and streets whose architecture and war damage are all ingrained in my memory. The book also has a scene in Australia’s Noosa Beach, another interesting place I have visited.

But it is Sarajevo that still captures my heart. I got to see much of the city of Sarajevo. Years before, I had watched the winter olympics held there before the war. One of my most compelling memories from my visit was sitting mid-rink in the actual ice rink where Katarina Witt and others had performed in those olympics. Damaged heavily in the war, it was still a moving experience to be there, sitting alone in the dark, quiet of the olympic ice rink, once a scene of so much wonder.

I left Sarajevo and drove north through Bosnia-Herzegovina to Zagreb, Croatia. That trip was deeply moving because I saw much of the war-damaged countryside that was still trying to recover.

My second read was Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I liked it because the story and its intricacy is remarkable. I am familiar with much of the “mysteries” that permeate the book. You see, after my accident in 1977, in which I broke my back and became paralyzed and a wheelchair user, I went looking for answers. I read everything I could get my hands on about the world’s great religions, spirituality, the mind, conscientiousness, healing, miracles, metaphysics, Noetic science, philosophy, physics, the Knights Templar, Masonic history, and on and on. One book led me to another, then another. None of the secrets or symbols in The Lost Symbol were really new to me, but Dan Brown can put together an action-packed adventure like no one else. He is a gifted storyteller.

I am currently reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I’ll write about it later. It’s too early to tell about it, but so far, so good.

Like me, I know there are many other, excuse this, people of the book out there. It is a wonderful thing to be able to lose yourself in a compelling read. If you are one (and I know you are) please share your favorites with me via the comment block below. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy New Year. I wish you many wonderful books in the coming year.

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In studying narrative inquiry as part of my Qualitative Research Methods class, I was struck by some similarities with my training in communication/public relations. The shared essence is storytelling.

The qualitative researcher seeks out the narrative, which may be oral or written and may be elicited or heard during fieldwork, an interview, or a naturally occurring conversation, according to Susan E. Chase, writing in Denzin and Lincoln’s Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (2008).

Chase says a narrative may be a short topical story about a particular event or specific characters such as an encounter with a friend, supervisor, or physician, or it may be an extended story about a significant aspect of one’s life like schooling, work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness/injury, war, etc. Or, narrative can be on a person’s entire life.

Throughout my career, I have embraced the concept of  “communicator as storyteller.” For example, if the employee communicator is trying to explain why safety on the job is important to both employees and to the organization, then one of the best ways is to find a person who is actively engaged in safe operation of equipment and let him or her tell the story.

In this example, the narrative is crucial to credibility and, I believe, readability as well.

My valued textbook Public Relations Writing (2008) by Thomas H. Bivens, discusses the information strategies of exposition and entertainment. Bivens says two of the most-used forms of exposition are narration and description. As Bivens explains, narration is simply storytelling. Storytelling is useful for both informational and persuasive strategies.

But is there a difference between how the qualitative researcher gathers and uses narrative inquiry and how the communicator gathers and uses stories for organizational media?

Chase views contemporary narrative inquiry through five analytic lenses:

First, the researcher treats narrative, either oral or written, as a distinct form of discourse. It is retrospective in making meaning, for it shapes and orders past experience.

Second, researchers see in narratives verbal action, as in doing or accomplishing something.

Third, stories are both enabled and constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances.

Fourth, researchers treat narratives as socially situated interactive performances that are produced in a particular setting for a particular audience and a particular purpose.

Fifth, the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry views herself or himself as narrator developing interpretations and seeking ways to present and publish the narratives studied.

This is instructive for the communicator as well. The communicator frequently seeks out a narrative that is retrospective, such as how an employee learned to operate equipment safely over a period of years. This is, as number two above says, verbal action of how the employee accomplished safe operation.

Are stories in the workplace constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances as stated above? You bet they are. In using the narrative of an employee, the communicator might find out that the culture of the organization, and the resources it provides, are not conducive to safe operation of equipment.

Workplace stories are indeed interactive performances of time and place and audience, as in number four above.  The employee narrative is a snapshot in time and can have tremendous value to the organizational communication audience.

Finally, the communicator definitely interprets the collected narratives in order to edit them and publish them in organizational media. Here the organizational communicator has an advantage over the qualitative researcher — the communicator often is responsible for his/her own media and has full authority to publish, whereas the researcher must seek publishers.

To me, the efforts of both the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry and the organizational communicator using storytelling are similar. I believe that each can learn from the other, making each practice that much stronger.

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