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How I Pulled Off an Epic Storytelling Event (and You Can, Too)

Five easy steps to start an event in your area to build community and highlight likeminded stories and people.

In June, I left New York for Washington, D.C. It’s no secret: New York is bursting with opportunity, especially for those of us who work in media. I knew what I was leaving behind in the Big Apple—a growing ecosystem for media and story innovation, areas where I’ve focused energy for the last few years.

Landing in D.C., I was desperate to find a similar ecosystem. Of course this was the wrong approach, trying to fit the city into a New York box, without embracing its individuality. So when I removed unfounded expectations, I found talented storytellers producing highly creative projects, progressive institutions using media to engage audiences in fresh ways, and more.

I wanted others to see the great work being produced in the nation’s capital. I wanted to gather creators in one space. I wanted to exchange ideas. I wanted to meet folks. So instead of waiting for all my wants and desires to materialize like magic, I decided to do something.

Last November, I organized an event called Story Innovation as part of Digital Capital Week, a brilliant festival that’s driven by tons of community events. Story Innovation featured local storytellers and architects from the worlds of theater, film, academia, and business who shared transmedia, web cinema, and participatory storytelling projects.

The response was overwhelming—standing room only. Who would have known that there were so many people like me, from varied fields—creative to nonprofit—interested in advances in storytelling?

This first event prompted me to launch StoriesLead, an initiative to help others tell great stories. In addition to plans for recurring events, StoriesLead will provide resources and educational opportunities while nurturing a local and global community interested in producing stories that rock.

This week, StoriesLead is hosting 'When Story Turned Social,' our second event, as part of Social Media Week DC, which takes place February 18 – 22. SMWWDC is a chapter of Social Media Week, a global platform that operates in 26 cities around the world and encourages people to come together to share and collaborate. Talk about a great opportunity for anyone to put together an event that gathers, stirs and inspires. After this experience mobilizing community to put on an event, I wanted to share what I’ve learned so that you too can bring a powerful event to your own community.

Here are some thoughts for getting started:

1. Tap into your existing network. I’m always surprised by who knows whom. Little miracles happen when you ask for what you need. I did a lot of asking of my D.C. network and beyond: 'Hey, do you know any innovative creators who’d like to talk about their project?'

2. Connect with other communities. D.C. has a very strong tech and startup community. By attending events and joining listservs, I met more people (who knew more people), became aware of additional places to spread the word about my event, and learned more about the diverse happenings around the city.

3. Provide value. You can rarely go wrong when you provide value. The content of the event was incredibly important to me. I wanted to make sure that attendees would leave feeling like they gained something.

4. Get organized. Even small events have little details attached. Create a checklist for logistical matters like AV equipment, securing speaker bios, and sending reminders to registered attendees, to make sure nothing slips through the cracks (although something probably will).

5. Follow-up. After the event, be sure to keep in touch with attendees who welcome it. Have in mind how you’d like to continue to share, collaborate and provide value in the future.

Events are just one possibility. If you want to see something, start it. You’ll meet people doing what you are doing. You’ll connect folk. You’ll learn. You’ll share. You’ll provide value.

What can you start today?

Felicia Pride is the founder of Pride Collaborative, a firm that connects the dots between storytelling, media, content strategy, and offline engagement. She’s also the founder of StoriesLead, a catalyst for great storytelling, and The Create Daily, a startup that matches talented creators with awesome opportunities that help them grow their careers.

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