In a conversation with fellow conference attendee Kathleen Hennessy in the cab on the way to the airport on Friday, we had a good laugh over the similarities between her job as a professional photographer and my temporary gig as a blogger for the Communications Network conference. Quite simply, it is this: when Kathleen is on assignment, she is always alert, aware of her surroundings, looking for the “perfect moment.” So, too, for me, as I went into every session of the conference on the lookout for material for that ever elusive blog post.
I dutifully took notes – hoping for inspiration to strike – during David Simon’s talk, during Maria Hinojosa’s talk and during Ken Auletlta’s talk. But it was Auletta who provided the spark for the recurring theme or some connection or connecting of the dots among the different speakers.
Sure, storytelling was a recurring theme. No surprise there, we’re a bunch of communicators. But, what popped for me was the repetition among these very gifted storytellers of the necessity of – or desire for – time. Time to find a good story, or the right story, or to simply let a story reveal itself.
Aulelttla talked about the luxury of time that he had as a writer for The New Yorker. It was very clear how much he valued this in allowing him to really think through how he should tell the story. What storytelling device he might use for the story he wanted to tell. Who the “best” character for the story might be.
I thought back to Hinojosa. Her stories weren’t always one-shot deals. She would come back to a person or a family time and time again. She had the luxury of not having to start and end within, say, a grant period. Simon, as well, talked about how lucky he was (“because I don’t have a good imagination,” he said, which made me chuckle) to be embedded in a homicide unit for an entire year when he wrote his best-selling book, Homicide. The story, the details, the characters, emerged over time.
Good storytelling can take time. Which brings me full-circle back to Kathleen and the taxi ride to the airport. On Wednesday afternoon, Kathleen, Nicole Lampe and I led a pre-conference workshop on visual storytelling. As a professional photographer, Kathleen is a storyteller as well. One of her pleas during our workshop was that anyone in the audience considering hiring a professional photographer to tell their grantees’ stories give them time – three days instead of three hours. Time to be a fly on the wall. Time to allow them to get to know the people they are filming, just talking, without a camera on them. In the process, the characters will reveal themselves and, of course, the story will reveal itself. Then, the photographer will know what photos will truly tell the story of their subject.
Take the picture above (credit: Kathleen Hennessy, pictureWORLDhope) of The Shoeshine Man at the Roosevelt Hotel. We all walked past him at some point during the conference, but how many of us slowed down and stopped to talk to him to hear his story? Even by just taking a little time, Kathleen was able to see something that many guests at the hotel may have missed.
In this harried 24/7, all digital, all right-right-now world we work in, it’s a good reminder. Some of the best stories need old-fashioned time for the storyteller and their subject to connect.
Editor’s note: Liz is part of a special Philanthropy411 blogging team that covered last week’s Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference in New Orleans. This post originally appeared on The Communication Network’s blog.