#ICYMI: WordWrite’s Story Slam and the compelling lessons we learned
by Robin Rectenwald, on Nov. 8, 2019
It’s amazing to think how long humans have been using stories to connect and to teach important lessons. From cave drawings and Egyptian hieroglyphics to journalism and story time in school, human history and our modern world is made of stories that move hearts and minds.
As the agency of story, you’ve heard us tout their power more than once, so we were thrilled to bring them to life at our first Story Slam, held November 7 at Bricolage in Downtown Pittsburgh.
We borrowed the idea from The Moth’s popular StorySLAM events. If you’re not familiar, The Moth is a nonprofit literary society from New York City. In traditional story slam performances, storytellers have a set time frame to tell a story based on a theme — ours was “the best story I’ve ever told,” and we gave a little more leeway on the time.
And what stories they were. Vibrant Pittsburgh storytellers from all walks of life – journalists, video producers, writers and nonprofit leaders — shared unique narratives and insights from their life experiences to an enraptured crowd of 80. Their stories not only had lessons everyone could glean on a professional level, but the tales meant something personal to the speakers, making them all the more powerful.
We’re always saying it: everyone has a story to tell. These speakers proved it.
Here’s a brief recap of what they shared:
As the director of The Incline, Rossilynne covers all of Pittsburgh’s trending topics, but most recently, she has been around town promoting her first book, “100 Things to Do in Pittsburgh Before You Die.”
Rossilynne gave us a glimpse of what to find in her book while taking us on a mini-tour of Pittsburgh. Some places you can’t miss: Mt. Washington, Jack's Bar, Hidden Harbor, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Prantl’s Bakery and Shakespeare in the Parks.
During the panel portion, Rossilynne discussed switching careers. As a former Tribune-Review reporter who left the journalism industry to work in marketing and came back, she said she couldn’t ignore her true calling of being a writer.
Her advice: follow your passion, no matter where it leads you.
Dan, a thoroughly modern video storyteller, took the stage representing Foothold Studios. Sharing a presentation full of vivid photos and videos, Dan took us on his filming adventures, proving stories can be captured anywhere. A couple of Dan’s most memorable images: the top of the Cathedral of Learning, where peregrine falcons live, and the inside of an airplane filled with beagle puppies rescued from West Virginia.
Inspired by fellow documentarians, Dan now tells the stories of artists, musicians, nonprofits and doctors with his own work. Most recently, he’s been working on a unique project that’s turning into one of his proudest. Partnering with Magee-Womens Hospital, his videos portray the faces of doctors while they look viewers straight in the eye, emphasizing the power of human connection in storytelling.
Dan’s lasting thought: keep creating content and continue sharing it with the world.
Mike’s personality shined during his 10-minute monologue, a time slot he was worried about filling, given his usual 90-second cutoff when reporting on camera for WPXI. He needn’t have worried, of course.
Reflecting back to his days working as a reporter in Erie, he shared a compelling story of an undercover assignment to capture the lives of the city’s homeless fighting to survive in a frigid winter. Fully immersing himself into the homeless community, Mike spent 48 hours bouncing from shelter to shelter, only to be turned away in negative 30-degree temperatures. His journey captured the true reality of the homeless being left out in the cold — a fatal outcome for some. But with Mike’s dedicated and fearless reporting, the story mobilized the Erie community to rally together and build a new shelter for the homeless. No wonder he’s an Emmy award-winning journalist.
Mike’s key takeaway: engage yourself and stay active to make an impact on the world.
As chief marketing officer of VisitPITTSBURGH, Tom’s down-to-earth character described the work behind the scenes of the nonprofit’s award-winning marketing campaign, “Pull Up A Chair, You Are Welcomed Here.”
Tom discussed his leadership style and how he inspires his team to think bigger and better. While preparing to debut a major national marketing campaign, VisitPITTSBURGH’s first in 10 years, his staff challenged themselves to design a fully integrated campaign that authentically captured today’s Steel City. With a goal to bring visitors from all over the world, the campaign reveals what makes Pittsburgh so beautiful and genuine — our friendly neighbors … and the famous (infamous?) parking chair.
However, the most valuable lesson he imparted was a personal story of a mistake he made earlier in his career — making work a priority over family. Fortunately, it was something he would rectify.
Tom’s message: no matter what, family and friends come first.
Megan (known by many as “Megs”) shared an emotional story on how she started her nonprofit organization, Beverly’s Birthdays, and opened with her own birthday memory. Each year, birthday after birthday, Megs’ family showers her with love by honoring a simple tradition — giving her a box of Little Debbie’s Christmas Tree Cakes. She would learn not everyone is so blessed, though, and it changed her life.
While working as volunteer program director at a university, Megs experienced a life-changing moment when a 12-year-old named Beverly shared that she never had a birthday party or even her own birthday cake. Stunned by Beverly’s honesty, Megs became determined to help children and families create birthday memories. Eight years later, her organization has delivered birthday cheer to over 30,000 underprivileged children. While the impact of her work provoked tears and sniffles from audience members, she reminded us about the importance of little moments in life.
Her final words were the most powerful: “Remember each moment, because those moments become memories.”
The moral of the story
We knew Story Slam was going to be a great event, but we were completely blown away by our speakers and their deeply personal and uplifting stories, and if you missed it, hopefully this little slice of the event sparks some of your own storytelling.
What do these stories tell us? Do something meaningful to you. Find your passion. That will create the most powerful stories.
We give a big thanks to our speakers, our attendees and our friends and partners for making the event a big success! It won’t be an easy task, but we hope next year’s event will be just as memorable. Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on social media to keep updated on our events!