Narrative refit

September 9, 2010

We have a wonderful set of guides at Coventry Cathedral who add a tremendous amount of value for visitors by incorporating anecdotes in tours that help to make the place come alive. Stories can be used to enhance commercial propositions too…

One of the first things that I did when employed by the Cathedral was to do some narrative collection with members of staff and it is those stories that I now use when taking guided tours. A future project that I have in mind is to record the stories told by the guides (who are volunteers) as they work since I have realised that many of them have first hand experience of the night of the Blitz attack on Coventry, the burning of the Cathedral, and the brave statement from the then Provost, Dick Howard, that the Cathedral would not condone retaliation but instead reach out with a message of reconciliation. I have listened to the newsreels of the day where the narrator says “The people of London salute the people of Coventry – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and realise how counter cultural the message of reconciliation must have been (and is still challenging today).

In the undercroft of the Cathedral lies St Michael’s Hall which has been used as the Treasury for many years with artefacts of the life of the Cathedral on display in large glass cabinets with small signs of only a few words describing each one (the photo below shows the glass cabinets with the old Cathedral’s high altar cross in the left hand cabinet (and which appear a little lost).

St Michael’s Hall has just been refitted so that visitors come in to a film and display about the art, architecture and work of the cathedral, plus access to toilets and the coffee bar (essential for visitors arriving by coach!) I have noticed that far fewer artefacts are now on display, but that the ones that are have been matched up with other objects that place them in a context and also a narrative about them with related photos. Note in this next picture the high altar cross has been placed in a cabinet of its own and is in the context of information about the old medieval Cathedral and with further explanation flanking it.

In addition, when raising your eyes, you can now see some of the stained glass from the old cathedral too. It is now far easier for visitors to make sense of what they are seeing and to understand more about the items on display.

In the commercial world too, reframing products using narrative can enhance how they are perceived by customers. I remember working on marketing one product for a telecoms company. The item was laid out for admiring engineers in a technical manual which was about 300 pages long and the sales literature was clearly aimed at technical staff too rather than the people that would sign off on a purchase.

A colleague and I asked around for stories about this product and came across some gems which we then put together into a Fable Format story (see Dave Snowden’s explanation of this story structure and the Water Engineers story). We rewrote the sales presentation giving an example of how the product had solved a major problem for a very high profile customer. The sales guys loved it and this led to further work with them to transform other presentations.

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