5 Questions with the Speakers of AR: Masters of the Story

Assembly Required: Masters of the Story is right around the corner, and we’d like you to meet our speakers! This blog introduces them with insight beyond the typical bio. Find out what to expect from their presentations, their interests, ideas on how to spark a conversation with each of them, and why the topic “Masters of the Story” is important to them.

Meet the Speakers

 

Jon Youshaei

Jon Youshaei has been featured in Inc Magazine and Forbes as one of today’s top marketers to watch. The son of Iranian immigrants, Jon graduated from The Wharton School and now works at YouTube as the company’s head of product marketing for creators.

He’s also a writer for Forbes and Time magazine, has a popular cartoon series, and has been ranked by NPR as one of the top commencement speakers alongside Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Stewart, and Arianna Huffington. But secretly, he’s most proud of his amateur freestyle rap skills and is always looking for a good beatbox.

 

1. Inc Magazine raved about your ability to inspire millennials. What’s the most difficult part about targeting millennials?

Investing hours of your time for seconds of their time. You have to set the quality bar high if you hope to resonate with millennials because they have so many options at their disposal.

2. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Stay quirky. And keep doodling those cartoons. Even as an adult, you can still pursue your childhood dreams.

3. How does storytelling affect your job?

It’s allowed me to tell stories through cartoons and grow EveryVowel.com to an audience of 400,000+ readers.

4. How do you incorporate storytelling as part of your job?

Without the right storytelling, I couldn’t do my job at YouTube. It’s the key to everything, from launching our marketing campaigns to working with our biggest influencers.

5. What’s your biggest advice to twenty-somethings?

Start something. It doesn’t have to be a company. It can be a small side project. You don’t need everything planned out. Just start doing something you’re interested in and the rest will figure itself out. When I started Every Vowel, it was a fun side hobby. Never did I imagine it turning into what it is today.

Sarah Anthony

Sarah Anthony of HBO’s Defiant Ones is a documentary film producer who bounces between music and social justice projects. She began her career in London, working on a variety of subjects ranging from the Iraq war to the Ming Voyages of the 1400’s.

Since then, she’s worked with companies like PBS Frontline, Exclusive Media, and Showtime Networks to produce multiple award-winning documentaries.

 

1. What attracted you to start working in film?

I studied theatre at Northwestern University and always knew that I wanted to be involved in story-telling in some way. After graduation I attended an Acting for Camera course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. During that course, we were given the opportunity to see all parts of the film-making process. We were the sound-recordists and camera operators for our scenes and I was attracted to the technical aspects of film-making. I enjoyed learning how all the different departments work together to make one piece of art. One of the professors there told me that I should consider producing or directing, because I have that kind of big picture brain. So when I returned to the states, I moved to L.A. and started working as a production assistant on feature films.

It was many years later, after I’d moved to London and gotten into documentary films that I really came to understand the potential of the medium. I had just finished The Age of AIDS for PBS Frontline. It’s a four-hour series on the history of the pandemic, and it was tough to make. During the two years of research and filming, I went to some of the worst places in the world. And yet almost everywhere I went, people had access to televisions. Even in the largest slums in Bangkok, or the favelas in Brazil, someone had a TV. It was right at this time that I saw An Inconvenient Truth and thought “I want to make films like that – films that change the global conversation about important topics.” So I went back to L.A. to get inside the “belly of the beast” and become a documentary film producer.

 

2. The Defiant Ones is a documentary about real, well-known people, including Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. What was the most challenging part about telling their story, and how did you overcome it? 

The most challenging part of telling the story of The Defiant Ones was that there was so much to the story! Both Dre and Jimmy had such long and involved careers, and there were a lot of lessons to be gleaned from the way they lived their lives. The director really wanted to give the individual stories and moments room to breathe. The film was originally scheduled and budgeted to be one ninety-minute film, and it became clear after the first few interviews that there was just too much great material. So the challenge became working with the studio to expand the scope of the project and do justice to the breadth of the story. With something like that, it just takes executives with enough imagination and faith in the creative team to back the expanded vision for the project.

3. How does storytelling affect you outside of your job? 

I’m an avid reader, so stories are just part of the fabric of my life. A good story can be found almost anywhere, and I often find myself basically interviewing people I meet, as if they’re a film subject.

4. What is special about your field, and why should people be interested in it? 

I love sharing stories that inspire people to take positive action, to make changes in their own lives and the world around them. I think film and TV can impact more people than any other medium. It is almost universally pervasive, and you can get so much information across in a film that you can’t get in a song, for example. It’s easier to digest than a novel, and more entertaining than the news (although that is debatable these days).

Film is also a very collaborative art form – it takes many different people across many different disciplines to put together a film. So there is room for people who consider themselves artistic, but also room for people who are more technically minded, or who like manual labor or working with numbers. There’s no end to the variety of work that can be done in the film world.

5. What advice would you give to your younger self? 

I would tell my younger self to stay open to the possibility of change. I would say don’t be stressed out about not knowing how things are going to turn out, and understand that there is no roadmap to success in the film world. Not knowing exactly what you want at an early age does not mean that you’ll never get to a place that you love. Follow the advice on the cover of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Planet, and Don’t Panic!

I would also say do your best work and have a good attitude, no matter what the task is. If you’re lucky the game of life is a long one, and you never know how the people you’re interacting with in your early years are going to impact your life down the line. There are people I worked with twenty years ago who are helping me now in ways I could never have imagined then. Everyone you meet, everyone you work with, could potentially be someone you know for the rest of your life. So work hard and play nice.

Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore

Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore is an Executive Director of Forward Arts with over 15 years experience as a trained teaching-artist, facilitator, curriculum writer, and youth worker. As a spoken word artist, Chancelier has been ranked twice among the top five slam poets in the United States, and in October of 2013 he ranked 1st at the Individual World Poetry Slam Festival.

You can find his work published in the anthology, Spoken Word Revolution Redux by Sourcebooks MediaFusion and the Spring 2010 volume of the New Delta Review by LSU Press.

1. How do you see poetry as a tool to impact people’s lives?

Poetry is language, which is used to communicate ideas, plans, and overall meaning. There has never been a great force that motivated various human beings that didn’t have its own text. Be it political speech, sermon, or rallying cry, language is how we define the world AND redefine the world. 

2. How do you incorporate story-telling as a part of your job? 

For writers, narrative is one of the most captivating tools in existence. As an executive director, I often share my personal story with potential donors, partners, and other community constituents. If people are going to invest their resources or time into Forward Arts, they need to be able to trust that I’m going to be a good steward of their contributions.

3. How does storytelling affect you outside of your job? 

Outside of my job, storytelling both entertains and compels me to be a better person. My mom is my hero. She’s a gifted storyteller and is constantly regaling me and my other relatives with the stories of our lineage. This is done a great deal to help me define who I am and who I aspire to be.

4. What attracted you to poetry in the first place? Give us background on your history with poetry. 

As a child, I always loved language. I memorized the dialogue of books and movies. I memorized the lyrics to songs. I nagged my mom every time I heard a new word and wanted to know what it meant. She would send me to the big blue dictionary we kept in the living room and through this ritual my vocabulary grew and grew. After that, I just always viewed myself as a communicator. Poetry, rap, even expressing myself as a musician, all of that is the natural progression of the self-image that she fostered.

5. What is special about poetry, and why should people be interested in it? 

Poetry is an extremely powerful art form. Once it can shake its reputation for pretentiousness, I think more people will feel like it’s cool to participate in it and celebrate it.

 

Bob Allen

Bob Allen is the Founder and Chief Storytelling Officer at IDEAS OrlandoMr. Allen began his career in the entertainment industry as a musician at the age of 16 when he taught guitar and toured Europe as a singer and accompanist. In 1976 he accepted a position with Disneyland’s live entertainment division and has been working for Disney ever since. 

He has done design and creative work for Disneyland Main Street’s Electrical Parade, doing writing and production for several features within Walt Disney World’s Epcot, and led facilities and services for Disney’s MGM Studios. 

 

1. How do you define “design thinking” and what does it mean to you? 

Design thinking is really a dressy name that a bunch of intellectuals made up to describe a creative process so they could charge more for being “experts”. It is actually native to human beings and is premised on iterating many paths to a new outcome. At its best, it is a flow state of collaborative improvisation.

2. Can you explain what “storying” is and how it affects you?

Storying is how people enact and embody a narrative to create reality.

3. How does storytelling play a role in your life outside of your job?

There is no aspect of my life that is not involved in story. It is the way I parent, the way I express my love for my family and extended tribe of friends and colleagues, and how I make sense of the world.

4. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned during your time with Disney?

There are thousands but perhaps the big two are that you can achieve the impossible if you can combine a great story with hard work and that the blank page is both daunting and full of the greatest creative potential.

5. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t believe everything you think!

Katie Greenman

Katie Greenman, M.A. is Director of Programs, Storyteller & Facilitator at Dear World. She has managed the growth of and developed the programs of Dear World that connect thousands of people each year.

Greenman is a recognized facilitator and speaker who bridges translational research, program design, and improv comedy to design and deliver exceptional leadership programs. She has facilitated programs in tee-pees on Mountains, on Capitol Hill, and at the United Nations.

 

1. What inspired you to work with Dear World? 

I was inspired to join the team because I truly believe that sharing our stories is a way to bring people together on a level they don’t even realize they are missing, until they do it.

2. What advice would you give to your younger self?

If I could talk to my younger self, I would definitely tell her to do her own thing sooner and trust that following her own lead is way more fulfilling and fun than the alternative.

3. How does storytelling affect you outside of your job?

Storytelling makes me much more prone to connect with people through that type of conversation- instead of asking what a person does or what the weather is like, I look for and am excited to swap stories about how we are, what we are up to or looking forward to and recent meaningful moments; and, honestly, I find it so much easier to connect, relate, and play as a result.

4. What are you most passionate about within your job?

Getting to see people in a context where they are sharing the most meaningful and beautiful parts of themselves and then knowing we get to leave them with a pathway to have similar experiences going forward – I love the work we do and feel very lucky to be a part of our team.

5. What’s your advice to someone looking to tell their story?

Trust that whatever you want to share, the person listening will most likely relate and appreciate anything you have to share as long as its true, personal, and meaningful to you.

 

Taylor Richardson

For as long as she can remember, stories and storytelling have been at the core of Taylor’s existence. It started small and harmless, mainly by pulling friends together to reenact favorite scenes from movies to an audience of parents. As she grew up, her passion for moving people landed her in N.O.C.C.A.’s Theater program in high school, which eventually led her to her marketing career.

As the Marketing Manager at TurboSquid, she now uses storytelling to help make sense of complex data sets, improve TurboSquid’s Google search results, and to advocate for improvements to the customer experience. When she’s not buried in a spreadsheet, Taylor loves to indulge in video games, new shows, local theater, improv and sketch comedy, and Renaissance festivals around the country.

 

1. How did you get involved with your company, Turbosquid? 

I was ready to move home to New Orleans after having lived in Austin, TX for 11 years following Katrina. As an SEO, I had to wait for the right opportunity to make the jump; so when TurboSquid offered me a place on the team as the Marketing Manager, I didn’t hesitate! 

2. How does storytelling affect your work? 

I am constantly faced with making sense of challenging data sets and concepts, so I use storytelling principles to help explain what’s going on. Examples might be how Google reacts to website changes, how Google’s reaction impacts our business and revenue, and even how users move through our site. Ultimately I’m striving to understand our customers’ stories – how they find TurboSquid in their moment of need, how we fulfill that need, and what we can do to reach more potential customers in that micro-moment of need for our products. 

3. How does storytelling affect you outside of the office?

Oh gosh, almost in every way possible! People relate to each other through storytelling, whether they realize it or not. Social media is flooded with stories – some great, some not so great. Advertising and marketing use storytelling to sell products to us. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others make stories incredibly accessible – more so than ever before in history. Podcasts and audio book services have also become extremely popular in the past several years, harkening back to a time when storytelling on the radio was popular. And video games have completely elevated the storytelling experience by immersing players in fully fleshed out universes that they can experience for themselves. It’s truly an amazing time we live in; we’re surrounded by stories everywhere we turn. In a way it creates a lot of noise, which presents a new challenge – what makes one story more memorable and impactful than another? Well, that’s for us to find out at the Assembly Required event in November! 

4. What are you passionate about, at work or otherwise? 

I’m passionate about a lot of things – maybe too many things. The short list would have to include empowering others to embrace their own passion, talents, and uniqueness; effective and honest communication; and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. But most of all, I am passionate about being my true self and following all the whacky bursts of inspiration that happen to me, so helping others do the same is definitely at the top of that list. 

5. What advice would you give your younger self? 

“Dear Taylor: Your sense of self-worth must come from within yourself. Relying on the validation of others to feel whole and important only robs you of the ability to stand on your own. And do not allow your perfectionism to prevent you from taking risks; seriously, cut that sh*t out. And for the love of God, stop sandbagging yourself!”

We’re so excited to hear more about storytelling from these amazing speakers at Assembly Required: Masters of the Story on November 10!

We hope that you’ve learned a little bit more about who they are and why they believe storytelling is a powerful force in our world.

While you’re waiting for November 10, go ahead and follow ThreeSixtyEight and Assembly Required on social media, and stay tuned to this blog for updates!

Amanda Rabalais

In addition to being a full-time dog mom, Amanda works as ThreeSixtyEight’s Internal Marketing Intern. Her love of all things millennial enables her to market directly towards the demographic, or at least that’s what she says when we catch her on Twitter. When she’s not at the office, you can find her drinking too much coffee under a stately oak on LSU’s campus.