u had to

The Power of Storytelling 2015 — You had to be there

Andra Zaharia
Oct 12, 2015 · 6 min read

I wish I could be good enough of a writer to share how overwhelmingly wonderful The Power of Storytelling was this year. However, I am not. But I do take good notes, so bare with me.

This may sound corny, but for me PoS (what a beautiful abbreviation, isn’t it?) was a deeper, more emotional and raw experience than you can imagine. By sharing those personal experiences and baring themselves in front of us, the speakers created a sense of intimacy that is unbelievably difficult to come by.

Stages of life overlapped, we looked closer and also took steps back, so we could see the whole picture. We laughed, we almost cried, we clapped, we got goosebumps. We felt and lived, and thrived by basking in the glow of journalists and artists whose craft is immensely valuable. I didn’t know them before going to PoS in 2012 for the first time, but I am thankful for having had the chance to soak their wisdom.

We found a sense of place, meaning and we were reunited through common experiences, even though we can from such different worlds. This place is where we became more empathetic, where we suspended (some of) our mental triggers, stiffling stereotypes and getting better at exploring what we don’t know.

We worked on cultivating the freedom of the spirit in a world that’s increasingly fragmented and divided by borders both physical and spiritual. So we travelled into other worlds, as Jacqui Banaszynski invited us to. She was the one who opened the conference and taught me to see(k) the novelty of the things that are different, unique. Jacqui also spoke about the power that stories have to help people see that we share the same truth, that we see the same things, just from different angles. Differences can be rich sources of inspiration, as I found out. Bearing witness to other people’s experiences certainly share the same trait.

Jacqui also boiled it down to the essentials:

There are two lines in human history:

- a stranger comes to town

- and a man/woman takes a journey.

When exploring the richness of context and details, she urged us to go to the very center of the story. Being a good observer is something well worth teaching myself, and I know that now.

Choose details that don’t just describe, but reveal.

Look around you. See truly.

We scratched the surface to explored the details that shape our reality, our behaviour, our inner lives. And it was not easy.

Leslie Jamison, the author of the acclaimed “The Empathy Exams”, shared how writing gives her a sense of place to encounter our own personal history or other people’s (hi)stories. She advised us to search for information that will shed a light on diffrent angles of the story, so a seamingly abstract subject can come to live and move people. She also made me want to read “I Think You’re Totally Wrong” badly!

Dan Perjovschi talked about his meaning and how he rennounced the object so he can take his art across the world and how he sees some of the symbols that have shaped his experience as an artist. His work is gut wrenching at times and will most often make you grimace bitterly. And thus he achieves his purpose as a constant wake-up call of those who got sidetracked by society and it’s unrest (and we’ve all been at least once).

Richard Koci Hernandez, who just happens to have an Emmy at home for video & multimedia production, had an effusive speech about doing the work. He basically ordered us to turn the camera away from ourselves and point it to the world, where new narratives as emerging as a result of technology.

What you listen to, what you watch, what you consume MATTERS!

Garbage in, garbage out.

He emphasized time and time again that style and authenticity are developed through hard work and there’s no other way to get there than to do this work every single day.

Let go of the burden! (What is the world going to think?)

He also encouraged us to steal. :)

Don’t steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.

And in a reassuring manner he urged us to do whatever it takes to silence the inner critic, the ones who keeps us from trying new things, from practicing.

Observation is more important than technology. Get close to the story. Be invested in it. We don’t look enough at the physical world around us! We stare more at pixels.

Richard added something else that stuck with me:

Be a trickle, not a hose.

You don’t have to publish everything, you don’t have to post every picture. But you do have to create a lot of “ugly babies” and love them too.

John Freeman was yet another amazing guest who insisted we pay attention to the real order of people.

Successful literature brings down everything to human scale after the system has grown beyond our control.

In a movie-like monologue, John explained why it’s one of the most magical human experiences to recreate the sense of arrival, and we were all hooked.

To be a writer means to be in competition with reality.

So in order to write so that readers will forget that it’s not all happening inside their heads, one must feel, taste and touch the elements of the story himself/herself.

Think of place as a character when you’re writing.

We live in a world manufactured to fulfill needs much larger than ours, which is why bringing things down to human scale is essential.

Ah, you should’ve seen Chris Jones — he’s a real character! We cheered for him as the rockstar that he is. And rockstars aren’t made in the studio, just as good writers aren’t made in a room.

The Internet makes it easy to stay at home, because it makes you feel like you’re part of something. It gives you the illusion of action and participation.

But it’s not real. That’s why participation is important. So he urged us to make an effort to be there, to live the experience as it unfolds.

People are finding comfort in real things and real experiences again.

So don’t get trapped. There are decisions you can make to not feel trapped.

It’s not simple to do all this, because writing in the age of Internet trolls is challenging. The thought of having to overcome the fear of failure, criticism, distorsion and even hatred would detter most people from ever putting finger to keyboard. But I promised myself a long time ago that this wouldn’t stop me. And thank heavens that it hasn’t stopped much more talented people from working on their art.

At PoS we learnt to let go of the ideal of perfection that we had so carefully built and just do the work every day to become better storytellers. I, for one, was inspired to perfect the craft of creating meaningful stories that have a real impact, that inspire action and that bring more good into the world, and for that I cannot thank the PoS team enough!

I don’t know what magic they did to get such an amazing group of speakers in the same room, but they should be proud of themselves, because they have every reason to. You helped transform a part of me, guys! And I’ll be back next year and the year after that, so just keep inspiring (wannabe) storytellers like us to develop our craft.

And if you’re looking for a place to drive inspiration from, just go and live a little.

Andra Zaharia

Written by

Freelance content marketer. Infosec enthusiast. altMBA alumna. I host a podcast about decision-making: https://andrazaharia.com/the-podcas