Wendy Glavin, Founder and CEO, Wendy Glavin Agency
As a 30-year marketing communications professional, based in New York City for 25-years, I’ve attended a lot of events. FoST (The Future of Storytelling) was preeminent, and different. It began with a VIP dinner at the Union Square Pavilion on October 4, 2017.
Amidst elegant décor, people from varying backgrounds were welcomed by, “The Future of Storytelling,” Founder and Director, Charlie Melcher. With no specific seating assignments, we gathered together around long tables, ate, introduced ourselves, and talked about what brought us to the event.
I spoke with a professor and lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and the Department of Theater and Performance Studies. We would have never met had we not sat next to one another. Since there was no agenda, we had an honest, open conversation.
It was suggested that we dress casually since there would be a lot of walking, workshops, interactive discussions, and exhibits throughout the next several days. The next morning, attendees met in Battery Park, boarded a chartered boat to Snug Harbor, in Staten Island, and socialized. What struck me is when strangers are gathered together in social spaces, they voluntarily interact with one another, and tell stories.
When we arrived in Staten Island, we got on the shuttle bus, and a public relations professional from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sat next to me. We had an interesting conversation about the recent disasters, FEMA, and how politics affect disaster recovery. Then, we walked to the historic music hall where we were treated to live performances, and stories from musicians, dancers, and artists.
Amidst trees, winding trails, and tents, I attended my first roundtable discussion, led by Anjali’s Sud, CEO of Vimeo. Anjali asked, “Are there any unedited experiences?” I said, “No, because we all have subjective biases.” We discussed, “inter-connectedness,” democratizing technology to break through barriers, too much choice, and a shared community.
Anjali suggested that storytelling is less about linear stories, and narratives, and more about experiences, including one-click publishing to social media, and live 360-degree video. The group spoke about how to maintain the immersive experience, and that once there’s a disruption, people leave.
To be able to solve problems, we need to observe people, and discover what they need, and use data to help aggregate reactions. Authenticity was discussed throughout, and deciphering fact from fiction.
During 45-minute breaks, I introduced myself, and spoke to other attendees, whom I’d never met. It was interesting, and fun to meet different people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Next, I attended Justin Denton, director, artist, and executive technical director at, “Here Be Dragons” roundtable discussion.
We watched a short video of children in a forest wearing virtual reality headsets, replacing the natural environment with a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) environment that enabled users to turn, look around, and touch.
This illustrated the immersive experience. Justin asked if VR can change your perception of the world around you, and can it shift consciousness? It reminded me of the questions children ask which are simple, but often quite philosophical. Groupthink said VR will change the way people think.
I disagreed, and suggested, abstract thinkers can envision an alternative reality, while linear thinkers might conclude, how does this relate to me, or my profession?
After, we sat down at roundtables, enjoyed lunch, and spoke to people around our table. Since I attended a session on VR, I asked others if VR is based on artificial intelligence. A VR specialist said, “We’re not there yet, but we will be in the future.”
I wandered into a tent with exhibits, and spoke to the creator of, “Dream Date VR.” She explained that some people experience anxiety and fear of the “physical world” when trying to date. I put on the headset, and saw an avatar of a guy.
I pushed “start,” and whenever I touched the dummy’s shoulder, hand, or arm, “he” responded with a kind comment. It was fun, but the creator said many people felt it’s too intimate, and weird. I suggested targeting shy people, and to read the book, “Quiet,” and to create a dating app.
The sprawling 83-acre campus, and historical landscape had open, lush spaces which made walking easy. The venue was so different from typical events that tend to be more formal and staid. Since most of us were dressed casually, it was an equalizer. People were made to feel that we were all on the same level. What an intern, or volunteer had to say was just as important as a CEO’s comments.
After having dinner, and drinks outside, we took a FoST shuttle bus back to the ferry, and returned to New York, or wherever we lived, or stayed, since there were people from all over the world.
Having never taken the Staten Island ferry, after living in New York City for 25-years, I chose to take the ferry, the next morning, as opposed to a FoST bus that was departing from The Standard, in the city.
Ronald Newman, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Political Advocacy Department at The American Civil Liberties Union led a large group workshop, “FoST for Good: ACLU/People Power.” He spoke about the need for election reforms to get people to vote, and creating a holiday for Election Day.
Edelman moderated, and asked the audience to divide into teams. Our call-to-action was to create a campaign, event, or any overarching goal, with tactics, to remove the barriers that make it hard for so many people to vote. Some of the issues include, not getting paid time-off from work, inability to get to the voting booth, among others, on a state-by-state basis. Each group leader wrote ideas on a white board, while brainstorming.
Ten groups presented their programs. The discussion, and exercise was an education, and a challenge, since many of us hadn’t thought about the issue of having the right to vote, yet so many cannot or don’t vote. Ronnie asked the audience to contact him directly to continue the conversation. Many waited eagerly in-line to speak with Ronnie after the session ended.
I began my marketing communications career at GE, many years ago. Linda Boff, Chief Marketing Officer of GE, was my next roundtable discussion. I was interested to learn how the company has evolved with the intersection of technology, innovation, and culture.
A participant asked, “Has GE brought back old stories?” Linda said we look at GE’s inventor, Thomas Edison. Lighting, transportation, industrial products, power transmission, and medical equipment are still part of GE. The Edison story opened a lot of doors, since invention is core to our brand. It helped us create the idea of Droneweek.
At first, GE used Periscope to broadcast live footage of its facilities, and energy infrastructure. Last year, the company tried Facebook Live. Linda explained that the results were good, but not outstanding, but they didn’t give up.
Starting October 9, 2017, GE’s Droneweek is highlighting wind, solar, decentralization, and sustainable cities on Viceland. “It’s easy to take for granted when our power systems are working well,” Boff said in Adweek, “but with Droneweek, we can show the many different solutions to the global energy generation, distribution and consumption.”
Linda referenced Dove’s campaign. “After all, it’s a bar of soap. By using humanity and storytelling, people fall in-love with the company,” Linda said. “That is tier one, emotional. Tier two is big initiative, like brilliant factories. Tier three is transactional, how to drive customers through the funnel.”
The group spoke about artificial intelligence, and voice which is important to GE, and the excitement about podcasting. Linda spoke with each participant during the session, and answered a lot of questions. When asked if we could sum of the session, I said, “Small team, small budget, and don’t give up.” Another is loving with what you do.
Since I’ve heard so much about chatbots in regards to fake news, I was particularly interested in attending, Anton Lamberg, Arjan Scherpenisse, and Klasien Van De Zandschulp Lava Lab workshop on, “Building with Chatbots.”
First, we learned chatbots are used for non-linear storytelling, making your audience part of the story with dialogue, first-person personal stories, easy integration of media, and daily used chats, including, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and WeChat. Lava Lab used chatbots to curate a museum exhibition, and learned that people enjoy finding out about paintings with this venue.
We were grouped into teams of two, given a story about Cleopatra with 12 scenes, and computers. Each, had three storylines. My team wrote the ending. Fortunately, I worked with a coder, so my contribution was dialogue, emoji’s, and injecting humor.
At the end of the session, all the chatbots were put together for us to watch the entire story. It was one of the most fun workshops I’ve ever attended. I left feeling proud that I created a chatbot.
Stepping outside my profession for two-days was invigorating. While I love what, I do for a living, attending workshops about new forms of storytelling, offered personal learning, growth, and inspiration.
With emerging technology, our world has changed. FoST is on the cutting-edge. Void of logos, sales, or brand promotion, and casual attire, created new opportunities and alternative views of working.
The event was innovative, without logos or promotion, provided attendees with outdoor time and space which fostered more creativity, and conversation. Now, authenticity is a buzzword. FoST enabled people to connect honestly and organically. A model of what storytelling should be.
Event sponsors included: Microsoft, USA+ SYFY, Spectrum, NPR, WNYC, NYC Media & Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Turner, PlayStation, The Home Depot, Samsung, We Work Creator Awards, The Brand Experience, HP, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Edelman, Momentum, Ingram, The Standard, and CommPRO, among others.
About the Author: Wendy Glavin is Founder and CEO of Wendy Glavin Agency, based in New York City, offering marketing, public relations, and social media. Wendy is a 30-year veteran of corporate, agency, consulting, and small business ownership. Wendy has worked across a wide variety of B2B2C industry sectors, and is a published writer and guest speaker. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org