Thick stories

So when you think it can’t get any better, then Rebecca Riggs comes along. She’s had three careers, actor, mother (she’s still doing that one) and communicator extraordinaire. She specialises in this thing called narrative based practice. Peter Rekers told me I was going to love it, and I was already in love with it before she started. Being an actor, Bec had an extraordinary compelling presence. She‘d read the script, and got you inside of the character, this one talking about the importance of stories.

Narratives are not just story telling, Its also story listening, and story crafting. People are narrative beings. Stories are unavoidable, they are the way people make sense of the world. Narratives are an account of connected events. the connections have meaning, characters, change, imagery, sensations and emotions. And telling a story is not a guarantee of connecting. There are a number of rules and in the end they have to be good stories. We all know of crap stories.

Narratives  are very good for promoting safety or preparedness messaging and for recovery stories, to collect an collate the story of the events. But narrative practice is very valuable for other aspects as well. She illustrated a number of these rules, and what I loved was that her presentation wasn’tlinear, it was all over the place Rule 2, followed by rule 9 etc.

Such an important message  was that we needed to find and respect the story that is being told.  To illustrate she showed the photo of George Bush looking down on New Orleans from Air force 1. It was supposed to portray him sympathetically. It didn’t. It framed the whole federal government’s response, and clashed with what was happening on the ground. The first most important story is the one you tell yourself. Don’t position your organisation as the hero. place those in  the centre of the disaster, in the centre  of the story. Take these cues  who are we proud of and what are we grateful for.

She showed a fascinating video that was made by Ambulance Victoria. It was from the paramedics who attended the Bourke St. They had felt an overwhelming need to say thank you to the unknown people who had helped them in those initial minutes and hours in the  tragedy. Interestingly the corporate communications didn’t want to do it, and the staff had to push. It’s a beautiful powerful simple video of the paramedics saying thanks. Not heroes or heroics.

She says you need to read the mood. She showed the Pepsi Cola ad that had millions of views and and was pulled within 24hrs. The ad riffed off (or ripped off) the black lives matter protests, and couldn’t be more tone deaf, selling cola and social protest don’t really mix ( I was pretty pissed off when the clash sold the rights of should I stay  or should I go to Levis). Not when it was one about people who had died. The backlash brought it down, in 24hrs. You need to find the story and respect it

Stories need to be thick. They need to have a range of different view points. Just when you think you have it nailed, there’s another viewpoint. One of my favourite books is Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain. That is thick. JG Ballard also has a thickness to his narratives. This is important in behaviour change, as you need to be talking to a range of different people, and they need to identify themselves in the story, if they don’t it won’t resonate

To make these message work, you have to get cognitive. Contemplate the core things in people’s lives, attachment to people, places, things, what we love, being in control and having self efficacy, avoiding pain and the quest for pleasure, and  identity and sense of self. Again, these are straight forward, but we often think about messaging across what we need, and not how people will receive them. Flood messaging is an interesting one. And Bec has been doing work with Linda Schevellar from University of Queensland on flood message. You can read it in this cracking paper. All of our messaging and research around flood seems to have an underlying blame tone. ‘if only they listened” but as Bec pointed out, we aren’t meeting people where they are at. People are making decisions that are important to them, based upon this framework

Her final thought were around we don’t have a story telling culture in western culture, not like the oral traditions of indigenous peoples, or people with long connections to the land. I think we did have a storytelling tradition, but this has been lost over the years, as we have moved towards a rational science approach to things, and then the rapid truncation of everything in the social media age. Fstr as James Gleick describes it. Storytelling can create, or embed wisdom, and we need wisdom, because that helps us understand. And, at the moment, we need to understand

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