Everyone Has a Story, We Need to Discover It

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This year’s Chicago Ideas Week was filled with superb speakers, workshop and IDEAS. Unfortunately, my budget would only allow a small sampling of the seven day schedule. Choosing wisely.

A must see, for me, was Bruce Weindruch’s presentation/workshop “Start with the Future and Work Back.” I had the pleasure of participating in the workshop earlier this year and enjoyed it so much that I had to attend, again. Mr Weindruch is the CEO and Founder of The History Factory, a different kind of creative company that leverages an organization’s history to tell a new story.

Working with historical content is nothing new for me; the joy and tedium of shifting through archives–cataloging, tagging and sorting to find the most relevant material for the project connects me with the past. Everything from film, newspaper/magazine clippings, photographs and even audio can contain some very surprising details about people, places and organizations.

Begin with a few simple questions:

  • What’s important NOW?
  • What do you want to HAPPEN?
  • What INVENTORY do we need to get from the archives?

Here are a few takeaways from the “Start with the Future and Work Back” workshop.

  • Look inside the organization to support today’s message.
    European luxury fashion companies due this elegantly to highlight heritage, craftsmanship and creativity.
  • Pull the right story for the right moment.
    One example that comes to mind is from one of my architecture tours when we site the energy efficiency of 110 year old building connecting it with a contemporary issue.
  • Tag (meta tag) the historical material.
    Select keywords that connect with today’s message. This is truly an art form and should be well thought and systematized. 
  • Look for significant threads or commonalities in the inventory.
    Years ago, I was researching and designing a 75th anniversary event magazine for a private golf club. The archives were NOT organized. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together.
  • Ask “what’s important?”.
    The historical matter must be credible.
  • Find an iconic image and shape your story around it.
    As a designer this is one of favorite aspects of any project; if you’re lucky enough to find it. 
  • Create compelling stories using the “threads” customized for your audiences.
    Working with the writer to create the language that will bring it all together; adding the emotion, passion and persuasion to the story (stories)
  • Measure the impact of the story. Marketers will do what they do best to track and measure the effectiveness of the advertising and/or PR campaign. See what’s working

Case studies referenced by The History Factory to illustrate these concepts; these included Brooks Brothers, Inland Steel Building and Boeing. Check out the company’s video library for more nuggets about storytelling.

These tips and strategies have proven very useful, recently, on some personal projects and the research for some architecture tours. Simply stated…how can we make history fun and relevant for today’s audience? 

An example is the History Channel’s 10 Things You Don’t Know About show, the host uses a contemporary approach to uncover ten little known facts about a topic–stuff we may have slept through during high school history class.

Remember, everyone has a story, we need to discover it.

PS: There were three Chicago Architecture Foundation docents in the audience, including myself. Watch out… our storytelling skills will only get better!