Galvanizing action with storytelling: Jennifer Scott's lessons from Makers Conference 2016

The most inspiring storytellers at Makers were those who had the courage to use their personal experiences to illustrate the need for change.

Jennifer Scott
Jennifer Scott

I had the privilege of representing Ogilvy Public Relations at the Makers 2016 conference in February in Palos Verdes, California – which is a good place to be in February under any circumstances.

Dedicated to creating gender equality through the power of narrative, Makers "highlights the stories of groundbreaking women today to create the leaders of tomorrow." So, the greatest challenge of the gathering is making sure storytelling inspires change.

It turns out that Makers can teach us a lot about turbo-charging narrative.

First, declare your goals: As the indomitable Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell of the Tuck School of Business proclaimed at the outset of the conference, "action" was the defining mission. She challenged – even obligated – the audience to transform what they heard into a personal action plan for gender equality. Permission to be a passive listener was decisively revoked out of the gate.

Secondly, use multiple formats: At Makers, storytelling took place through interviews, monologues, discussions and demonstrations. The most impactful moments were amplified online: in film, tweets, photos, commentaries, and websites. No story lasted more than 15 minutes – maximizing excitement and sound bites. Core themes were repeated, interpreted, and discussed, making them immersive and powerfully motivating.

Third, be vulnerable to be strong: The most inspiring storytellers at Makers were those who had the courage to use their personal experiences to illustrate the need for change. Counter-intuitively, this vulnerability lent enormous strength to their narrative and galvanized the audience around the larger issues.

Fourth, diversity creates unity: as a gathering of accomplished women, the Makers conference is a collection of highly diverse individuals with distinct backgrounds and personal and professional trajectories. Rather than seed division, this generated a high level of inclusiveness, making the stories more, not less, relevant to everyone in the audience. When everyone is different, everyone belongs.

Fifth, make it real with data: While the emotive power of storytelling inspires…statistics set the bar for action. Anchored in studies by McKinsey, PwC, and others, the conference grounded its passion in hard goals requiring hard action. Every woman left Makers with the facts that allowed her to set benchmarks and plan against them.

As a woman leader, I expected to get a lot from Makers 2016, but I did not expect to be schooled in the finer arts of my own profession. What an added delight that was.

Jennifer Scott is managing director for New York at Ogilvy Public Relations.

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