How storytelling can empower the next generation 

By Sarah Cannata

Storytelling is the fabric that unites us. With the rapid rise of technology, almost everyone has the power to share their story. While the most successful businesses have understood the power of storytelling for quite some time, it’s time for us as individuals to realise its potential.

We don’t have to look too far to see the impact that people telling their story can have. Consider the recent #MeToo social media movement. This was started over 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke to harness what she calls, “empowerment through empathy” for sexual assault victims. The #MeToo hashtag began trending on social media in late 2017. This happened after actress, Alyssa Milano, called on victims of sexual harassment and violence to share their stories with the world.

The result? Women around the globe sharing their voices and the moments in their lives when they felt violated with Twitter confirming that the hashtag reached 85 countries with 1.7m tweets in late October 2017. In other words, millions of women connected with one another via their own harrowing stories, pushing away the fear of being alone that once silenced them to stand strong and to drive change by sharing their own experiences. The social media storm also triggered public commentary. Additionally, 300 prominent actresses, female agents, writers, directors, producers and executives have banded together to fight sexual harassment in Hollywood. And we can’t even touch on this topic without mentioning Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring Golden Globes speech earlier this year.

We’re likely seeing the beginning of storytelling having a level of impact never seen before.

You can’t be what you can’t see

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the first professional female AFL footballer (it’s our national sport here in Australia). Nobody took me seriously because it was never a reality – my mum never dissuaded me or said anything against my proud proclamations but in time, that dream faded. It disappeared into thin air because back in the ‘90s, there was no pathway for a female to become a footballer. Fast-forward to 2018 and thanks to the AFLW, young girls are watching their idols become sports stars and can legitimately dream of becoming a professional women’s footballer. Or a cricketer for that matter.

The reality is, responsibility now rests with every women out there who is living her dream – women of colour, women from disadvantaged backgrounds, women working in traditionally male dominated fields and so on. We must share our stories via whatever platform we have access to so that tomorrow’s leaders have the opportunity to consume heartfelt storytelling that has the power to act as proof of what is possible with willpower, dedication and hard work.

Stories add colour to otherwise forgettable experiences

Does the name Professor Robert E Kelly ring a bell? Probably not… but if we explained the situation in which his kids gatecrashed a very serious BBC World News interview last year about South Korean politics, that memory is likely to come flooding back. Most people are unlikely to remember what the interview was about but it’s really the story that’s bubbling away in the background that became prominent and sparked global discussion. The story about what it’s really like to work from home as a parent… the story about what it’s really like to look after kids on a 24/7 basis… the story that at the end of the day, kids will be kids! Never doubt the power of storytelling to emotionally connect people and their ability to help us to feel less alone and more relatable.

Storytelling continues to change and evolve with the times but it is certainly not going anywhere anytime soon.

Sarah Cannata is the founding editor of This Woman Can.

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