Story – the conference

Right then. It looks like I’m going to actually have to do this.

I tend to go to a lot of conferences, and most of them are focused on specific business sectors or platforms. At the Edinburgh TV Festival this year, I had a chat with Emily Bell and Dan Hon, bemoaning the fact that these conferences attract silos of people who would never go to each others events – the delta between Edinburgh TV festival and something like Dconstruct is tiny, for example. In fact, I think it might just be Dan Hon.

There’s obvious reasons for this, as most conferences are commercial events aimed at a certain sector. But at the Edinburgh TV festival, loads of people were raving about David Simon’s talk about The Wire, mainly because he wasn’t talking about platforms, distribution models or business models (well, he did talk a bit about the latter) but because he was talking about storytelling. Then Jeremy Ettinghausen and I were asked to do a talk about storytelling at PICNIC in September, which seemed to go down well. So I started to think more seriously about organising something around Stories and Storytelling. Then I tweeted the barely-baked idea this morning, and got such an overwhelming response, with loads of good ideas, so I’m going to actually get around to doing it.

The ideas i’ve had from people on Twitter include – Storytelling in UX design, storytelling in music, murder ballads, the Hakawati master storytellers of Syria (might be a big ask, that…), Marina Warner and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, using boardgames to teach computer game programming, projecting stories onto 3D paper-mache maps, the stories companies tell about their culture, storytelling in user research, the work of brilliant collaborative storytellers like coney/punchdrunk/hideandseek/et al, magic and storytelling, transliteracy in digital storytelling (might have to get Meg to explain that one to me), storytelling to explain complex theories/ideas, storytelling and data (obviously). I’ve got a personal wish list of a few friends who I want to ask along (like Tim Wright to talk about his Kidmapped! project), but I’ve been overwhelmed by the good ideas i’m getting in, and offers of help. So i’m getting really excited about it already…

This won’t be a big, expensive conference with loads of sponsors and keynotes flown over from the US of A. In fact, I’ll probably go down the Interesting/Playful route of hiring the Conway Hall, a tea-urn and some bunting. It’ll probably be around February/March next year, as I have a day job, and it will take me that long to organise. Here’s my current plan:

1 – write a blog post to capture lots of good ideas from people [done! always good to start a to-do list with something you’ve already done…]
2 – Check out the Conway Hall at Playful and find out if its available in Feb/March
3 – Start soliciting speakers and hassling friends and friends-of-friends to speak
4 – Work out how much its going to cost and set up eventbrite to let people buy tickets
5 – Build a page for the event and get tickets on sale [note to self – persuade wife to do some illustrations for the site]
6 – Panic
7 – Ask Russell where he got the tea-urn from
8 – Panic again
9 – Get the bunting up
10 – Have a really fun and inspiring day that makes me want to get excited and tell stories
11 – Take the bunting down
12 – Stop panicking

So – if you’d like to come to an event like this, or have ideas about who/what you’d like to see/hear, then let me know in the comments here.



  1. matthew knight

    Yes, yes, and yes again. That’s exactly the sort of thing i’d love to attend and get involved in. I’m sure the guys from if:book would be great to hear from, Pasa at Endemol Digital Studios, oh there’s so much scope for topics.

  2. Robert Steadman

    I’m very interested in this project, as I said on Twitter, and would love to be involved in some way – particularly the music side of stuff (I’m a composer and teacher).

    If there’s a mailing list to receive updates please let me know.


  3. Cheryl Cooper

    I suggest that you invite Dave Snowden (of Cognitive Edge) and Ron Donaldson – both experts on storytelling in business and great raconteurs themselves. I use Dave Snowden’s approach in my work. I would definitely come to your event…

    • Cheryl Cooper

      actually Dave Snowden doesn’t use storytelling – it’s a technique called narrative enquiry which solicits anecdotes. (Can’t work out a way to revise my previous comment).

  4. Cait

    I was just thinking about the aural tradition of storytelling. It would be worthwhile thinking about some mkind of discussion including a stand up with a strong sense of narrative – Stew Lee springs to mind, particularly since he wove a whole bunch of his earlier routines in to a novel.

  5. Alex Fleetwood

    Hurray! thanks for the mention & count team Hide&Seek in! Subject to new baby which arrives around mid-Feb (although perhaps can be brought along, I hear babies are quite portable). As well as any talking duties that you identify, we’d be happy to bring along (or help make) a game-that-makes-stories for the pleasure of your delegates!

  6. Jag Gill

    Good effort Matt.

    It scratches a couple of itches I’ve had for a while to explore how collaborative story gaming techniques, social media for documentary and commentary and agile production processes fit together, and what can be learned from storytelling to improve the processes of innovation and community-building.

    Hope there’s room in the programme for something along those lines there.

    Happy to lend a hand where I can to make this fly.

  7. David Varela

    I had a similar conversation at Power to the Pixel last week. Ostensibly it was a conference for digital storytelling, but inevitably it was dominated by film people as it was under the umbrella of the London Film Festival and held at the BFI. They were actually quite frosty about the new forms of digital storytelling. Which made me think that we need this crossover festival and we need it now.

    Old-fashioned storytelling seems to be the most important skill in all these new forms of media, which means huge opportunities for writers. Sadly, writers don’t seem to have twigged this yet. They just see the film & TV industries shrinking while the role of writers in interactive media is somehow seen as diluted/polluted by audience interference. In the advertising world, brands are also realising that it’s not so much about ‘campaigns’ now as ‘stories’ and ‘conversations’ with the public. Everyone wants storytellers.

    So yes. Please get a bunch of storytellers in a room, from all disciplines, so we can tell them about the freedom that is theirs. Or I’ll just keep ranting on other people’s websites.

  8. Daniel Winterstein

    Sounds great. I would definitely try to make it along.

    To add another idea to the already impressive list: how about a hackday style session where teams of people quickly make something demoable/pitchable on the storytelling theme.

  9. James Richards

    Yes for me! We’re doing lots in this area and I had a plan sometime back with ‘bush of goat’s to create a storytelling gathering – working title – campfire – to mix a festival with new storytelling themes. Give me a shout…

  10. Stuart Nolan

    Its important to keep the storytelling going into the evening (not that that will be hard). I’m happy to sort some magi out.

    Cait. I was also thinking there should be a comedian but I had Ronnie Corbett in mind.

  11. Elizabeth Varley

    Great stuff, would be happy to help. I’m interested in storytelling and memory – that any people it’s much easier to remember information if it’s communicated as a narrative. Also how to better tell stories as a public speaking tool, and how non-narrative information can be communicated through weaving a story.

  12. Frank Boyd

    This was one of the things that was high on the agenda following the Crossover Networking day in May. Dan Hon, Jo Roach and I agreed that we would try to organise something but haven’t done much about it yet.
    We’d love to find ways of mobilising the Crossover alumni to participate; be good to try to run some kind of lab in the run-up to it.

  13. Lizzie Ostrom

    building on what James Richards says, how about a Never-Ending story which we all have to keep going throughout the day. And/or some kind of chinese whispers game so we can see how constant retelling changes the narrative.

    • Greg Povey

      On from Lizzie, the history of story-telling and narrative is embedded in performance, recital and word of mouth handed down over generations & through communities (from myths, religious texts, across balladic poetry, theatrical displays)

      Today, that form of narrative has no time to grow or develop – the social media backchannel to all stories changes the meaning, or perceived direction, of a narrative immediately, in real-time. Like a thousand pencil notes in the margin of a book

      We are telling stories in an age of hyperreal historiography (excuse the twatty phrase)

      I would be interested in a discussion of the author as conductor/curator of mass stories – where does the story start and end, and who really owns it? (if that’s possible, and own does not mean IP)

  14. Steve Bunce

    Really pleased you’re doing this, Matt. Digital storytelling fits so well in schools. As mentioned, Primary school children telling stories projected from above onto 3D papiermache maps. Machinima, telling stories with video games is another growning area of storytelling. Great work, Matt, let us know how to help!

  15. russell

    Welcome to conference-organising hell! Very happy to advice on all the logistical stuff like eventbrite etc. Most of it’s fairly straightforward. The Conway Hall gets booked up pretty quickly, you should pencil something as soon as you can.

    Also – I can find you some interesting people who are really good at telling stories in 30 seconds.

  16. MT Rainey

    horsesmouth now has an archive of over 30,000 personal stories on the site. Each is the story of a personal journey or lesson learned in life, because that’s how the site is culturally framed. Some are highly literate, some are barely literate. Some are poetry, some are patois. All are powerful personal creative acts. I think its the most inspirational archive I’ve ever seen. We want to find new ways to share it. So we’d love to be involved.

  17. Rob Vincent

    Great initiative and one that should be ongoing. Would love to come. Am really interested in ways that artists /writers/ storytellers working in a narrative tradition attempt to break out of that straightjacket. I finally watched “Celine and Julie go boating” over weekend and saw where David Lynch gets all his ideas from.

    I hear alot too about how good story is because it “simplifies complexity”. But is this a good thing? Life IS complex and too often story just pushes familiar sterotypes and cliches at the expense of real insights and real truths.

    If story is something that has a beginning , a middle and an end (in that order) it would be great to celebrate all the ways people express themselves by defying that tradition

  18. Stuart Nolan

    I’m happy to do some LEGO Serious Play stuff if anyone is interested in such organizational storytelling tools?

  19. Lloyd

    Happy to help any way that I can. I’m very good at Panic. The Interesting tea urn has been traditionally hired from HSS Hire (the nearest one to Conway Hall is, I think, York Way)

    Hope that the choice of Conway Hall doesn’t constrain the variety of ways that stories can be told. I can see that there’s an appetite for participants getting to play with techniques during the day as well as listening to people who know a lot. That said, I’m with Cheryl on getting Dave Snowden along, no matter what he calls what he does.

  20. Elizabeth Varley

    Great stuff, would be happy to help. I’m interested in storytelling and memory – that for many people it’s much easier to remember information if it’s communicated as a narrative. Also how to better tell stories as a public speaking tool, and how non-narrative information can be communicated through weaving a story.

  21. Andrew Brown

    Hi Matt. You probably don’t know – but as well as being creative D @ swamp I’m also part of a collective called Storyhunters – digital / performance etc.. my counterpart works with prisoners / schoolkids / scientists to help them develop communications through stories. Would love to get involved and do a turn. 🙂

    give us a shout @andjambro

  22. Matthew Mella

    There’s a good story already started about this storytelling conference! Maybe there should be some kind of collaborative, abstract story-writing in the run up?

  23. Roo

    Oh yes Matt.. I want to be there and will help in any way I can, including putting up bunting. Very interested in games and storytelling but the list of twitter-sourced ideas is already making it look like must-attend event.

  24. Paul Canty

    Storytelling and event development could be a nice opener to the event…

    Sounds like a great idea – you’ve got our support!

  25. Jay Bushman

    Yes, please. I’m about to speak on a panel at Digital Hollywood about “Transmedia Storytelling,” and I just know its gonna mostly be a marketing discussion. More storytelling discussion, pls. Now I just have to find a way to fly over from L.A.

  26. Phil Gyford

    Sounds great!

    Crossing over a bit with Cait’s suggestion of stand-up as storytelling, but on the drama course we did a bit about solo storytelling – taking on and differentiating different characters, capturing people’s attention, structure, etc. It’s great when you see someone standing there alone telling a story, performing loads of characters at great speed. (I’m not volunteering for that though!)

  27. Andy_T_Smith

    Multi-tasking fail – lost my message and killed twitter in one fell swoop….
    This sounds really interesting. I’d like to offer our help.
    Claire (a programmer/concept developer here at Mere Mortals) uses board games and role playing games to teach and inform narrative flow in computer games. I can put you in touch with her if you like?
    I’ll catch you in Glasgow
    Mere Mortals

  28. Susan Cowan

    Having recently worked on a transmedia concept, I agree with David Varela, It would be fascinating to get a bunch of storytellers in a room, from all different disciplines (show design, graphics, architecture, film, etc.) and industries (leisure entertainment, ARGs, media, exhibits, performance, branded destinations, etc.). All these designers would have an interesting point of view.

    I come from the worlds of theater, theme parks and branded entertainment. So placemaking and operational programming are some of my storytelling tools. I’d love to get involved.

  29. Emma Bodger

    I would definitely attend. It would be great to be part of an event where storytelling and narrative are placed firmly at the centre of the content universe, in all its many diverse forms . As a writer/director working on several cross platform projects, this would be a most welcome way to share ideas and experiences .
    I agree with what David Varela says above ‘everybody wants storytellers’. I also think everyone *needs* storytellers. Whatever the tale, those traditional storytelling skills are transferable … an exciting and inspiring celebration of those skills in all their diversity would be most welcome .
    And as a member of the Crossover alumni mentioned earlier in the comments by Frank Boyd, I also agree it would be great to mobilise!

  30. Naomi Alderman

    Great idea! I’d be very interested in coming along. I seem to have been having a lot of conversations lately about medium/message when it comes to storytelling, so might be nice to address that: are particular forms more suited to particular kinds of stories? Can you tell a love story in a game? Can you tell a ‘literary’ story in 30 seconds? Are all interactive stories doomed to be variants on the mystery genre?

    Looking forward to it!

  31. Mike Bennett

    Good work MLocke. Yes please! and can we please talk about not divorcing the commercial aspects of story telling into some hand wavy bit, and actually talk about stories and money and deal with revenue as part of the story telling skill set, you know coz ads can be amazing stories that sell stuff and make money…what’s the equivalent in trans-media-multi-whatsit?

  32. Jeremy Mortimer

    Great idea Matt – and do think of including radio people – in Radio Drama we’ve been doing some interesting short interactive pieces at festivals, as well as working with people like Tim Wright. I’d love to come along.

  33. Justine

    Digital storytelling / multiplatform storytelling that puts the audience/ user at the heart of the drama is me, my company I am happy do talks practical sessions and do listening to the types of ace people you already have. Catch sessions/ me talking at screenwritersfwstival and the media festival and tv nations and regions conference this oct nov and jan

  34. alison norrington

    Perfect timing on this one!! I’ve been interviewing publishers in New York and London for my PhD which focusses on’emerging platforms for writers, fragmented interaction & pervasive media’ and the primary call is for writers to approach them with new ideas/formats! I was at Power To The Pixel last week too and couldn’t help but notice that writers were being described as ‘producers’, ‘story architects’, ‘developers’, ‘curators’…

    I’ve recently had many discussions about branded content/product placement within ‘story’ – with strong opinions both for and against.

    I’m in for this conference – lots of potential here…


  35. Andy Bell

    Gread idea, I’d love to come. It would be good to get Adam Curtis to speak. He gave an inspiring talk at the BBC recently about his recent project It Felt Like a Kiss, arguing that the internet is changing the dominant sensibility from wanting to be told stuff to wanting to experience stuff (a few notes: Also he’s pushing his new documentary further towards the web: In short, he’s inspired by the potential of the web to tell stories AND is a wonderful story-teller.

  36. Derek Robertson

    We have ben looking at using games to encourage and inspire storywriting. Using Hotel Dusk for the DS and the noir style mystery radio series from the 1930s and 40s that are freely available we got schoolchildren to write and record (Garageband) their own noir style detective story. Great scope for serial writing and syndication to a wdier audience for young writers. Great way to introduce the noir genre in ameaningful and accesible way too.

  37. Lee Bryant

    Sounds interesting – I have been speaking recently about mythological narratives and how organisations shroud themselves in stories that explain their pre-eminence, so I would find this interesting.

  38. jrice1

    Matt – our web team would definitely attend. We’re trying to layer storytelling into the games and other learning resources we produce for 7-18 year olds. I’ve had trouble finding discussions of how to think about the craft in this medium so I’d love to attend an event if you can get it off the ground. By the way I found your talk at the Futurelab conference a couple weeks back insightful and useful. Good luck.


  39. TS

    Grand. Count me and others from Coney in. Very happy to present if that’s interesting.

    Other people have probably mentioned these, only had chance to skim the comments…

    Storytelling is a prototype theatrical form, a storyteller in a live circle of audience in an empty space. What happens there is compelling to investigate. Years ago when I ran a pub theatre, I programmed a season of storytelling for precisely that.

    Learning and practicing narrative improvisation has been key for my own work. In this country, the practice started with Keith Johnstone and Theatre Machine. I learnt the most from a week-long course with Improbable Theatre ten years ago; they are disciples of Johnstone’s as well as being groundbreaking makers who incorporate this practice beautifully. Worth getting hold of Phelim McDermott and/or Lee Simpson.

  40. Harry Harrold

    I’d love to talk about how larp tells and generates stories – some techniques for encouraging and catalysing emergent story, non-linear narrative, that kind of thing.

    I reckon there’d be a nugget or two of wider interest – and I’ve love to learn from pervasive gaming and ARG people.

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  42. collabdocs

    Hi Matt, Great idea. I’d love to come along. Happy to help out too.
    I’m looking at collaborative documentary,
    and developing a project to re-stage a 1960 film by the inspirational filmmaker Jean Rouch.
    He did a lot of work in West Africa post WW2 – collaborative storytelling,’shared anthropology’. Might be nice to show something by him – 50 years on.
    A related thought is the Malian Griot tradition – music, storytelling, oral tradition. There are people around who could offer something on that. Music and storytelling is a whole other thread isn’t it…

  43. alison norrington

    To Harry Harold – LARP formed the basis of Mike Leigh’s films, didn’t it? I saw him at a conference earlier in the year and he was talking about improvisational techniques to trigger and develop ‘story’. And I’d love to hear more about ‘some techniques for encouraging and catalysing emergent story, non-linear narrative’.

    To Naomi Alderman – I’ve been having similar conversations about particular genres suited to particular platforms and think that there’s lots of scope to be had here for discussion. I can see how crime, sci fi, thriller storylines are suited to interactivity as it’s a catalyst of the story to trigger a curiousity over ‘who dunnit’ and to delve into the story. I found when I wrote Staying Single (for a predominantly contemporary female audience – the readers liked to discuss on forums – most of which rather quickly tailed off to non-relevant discussions, but did NOT want to interact in terms of making decisions that would affect the story! I’m currently working on a romcom project for a female audience and am acutely aware that platforms must be relevant to story style. The pacing is vital too – not to move readers between devices too quickly… Lots to talk about here!!

  44. Minkette

    This is a great idea! So many new viewpoints on storytelling, just from reading these comments! I’ll help out if I can. Can I suggest Ben Moor as a wonderful stand up/story teller? and Lisa Helledd Jones who has the enviable job of collecting stories and nurturing storytelling for a living.

  45. Christine Wilks

    Hi – I’d love to attend this. I’m particularly interested in digital and non-linear storytelling – playable stories which aren’t exactly games. I’d be happy to show some of my digital storytelling if that’s appropriate. I can imagine the timetable for an inspiring event such as this soon gets crammed, but it’s so great to see lots of different stuff, so how about a session where lots of digital/net/web story-makers have, say, a 5 min slot to show work/give ‘readings’ – a bit like a poetry slam (but maybe without the competition?)

  46. Lisa

    Hello there,

    This is very exciting. I’ve been facilitating and developing Digital Storytelling for seven years. I worked with the BBC’s Digital Storytelling project for six of those Am now working on various projects with universities and the NHS and community groups and all sorts. I’ve got lots to say and plenty to show and I make a great victoria sponge.

    I also run a comedy venture called the junket club ( where we host comedy in unusual places and so am very familiar with bunting and tea urns. If there’s anything I can do to help or if you’d like me to participate you can get me here lisaheleddjones at gmail dot com.

  47. Lisa

    Also. I could make a story during the day. Collecting people’s voices. Or maybe we could do something which involves photography and voices. This was something that I worked on at the weekend during a local arts festival: – we had three hours from when the photographs were uploaded and I recorded the voices to put something together to be screened that evening. We worked with local students to do the uploading and to make the music. It was bloody chaotic. Fun though.

  48. Ewan McIntosh

    I’m up for this, Matt, since the art of storytelling is generally sorely missing from the stuff we tend to see on the third floor, and I wonder what its role is in the world of platform, API and data.

  49. dreamfired

    Haven’t had a chance to scan all the comments, but some recommends for involvement, apologies if they are repeated: for the leading promoter of the revival of oral traditional performance storytelling in the UK for the leading academic institution looking at storytelling in the UK, particularly oral traditional, community storytelling and digital storytelling For their background in live interactive storytelling as much as the web based work I know you know them for, since I found this thanks to H.
    Am currently in the states and planning and thinking about planning something very similar for July/August 2011 in East Tennessee (where there is an MA in Storytelling focused mostly on oral performance) Shall follow twitter updates with interest, but unfortunately expect to be in the wrong country come March…

  50. 1212360

    what about “Open-structure Storytelling”?, as this reminds me of Improbable’s unique improvised storytelling, just recently I have seen Lee Simpson’s unbelievable improvisation storytelling at the Comedy Store London. It was all about stories about storytelling stuff.

  51. rebeccasbrain

    I’m very interested in attending. Just saw Jeff Gomez speak at Cinekid in Amsterdam, and reignited my love of transmedia storytelling.

  52. Johanna Hunt

    This is a really exciting idea, and I’d love to help out, even if it is just stewarding on the day. The fun challenge will be finding a balance across the various areas to ensure it doesn’t end up too focussed in one domain (such as digital media). It could be worth looking into some of the UK storytelling festivals such as Beyond the Border or Festival at the Edge to get some ideas from that side. There are lots of current traditional storytellers who I would love to see at a mixed event like this – for example, Giles Abbott ( or Peter Chand ( Good luck!

  53. Johanna Hunt

    Oh and Prof Yiannis Gabriel could be interesting (from the perspective of research into organisational storytelling). He gives some very thought-provoking talks.

  54. Anna Lewis

    Would love to be involved in this – we recently created a 24hr Book which involved writers writing a story together using google docs and collaboration from people on the web on Twitter, a ning platform, an open google doc. We had photos, drawings, paintings and videos being uploaded to help inspire the writers as well as people tweeting suggestions for the story – there’s more info here – and the paperback of the book here –
    It was really interesting to see how the story evolved, especially given the time limit. Would be very interested to see what an event looking at storytelling in lots of different contexts would be like!

  55. Drew Buddie

    Sounds a fascinating idea – UNconferences are certainly building a head of steam these days. I’d love to attend or help if you need any assistance.

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  57. Pingback: Welcome to The Story. « The Story
    • mattlocke

      Yay! actually, Jon, I’d love it if you could do a short performance – say 20mins? perhaps based on The Ethics of Progress?

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  59. Stephen

    Hi there! I’m happy on behalf of my small IT company to provide the supply and projection of a hashtag twitterwall if required!

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