Lots of people think they're good storytellers, but not everyone has the gift. The truth is that many of your friends may just be suffering through your boring ramblings. There are components any good narrative needs: the story needs a structure, you need to make an emotional connection with your audience, and there has to be some sort of conflict or journey involved. Nobody likes a story that doesn't go anywhere.

And storytelling a critical skill for business, at the personal and organizational levels. Businesses used to think they didn't have to tell their stories; all they had to do was tout their products. But as digitally-empowered audiences become more resistant to interruptive advertising, that's no longer the case. Businesses today need to present a story to connect with their market segment.

Frank Rose can spin a great tale. He's an author who has built his career around storytelling. In his most recent book, The Art of Immersion, he tells the story of how stories are changing to accommodate the possibilities of digital technology. As a member of the Columbia University School of the Arts' Digital Storytelling Lab, he created the lab's Digital Dozen, a curated list of the 12 most innovative stories from the previous year, and launched its Breakthroughs in Storytelling awards program.

In a recent ceremony at Lincoln Center, Columbia DSL unveiled its third annual Digital Dozen. Among this year's awardees are several VR shorts, three very different video games, and some projects that defy categorization.

Here is Rose's take on what the Awards say about the state of storytelling today, and what business people can learn from them:

1. VR Is Still Hot - and Still Incredibly Experimental

Rose is awed by the power and potential of VR for sharing and experiencing stories.

"Last year, one of the award winning projects was a 'Field Trip to Mars,' which turned an ordinary school bus into a giant VR headset, filled it with school kids, and took them on a virtual visit to the Red Planet." But VR is yet to reach its full potential. There is still much to develop with the technology, and many methods of implementations to discover. The future of VR is bright!

2. Point of View Is the Next Frontier

This year's VR crop was particularly interesting in its use of point of view. Rose describes unique entries from this year: "'Zero Days VR,' which won our special jury prize, is a mini-documentary that takes viewers inside the Stuxnet virus. 'Bloodless' takes a journey with the ghost of a South Korean 'camp worker.' And Alejandro Iñárritu's 'Carne y Arena' confronts the desperation the US-Mexican border." The ability to connect with the audience in a deeper way is remarkable, and businesses need to take advantage of the opportunity. The problem is that...

3. Businesses Still Don't Get It

Children remain the top focus for innovative storytelling. To Rose, this tendency is understandable, but a lost opportunity for businesses. "This years top prize, The Breakthrough Award winner, went to 'The Oracles,' a mixed-reality educational experience. It's so engaging and fun that it makes learning irresistible." Imagine the ways a company could use this kind of storytelling for their own internal educational purposes. Done well, completion rates on internal training exercises could skyrocket.

4. Enhance Your Live Performance

Rose also knows that it's not all about technology. In fact, technology is often best used when it's a complement to a traditional form of communication. He explains, "A realization that came through this year was the incredible power of live performance that is enhanced with digital technology." Rose highlighted Javaad Alipoor's 'The Believers Are But Brothers,' a one-man play that was the hit of the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Here, too, is real opportunity for business. It would introduce better ways of reaching market segments and your internal audiences, too.

Published on: Apr 6, 2018