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Hospice Comms Day highlights the power of storytelling

Author: Leila Hawkins
27 September 2017

Fifty communications professionals from hospices around the UK attended Hospice UK’s annual Hospice Comms Day earlier this month, a day of workshops, talks and networking. Staff from public relations, marketing, digital communications and fundraising from Glasgow, all the way to Devon and Northern Ireland attended the event at Keech Hospice Care in Luton. Here Leila Hawkins, writer for ehospice, shares her thoughts on the day.

Most of the people attending this year's Hospice Comms Day had not been to the event before. Nor had I, having joined Hospice UK in the early part of this year as the writer for ehospice. Something we all had in common however, is that we tell stories, whether these are news pieces announcing the latest developments in the hospice sector, inspiring accounts of patients and fundraisers, features demonstrating the impressive variety of all those who work in the sector, or simply dispelling the all too commonly-held misperceptions about hospices.

The theme of this year's event was "how do we tell the story of hospice care?" and how to create content that captivates audiences while promoting the work hospices do.

Two former journalists, Angela McManus from the Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow, and Vanessa Thomas from Hope Hospice in Shropshire, were part of the Hospice Story Tellers panel, where they emphasised the importance of each story having a character the audience can engage with, and the impact of them having a "human touch" as Vanessa eloquently put it.

This chimed with me, as a journalist myself having learnt the need to capture the attention of both commissioning editors and readers with "who, what, why?" at the very start of every pitch and feature. The same applies to storytelling for hospices - the patients, their families, the nurses who care for them, cooks, chaplains and CEO's - all have interesting stories to tell.

Storytelling is not just on the written page

Barbara Altounyan spoke about founding the Hospice Biographers, which began when she started recording her dad’s memories after he told her he was dying. She now travels from hospice to hospice recording patients' accounts, and the project became a registered charity last year.

Barbara explained that when interviewing someone the trick is to listen and ask open-ended questions, like “how” and “why”. Other than that there is no technique, it is all about sitting still and listening to what the other person has to say.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Matt Hopkins makes films that focus on characters in modern-day Britain, with themes that have included ageing and the LGBT community.  He spoke about the possibility of relaying a story in 60 seconds as long as you know what your main points are, and Instagram, as well as Instagram - a whole new way of storytelling.  

There were many other highlights that continued to be talking points long after the doors had closed. There was the clip of acclaimed actor David Suchet playing an answering machine message left by his mother. There was Barbara’s moving account of her father’s words towards the end of his life. And the excerpt of Matt's film about spending time with 81 year old Patrick, which prompted many questions from the audience who wanted to know how he had captured a day in his life with such ease, as if the camera was not there.  

An exercise at the beginning of the day asked the delegates to fill two large whiteboards with post-it notes containing single words they believed made a great story. These included simplicity, serendipity, humanity, and kindness. Every account talked about that day – whether spoken, written, on film, on an Instagram snap or in a hashtag, had these qualities, proving that it is not the medium that matters, it is telling the story, which is both crucial and powerful.

To view presentations and video footage from the Hospice Comms Day and some top tips on the best story-telling books visit Hospice IQ

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