14 September 2020

Making the switch from in-person to online scicomm storytelling shows

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Shane M Hanlon 

Hanlon hosting a Story Collider event at AGU’s 2019 annual meeting. Credit: Lauren Lipuma

I’m the Program Manager of the Sharing Science program here at AGU. One of my duties is to manage (and contribute) to this blog as an AGU employee. But, for this post, I’m taking off my AGU hat (mostly) and stepping into one of my other roles as storyteller and producer. 

I also work for the science storytelling organization The Story Collider, where scientists and non-scientists alike tell true, personal stories, live on stage. Er…or at least they used to. 

The switch to virtual has been tough for many organizations who previously relied on live, in-person audiences to make their programming work. Putting back on the AGU hat for a second, we used to run solely in-person scicomm workshops at universities around the country. Times have changed and we’ve gone solely virtual (at least for the time being). At The Story Collider, while I admit that I wasn’t part of the planning to figure out how to tell true, personal stories about science via virtual medium without sacrificing the emotional resonance oftentimes accompanying our show, I have taken part in the experience as both a producer and a storyteller

There are a to of virtual platforms and The Story Collider went with Crowdcast. What I think is really great about it is that it’s not as impersonal as something like some webinar platforms like GoToWebinar* but also not as much of a potential cluster as Zoom with potentially hundreds of faces on the screen at once. For each show, there are between 2-4 faces on the screen at any time – usually the producers of the show, perhaps our Artist Director Erin Barker, and the storyteller. Those on-screen faces are necessary because the main thing missing when comparing a virtual show to a live show are audience reactions. We at Story Collider like to boast that we have some of the most amazing audiences in live performance. They laugh and cry with our storytellers, hang on to every word, and really root for the storyteller as they tell their story. That’s hard to mimic online but having a few faces who can react in real time makes the process a little better. Crowdcast also has a chat function that the audience uses liberally to react to elements of the story and write words of encouragement to storytellers. 

I’m very much looking forward to getting back to in-person events when it is safe to do so. Until then, there are always virtual shows.

– Shane M Hanlon is science communicator and storyteller. Find him on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.