After over a decade and a half of college, I finally graduated at the age of 34. I got a Bachelor of Arts in Storytelling from Metro State University in Denver. I’ll eventually write a lot more here in detail about what that means, exactly, and how it relates to what I do. But I recently found the final presentation I gave in my very last class, where I had to “defend” this individualized degree since I made it up (MSU had never had a Storytelling major before).
I’ve decided to post it here, with the slides, and a transcript of the “Pecha Kucha” style talk I had to give as my final presentation in my very last college course ever: CPD 4100 – Promoting Your Individualized Degree.
In Pecha Kucha-style talks, you have to share 20 slides which auto-advance every 20 seconds. This gives you exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds to state your case.
In my final presentation, I attempt to answer questions such as “Why did you decide to get a degree in Storytelling?”, “What kinds of classes did you take for that?” and “What do you hope to do with that after graduation?”
Hi, I’m Ron Stauffer, and I’m a student here at Metro State University in Denver, and this Spring, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Storytelling.
Here’s a quick background on me: I’ve been working in the workforce for about 14 years, with 12 of those years being in marketing, and I’ve also been going to school on and off for 16 years.
The reason I created a customized degree in storytelling is because my jobs over the past 12 years have involved things like public speaking, writing, editing, copywriting, advertising, script writing, things of that nature, and I realized all of these fit neatly under the umbrella of storytelling.
And when I tell people that I’m majoring in storytelling, they kind of imagine a picture something like this, with an adult sitting down, reading a story to a bunch of school-aged children. And while technically that is storytelling, that’s not what I’ve been focusing on for this degree.
With the help of Metro State University and particularly the Center for Individualized Learning, we created a customized degree which is an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree that focuses on the skills involved in communicating ideas in an engaging way. So, for this, I studied things like journalism, technical communication, interactive media, and even linguistics, acting, and singing.
I currently run my own business, and I have mostly worked in small startups in the past, and I’ve noticed that in business, storytelling is actually a tremendous force, but people don’t generally recognize it. So, for example, here’s Steve Jobs, not only the CEO of Apple and of Pixar, but I think he was a tremendous example of one of the best storytellers of the past century himself.
He has been quoted as saying, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” And, of course, now, Pixar is a multi-billion-dollar storytelling company.
As I mentioned, public speaking is a big part of what I’ve been doing, and here’s a picture of me on the left, honing my speaking skills in front of a small group of friends at Toastmasters. And then, on the right, I’m giving a presentation at a business conference to a much larger crowd, talking about internet marketing, digital advertising, and things of that nature.
Here I am, creating some instructional videos, again, discussing marketing topics. For this, I rented a studio, hired a videographer, created some storyboards, wrote a script, and, of course, acted in front of a camera, and then helped edit those videos and publish them online.
Now, a lot of times, storytelling, I think, comes into play, even in the business world, in places where you might not even recognize it. This is me working the room at a business networking event. And business networking requires telling a story about yourself and your business in a memorable way, very quickly, to make a compelling case for why somebody would want to meet with you again in the future.
Sometimes storytelling can be a little bit more obvious and literal. In this case, here’s me, toward the right, performing on stage. This is during an opera with a local opera company called Opera Colorado here in Denver, and singing in an opera house for over 3,000 people requires a certain skill set, including voice training, acting, foreign languages, etc.
Sometimes I tell stories that are just basic news items. This is a photo I took during a journalism class last summer where I flew to Yosemite National Park and wrote some news stories on the reopening of Mariposa Grove, where the giant Sequoia trees are. It had been closed for three years for a 60-million-dollar restoration, and then it had just reopened.
Sometimes I write features on people with an interesting background. This is a man in the town where I live: he calls himself “Pops Williams.” I wrote a story on him, and I learned about how he was abandoned by his parents at five years old and I asked him what his life is like living on the streets.
Sometimes I get to tell stories about stories. For one class last year, I flew to San Francisco and spent six days there, attending all four operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. If you’re counting, that’s over 15 hours of music. So, I wrote a few articles about the production and a concert review.
I think one aspect of being a good storyteller involves discovering your own story.
For my senior project, I flew to the East Coast, to Philadelphia, rented a car, and drove out to a tiny coal mining town in Pennsylvania called Mount Carmel, and I discovered some cemeteries where my ancestors are buried.
In addition, on the same trip, I also went to Ellis Island in New York, and I walked in the same halls that some of my Irish ancestors did, and my wife’s Italian ancestors did, when they first came to America. Learning about this, in particular, will help me tell my own story to my children and to their children someday.
Here, in a business context, here’s a picture of — me running a Meetup group, and I’ve run various business groups like Meetups over the years. But when you’re leading a group of your peers, especially peers in your own industry, it requires the ability to connect, inform, and inspire, but also to share your own stories about your experience to help each other.
Right now, in business, the stories I tell the most are in a business context of looking at a company’s raw data and metrics — mostly about their sales and marketing — and then studying that to determine “What is it that the data is telling us?” and then relaying that story to the business owner or stakeholders.
For example, this is a snapshot of a website traffic chart that shows the results of some content I wrote on a particular website, and this piece of content that I wrote generated over a quarter million views. And actually, over three and a half million dollars in closed business for the company as a result of this one article.
This concept of data analysis is I, think, one of the most exciting parts of what I do. And that, for me, is the whole, “What’s next?” You know, “After graduation, what will I do with this?” I envision I’ll just keep telling stories within the context of business, and particularly, interpreting real life data to focus on achieving business goals.
But who knows? Some people say everyone has a book inside them, so maybe I’ll spend the next few years recording my own personal story and write the next great American novel. But no matter what, I want to be the best storyteller I can be, whether that’s in a large way, or a small way, or in a business or personal context. Thanks for listening.
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