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The Bottom of the Iceberg: Five Essential Practices for Better Storytelling

When we think about storytelling, what we're often thinking about is the stories themselves -- the ones we've been tasked with collecting, creating, or contributing. We focus on the end product: the result that we need to deliver in some variable form or fashion.

What we don't usually think about is the process behind storytelling. 

Not the "beginning, middle, and end" process but rather the assumptions, biases, and values that inform what story we pursue, the angle we take, and the impact that telling that particular story might have on all parties involved. 

Storytelling is more than creating a narrative arc and a tidy ending, it’s actually an opportunity to either break down or reinforce certain values or stereotypes. It’s also a practice that can enhance or depreciate the relationships of those involved.

Michael Kass at Story and Spirit has likened storytelling to an iceberg - the 10% above the water being the story that we, as the audience, get a chance to read, hear, or experience. But the process of creating that story is the 90% that lives below the surface.

So, if 90% of the work is in the process, shouldn’t we be spending far more time considering how that process unfolds? Or maybe a better question is: how can we create more awareness around our practices and use this work to do more than just create a compelling tale or a viral post?

If you’re not sure where to start, here are five areas of practice to help us refocus our efforts on what’s below the surface so that the story we create — what is visible above — is simply an outcropping of something truly good that was formed below the surface.

Five Practices

  1. Question yourself. All good stories are built on good questions, but the first ones we need to ask are actually questions of ourselves. What assumptions, biases, and expectations are we bringing into this project? What is our agenda here?

  2. Identify all those impacted. It’s important to consider not just who will be featured in this story but also who else will be impacted by it — the readers, friends and family, the story collectors, and others.

  3. Build a process. While most of our processes focus on creating an output, what about creating a process around the input? Can this be co-authored? What does consent look like? What about collaborative feedback from those featured in the piece?

  4. Collect media mindfully. If we need to capture images, audio, or video pieces to accompany this story, we need to carefully consider who is (or should be) capturing it and how. Where is the media captured and stored? Has privacy been taken into consideration?

  5. Let it marinate. In an age of churning out content, it's important to give a story space to sit and rest before it's released. We want to give everyone a chance to take a breath and still feel good about things before we hit “publish.”

While it’s true that a story has the power to change the world, so does the process that goes into creating that story. In fact, the practices we engage in when collecting, creating, and disseminating stories have even more opportunities to dismantle harmful narratives, counter assumptions, elevate new voices, and reinforce the dignity of all involved. So here’s to creating better practices that lead to better stories that ultimately create better relationships all around. And at the end of the day, isn’t this what it’s all about anyway?



Christy Kern is a seasoned communications consultant who has traveled the world working for hundreds of businesses and nonprofit organizations. With a passion for ethical storytelling, Christy coaches, leads workshops, and facilitates training sessions in order to help people become better communicators. Not only does she work with clients to find clarity within their messaging, she can help that messaging be conveyed the right way. From mission statements and marketing to speeches and conversational skills, her consulting runs the gamut and is tailored to accomplish the specific needs of each client.

After more than a decade of living abroad, Christy is currently settled in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Hagen, and their curly canine, Watson. She’s a huge fan of putt-putt and loves searching for good tacos around town.

To learn more, get connected, or to work with Christy, click here.



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