5 things we learned at The Story 2016

The Story is a one-day conference celebrating everything that is awesome about stories in all their possible formats. Our team is constantly looking for better ways to make healthcare conversations more human and that was the spirit in which we attended an incredibly creative day. In keeping with The Story’s new project called '5 things I learned', we thought we’d share our story in the same way.

Here are ‘5 things we learned’ at The Story 2016:

  1. Don’t assume the current system is the best one

One of our favourite talks of the day came from C. Spike Trotman, a cartoonist and founder of Iron Circus Comics. One line in particular stayed with us: “Don’t get comfortable and don’t assume the system you’re most familiar with is the best one”. In the context of comics, she directed this to the veteran newspaper cartoonists resistant to the rise of digital cartoonists, like Spike, driving a change in the industry. It also resonates with the broader rise of digital media and other new technologies within the communications industry.

We found Wolfgang Wild’s story fascinating. While trying to work out his purpose in life, Wolfgang realised that he could turn his obsession with the past into a venture. His website Retronaut seeks to disrupt our sense of time by dissolving the barrier between present and past. One way he does this is by sourcing colour photos from times when we would expect the photos to be in black and white, making you think you’re looking at a more recent photo.


                                                                       Russia, 1909

                                         Source: PROKUDIN-GORSKII / LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

  1. The importance of preserving the local

Two of the talks, though very different in content, touched upon a similar theme of preservation.

Born N Bread are a collective of ‘Female Zine Makers’, five girls in their 20s who grew up in Peckham, went away to university and came back to find their hometown was changing. They were keen to preserve their local culture by creating a nostalgic keepsake that celebrated their community. Their format of choice? A ‘Zine’ – a handmade scrapbook printed on a very small scale and distributed to local shops. In this case, the exclusivity has earned the collective their own following and a local radio show.


                                                                   Source: BORN n BREAD

Gaia Vince is a writer and broadcaster focused on science and the environment. She shared the anthropological theory that we are in the Age of Humans, or the ‘Anthropocene’, where humans are significantly impacting the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, leading to limited resources and an unstable climate. To combat this effect, people in local communities around the world are inventing impressive geo-engineering techniques with little or no technology. For instance, Gaia met an Indian farmer who sought to delay the melting of the ice caps in the mountains of Ladakh by driving the running water into natural depressions on the shady side of the mountain, leaving the water time to freeze and melt again to irrigate the crops later in the day. The bountiful crop has encouraged villagers to start returning, having migrated to nearby towns when crop production initially fell.

  1. How to tell stories in the face of hostility

Journalists around the world face increasing pressure when it comes to the future of in-depth investigative journalism. Some of those challenges are openly threatening, some more insidious, and it was a valuable reminder of the power of journalism across the board.

Musa Okwonga, a poet and journalist, observed that journalists are writing in an angry age of social media where sharing honest opinions, on any subject, can be met with instant criticism and hostility from the public. Musa says that he “writes with an open wound” as a way to address the inevitable anger his writing will receive.

It was hostility from lawyers that journalist James Ball faced when investigating big bank tax evasion for The Guardian last year. James and his team were resilient in their pursuit, which began with mining through thousands of sheets of data to identify the key actors of the story. The only reason they could stand up to the threat of injunctions was because they were seeking the truth on the public’s behalf.

  1. The online world and the real world don’t operate in siloes

Jon Thompson and Alison Craighead are visual artists who represent the internet through video and sound. One piece of work, called ‘More songs of innocence and experience’, transformed unsolicited emails into karaoke songs. Condensing the content into this medium kept all the elements of the story, whether it was around money, love or politics etc. Another example was ‘London Wall’, a wall of tweets posted in the surrounding geographic area that materialised a poetic snapshot of social history. Both works showed that the vast amount of content posted and shared to the internet doesn’t just disappear into the ether never to be seen again. People digest content in different contexts, meaning that what you post online may have a bigger impact on the real world than you think.


                                                        Source: THOMSON & CRAIGHEAD

  1. There are no limits to what you can do with a biscuit tin

Last but not least, we learned that what you think might be an everyday object, could also be an event programme!


In healthcare communications we make a conscious effort to tell the story of a ‘person’ rather than a ‘patient’. In a highly regulated subject area, this process can be quite complex and creates an overcomplicated outcome. The main takeaway we’ve tried to apply to our work since The Story is the necessity of simplicity. People are people and their experiences are only relatable when the story is told well. Watching the inspiring speakers do exactly that inspires us to keep honing our own skills in favour of sharper, more engaging work.

If you’re interested in finding out more, here are the 5 things some of the other attendees learned: https://medium.com/5-things-i-learned

Take a look at The Story 2016 storify here for all the social media action: https://storify.com/thestory/the-story-2016

Zara Patel

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search