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Rachel’s Re-Awakenings & Reflections-inspired by National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival, Part 1 of 9

This is the first of nine parts to focus on each of the nine days of the National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival that occurred May 30-June 7, 2020. Enjoy biggest moments and action items as a result of the experience for Story Crossroads and on the storytelling world in general.

9-Parts for the 9 Days:

What Audacity and Fervor for the National Storytelling Network to Undertake a 9-day Virtual Event…

I respect people who are willing to take risks. Life was and is supposed to be messy. How would we have any exciting stories to share unless there were struggles and obstacles?

Even before this pandemic, the National Storytelling Network faced a tough year–and it did every year–to convince people to attend a conference. Many people were burned out and even questioned the need for community.

Before Story Crossroads existed, I had attended 7 National Storytelling Conferences in a row. I did not care if these events were in the same location or not. I loved the gathering. Yes, the workshops and performances were nice, but I came for all the chatter and discussions in the hallways. You could say, I search for the “bonus” or “extra” moments within the experience.

Yet, I had to somehow balance the founding of a nonprofit storytelling organization AND being a Mom of three kids–all adopted through foster care that tends to come with its own demands, state mandates, and therapy-required adventures. I grieved when I could not make my 8th conference…to eventually get to 10 years to eventually get to…well, you see where I am headed.

Despite the ups and downs, Story Crossroads came to exist. My conference attendance…did not.

Then COVID-19 came. All changed. For me. For the storytelling community. For the world.

We all faced a grieving cycle. Some of us were in denial. Others were angry. We were bargaining. Depressed. Eventually, we had to accept–though not all seem to be at that point exactly.

Still, any producer of story events–of which I happened to be with Story Crossroads–were truly there…at the crossroads.

Anything can happen at the crossroads. Good. Ill. Anything. Even a mixture of both. The National Storytelling Network faced that decision.

Instead of the typical live conference issues and problems, now it would be hard for people to gather. Period.

Rather than keep the dates towards the end of July 2020, the Board and Staff agreed to rush the event early. They sensed many story artists struggling to make sense of everything. The tech to learn was daunting enough.

While not the smartest of moves, the decision to go full-speed ahead was made out of compassion. I get that.

The Communications Marketing side of me grabbed my head and shook it as I witnessed the attempt to put all the pieces together.

Yes, we transformed Story Crossroads from a live event into a virtual. We had to start over and crash-course-learn the tech. We had about one month to make the decision and plow forth. We only had to worry about one full day.


Now, I really had a headache.

You need a minimum of a month to market any level of event. For something as big as this, it would have been smarter to keep the original dates. Work out the kinks. Have more test runs. Convince more presenters to self-promote their events better. All that.


Yet, that all said, this was the most impressive undertaking I have ever seen in the storytelling world.

This year of 2020 is historic on many levels. I place this decision by NSN to be as important–if not more important–than what has been deemed the catalyst of the American Storytelling Movement: the launch of the National Storytelling Festival.

We are seeing a second storytelling movement.

What will people call this time? There are highly-viewed videos that claim “The Great Realization” as seen in this Tom Foolery video.

May I propose the following name: The Great Global Story Realization Movement.

A time when storytelling was explored and evolved to bring healing to the masses and to the individuals. A time of frustrations yet grand learning moments that brought confidence in our skills as humans to adapt. A time of opening our minds to understand the new ways that the audience can interact with us, how the structure and techniques still provide feedback for us to feel energized and fulfilled. Yes, it is not the same. We miss what we had. We will strive to preserve and perpetuate what we had. Though, this is another generation of storytelling, another movement, another story for us.

How do we honor the traditional way of the art while surrounded by cords and tech? We surround us by each other. We look through the screen and realize that a human–many humans–are on the other side, hanging to our words, our voice, our way with sharing the art of storytelling.

Lest you thought I forgot, what of the NSN event itself? I did not attend any of the Pre-Conferences and Concerts of May 30…though I wished it. I attended from the Official Day 1 to Official Day 8. Yet, I still have inspiration from the topics themselves.

Events of May 30 and Reflections (whether or not I attended)–

Storytelling in Organizations (SIO) Pre-Conference Workshop, Double “Why”: What Russian Language Shows Us About Deep Human Connection with Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I was delighted that the Russian Language was being explored. For Story Crossroads, we have the academic series “Language of Story” that focuses on a specific language each year. We have studied American Sign Language, Portuguese, and German and will eventually do Hungarian. We learn so much by seeing the traditions and phrases that come from different cultures. I will need to keep Artem Mushin-Makedonskiy in mind for the future when we focus on Russian. Kudos to Storytelling in Organizations for opening minds through this workshop.

Healing Story Alliance (HSA) Pre-Conference Workshop, Developing the Oars in the Water Series, Hosted by Lani Peterson, Wally Scott, Heather Forest, and Cheryl Cofield, with Libby Tipton.

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I have never been a member of the Healing Story Alliance, but I have always wanted to be skilled enough to feel “worthy” of such membership. I do believe that storytelling has great power and healing is one of its many powers.

Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance (YES) Pre-Conference Workshop, Personal Storytelling with College Students in Theory and Practice with Dr. Charles Parrott and the Kennesaw State University Tellers

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I miss Youth, Educators, and Storytellers. I used to be Co-Chair many, many years ago. It feels strange to not be directly involved as before. YES recently combined with the Storytelling in Higher Education, and this workshop topic was an obvious collaboration. Before founding Story Crossroads, I helped with the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. While elementary to secondary schools are the target audiences of this event, the connection with the university also means we worked with college students. The personal stories were certainly the way to most of these student’s hearts (as opposed to folktales). The Moth has inspired other related events. Utah has one like The Moth…but called The Bee. And what aged audience attends? Mainly your college students as well as up to your 30-year-olds. Yes, other ages are there, though fascinating to see this trend nationwide. Oh, I would have loved to hear Dr. Charles Parrott’s thoughts on this scene!

Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance (YES) Youth Spotlight Performance, Host: Lisa Overholser; Emcee: Angela Lloyd; Brought to you by the Tattletales (Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia), the Southern Crescent Storytellers (Southern Order of Storytellers Cluster Group), and the Young Tales Storytelling Program (sponsored by the Ridge and Valley Storytelling Guild)

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: I started storytelling in 1994 as a sophomore in high school. I am biased and love youth storytelling. Oh, how it killed me to not be able to go due to my shift at the library. I was there in spirit.

Healing Story Alliance (HSA) Spotlight Performance, Performers: Heather Forest (Emcee), Michael McCarty, Noa Baum, Antonio Rocha, Valentina Ortiz Pandolfi, Nancy Wang, Dan Yashinsky, Laura Simms, Heather Forest (Closing song)

What I Discovered…Even When Not Attending: Holy cow, this line-up! Again, my heart sought to be there but my body needed to be librarian. I guess keeping my job was more important. Still, I was there in spirit. I probably sang the closing song…I was that connected.

For the rest of this blog series, I will have specific moments and realizations from presenters. That happens when I actually attend events!

Yet, this felt “right” to compliment the dedication and actions of the NSN Board, Staff, and Volunteers. Even when pointing out the parts that make me shake my head and dream that 600+ registrations of this event could have easily been 1,000+ registrations had the original dates been kept.

But, you have to love spunk. And the heart and mind to do it.

Thank you for taking part in this re-awakening journey for me. Please post comments, and we can continue the discussion.

Let us be dreamers AND doers, together in story. Congratulations to the National Storytelling Network for doing both.

We did this 9-part Blog Series in anticipation of the Digital Library being put together by the National Storytelling Network. Whether or not you attended virtually, you can still access the recordings through pay-per-view options. More details to come soon and will be at

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities with three options to watch it featuring our panelists: Dr. Caroliese Frink Reed, Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, and Brian “Fox” Ellis. We are grateful to funding from Utah Humanities.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here

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