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How Progressives Get Narrative Wrong, and How to Get It Right

Session Type(s): Training

Starts: Thursday, Jun. 7 10:30 AM

Ends: Thursday, Jun. 7 11:45 AM

Room: 556

Progressives talk a lot about narrative and storytelling these days. So why are we so bad at it? We’re not just bad at it – we’re often reinforcing right-wing ideas about our most important issues without even knowing it. We have to be smarter about research and strategy. But first, we need to know what a real narrative looks like. This interactive workshop led by progressive strategy consultant Ryan Senser, along with the help of cognitive linguist and communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio, will help you practice effective storytelling. We’ll use great stories to help us, from Harriet Tubman to Superman, and offer compelling examples of narrative, visual storytelling and words that actually move people. You’ll walk away with simple and smart tools, and learn how to avoid dead-end talking points and pointless infographics. We’ll also tackle one narrative challenge from the audience and work together to transform it.


Caitlin Burns

As a Transmedia Producer for Starlight Runner Entertainment, Ms. Burns has worked on such blockbuster properties as Pirates of the Caribbean, Fairies, and Tron Legacy for Disney, James Cameron’s Avatar for Fox, Halo for Microsoft, The Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company, and Transformers for Hasbro. She has also had the opportunity to work with Sony, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Scholastic, Nelvana, and Wieden+Kennedy. She is a member of the Tribeca New Media Fund’s advisory board and is a member of the Producers Guild of America.

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Ryan Senser

Ryan Senser

An independent consultant, Ryan partners with those seeking to lead their organizations to the next level of insight, strategy and impact. Ryan helps transform outcomes in several areas: strategic planning, organizational change, brand building, research and innovation, narrative strategy and visual storytelling. Among his clients are: Caring Across Generations, The New Bottom Line, 32BJ/SEIU, Rebuild the Dream, ColorOfChange, Presente, Arabella Advisors, 2Revolutions, Common Ground, and Planned Parenthood Federation.

Not long ago, Ryan was a Senior Strategist at SYPartners (an innovation/transformation firm), where his client was IBM, and a VP for Brand Planning at Edelman Digital, where his clients included Starbucks, Charles Schwab, PepsiCo, Microsoft and American Heart Association. At Edelman, Ryan also worked at the cutting edge of motivational research – analyzing millions of online conversations for behavioral trends and emerging cultural memes. Ryan was a Coro Fellow in New York, and majored in hermeneutics at Amherst College.

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Anat Shenker-Osorio


Anat Shenker-Osorio applies tools from cognition and linguistics to discourse to understand how people reason and come to judgements about political preferences. She has uncovered messaging missteps for issues from immigration to contraception and health care to environmental protection, crafting new language for organizations such as the ACLU, Ms Foundation, America’s Voice and the Ford Foundation, among dozens of others. Anat’s forthcoming book, Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense About the Economy, is based on her multi-year investigation on unconscious metaphorical reasoning on the economy. Anat has presented her findings to members of Congress, at the White House, and as a keynote speaker at Netroots Nation.

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Netroots Nation 2014