Recently I was lucky enough to attend a Story Slam at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live. At a Story Slam, 10 people take the stage one at a time to share an honest and personal story in front of a sizable audience. After each storyteller bears his or her soul for five minutes, the storytellers are judged by three judges who hold up scores like they were an judging an olympic ice skating contest. If it is true that public speaking is feared more than death, being publicly judged for that speech must be off the charts.
One by one, people took the stage and shared his or her story. The theme of the night was anniversaries, so people talked about their last drink, last heroin overdose, incredibly revealing trips to Paris bathrooms and life threatening car accidents. The storytellers bared their souls to a crowd of friends and unknowns, preparing to be judged. The pressure in front of the Microphone, looking out on the crowd, must have been intense. Yet, one by one, the storyteller took the stage, told his or her story and willingly was judged by the audience.
But it was the audience that made the storytelling possible. The audience was cheering and celebrating each storyteller. Regardless of the quality of the story, the audience showed support for the person on stage. Each storyteller was presented with a quirky award (likely from a dollar store) that was somehow celebrating the storyteller’s efforts. The audience made it a safe and inviting place for the storytellers. The irony of the situation was that it was the public that made this public speaking so possible.
Brands need look at the environment they are creating when asking a consumer to share a story. Are you asking them to share in a room filled with supporters or the cold hard world of the web? If people aren’t comfortable in the room, they simply wont share.
Creating a room conducive to sharing doesn’t mean turning off comments. Interactions between consumers is critical to engaging a large audience. Brands can’t expect to carry on all conversations. The interactions also add to the legitimacy of the stories, with other consumers weighing in with their own version of the story, often supporting the brand and adding additional context.
Interaction with other consumers is necessary, but brands have to take steps that the interactions support the conversation, not squelch it. Brands need to establish clear rules for mutual respect in the comments and enforce those rules. While a commenter may disagree with a brand story, the disagreement should be handled respectfully. Commenters should be required to reveal their identities at some level to ensure that there is accountability.
Getting up on stage and sharing a story takes a lot of confidence. Brands need to create a room that makes it as inviting as possible to grab the mike and share a story.