By Lindsay Marcaccio

Digital storytelling (DST) can be a powerful and effective tool for connecting with your audience; a well produced digital story can influence people’s beliefs and actions. Mike Lang, founder and principal of Mike Lang Stories, discovered the power of DST nine years ago. After his own cancer experience, Mike had created three documentary films with other young adult cancer survivors and wanted to give them the opportunity to create their own short films. His interest in DST developed from there and since then, he has been able to create over 700 digital stories with patients, their families, and healthcare providers all over the world. Currently he is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary looking specifically at using DST in a healthcare context.

Mike Lang giving a presentation in Calgary about DST.

Lang believes that effective DST is when the person sharing their story writes their own voiceover – this may require a little coaching about how to look at their life as a story with meaningful moments.  The storyteller should also select their own images, photographs and video footage to visually enhance their story. “Images are there to help people understand the feelings and emotions of their stories,” said Lang. The resulting video is short, maybe two to four minutes long, and authentic; a personal story that will resonate with your audience in a more meaningful way. 

A word of caution from Lang, not every person who has a story to tell is ready to tell their story. A thorough vetting process should occur before bringing a storyteller in for recording. You also need to define the goals of the project to know what questions to ask when vetting a potential storyteller. According to Lang, if someone is in the middle of a chaotic episode in their life, asking them to share their story is not a good idea. When you have found a person who is ready to share, Lang advises creating an environment in which a person feels comfortable talking about vulnerable and sometimes painful moments in their lives. 

Lang also cautions anyone who uses DST to understand that you nor the company own the story. “At the end of it (production) the storyteller owns it and gives us permission to share it to support a cause,” states Lang. Throughout his career, he has seen stories being used as commodities to share without considering the wellbeing of the storyteller. This usually stems from approaching storytelling deductively, asking “what do we want people to say and who can we get to say it?” Alternatively, an inductive approach asks, “Who are our people, what stories are they telling, and how do those stories connect to our organization?” Lang would like those who use DST to understand that, “the less you try to control the messaging, the more authentic and profound the story can be.” 

Mike has worked with hundreds of patients, family members and health care providers, from across all injury and illness groups, to help them create short three minute digital stories of their experiences. Read more about Mike here. Join Mike @Mikelangstories on Facebook for Sunday Night Screenings.

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