Digital Storytelling featuring a Neurosurgeon and Miranda Priestly

Digital Storytelling featuring a Neurosurgeon & Miranda Priestly

Liliana Torres

By Liliana Torres

Digital Storytelling featuring a Neurosurgeon & Miranda Priestly

Local Wisdom is now a regular at ALI Conferences, often a mecca of internal communications learnings and digital strategy networking. I had the opportunity to attend my first ALI Conference back in December, where the hot topic seemed to be digital storytelling (and SharePoint – sigh). The following are tidbits of digital storytelling wisdom we received from Denise McKee from AboutFace Media and Kathy Ohlhaber from the Association of American Railroads.

McKee gave us a taste of some of the most emotional and compelling documentaries her company has made. One of the most powerful stories followed the journey of a neurosurgeon answering common questions and actually performing brain surgery, all while showcasing the innovative breakthroughs taking place at Aurora Neuroscience Innovation Institute. Take a look at the remarkable world of a neurosurgeon:


Directed by Erik Ljung and Edited by Michael Vollmann, AboutFace Media; 2015


Why was this captivating, especially if the video is 7 minutes long? Here are a few points our group made about why this short documentary was successful:

  • You get to shadow Dr. Kassam as if you’re there, making the 7 minutes not seem like 7 minutes.
  • You’re exposed to the brain surgery as it’s going on
  • They’re exposing you to the answers that many families, patients, and others have questions about
  • The video doesn’t start with corporate jargon

Here are some of McKee’s other tips when filming a video:

  • Not Everything Needs to be Scripted
  • Identify the Best Fit to Narrate the Story
  • Identify your Heroes, the Journey, the Goal, the Passion, the Challenges, and the Win
  • Ask Yourself: Why is This Important?
  • Who is Your Target Audience? Why Would They Want to Watch?
  • You have to Promote + Identify Best Channels

Kathy Ohlhaber from the Association of American Railroads presented some comical and not so comical ways consumers have read, misread, and reacted to advertisements, campaigns, video, and more. For example, we’re not sure who the clever wordsmith was behind this billboard:



Most likely not intentional (we’d hope) on Coke’s behalf, but you can only imagine the kind of reactions this billboard might generate.

Similar to Denise’s workshop, Kathy also discussed how the voice or face of the story has a powerful correlation to audience response and motivation.

As much as we may love Miranda’s fictional character in the Devil Wears Prada, she may not be the best fit if you’re creating an anti-bullying campaign.



Here are some other tips Kathy shared for successful storytelling:

  • Stories are ways in which humans use emotion to make connections, share knowledge, and/or influence thoughts or behavior
  • Our ideas, experiences, beliefs, biases, assumptions, symbols, and images have an impact on our responses
  • Draw from the environment and world around you
  • Understand your existing content and determine the needs for new content

A special thanks to Kathy Ohlhaber from the Association of American Railroads and Denise McKee from AboutFace Media for sharing their knowledge and insight with us!

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