Storytelling that grabs the heart as well as the head
Presentation: The need for engagement in education (redux)

Ken Burns on the power of story

Legendary documentary Ken Burns says that the best stories are about "One plus one equals three." A good story is more than simply the sum of its parts. There is something beyond the words and the data and the images. In this short film below by Tom Mason and Sarah Klein, Ken Burns givens a very candid and brief look into what he thinks story is all about. There is not just one way — one formula if you will — for describing what good story and good storytelling is. It's complicated and professional storytellers will give you different answers. However, there is a lot of good stuff in this very short film that should inspire you to think deeper about your own storytelling ideas and techniques in your own work. For example, Burns touches on the idea of truth in documentary storytelling. But as he says, there are many truths. This is a sentiment echoed by the work of Robert Mckee as well who has said “What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.” The film itself is a good example of what is possible with just first-person interview footage and positive manipulation of the material.

"We all think that an exception is going to be made in our case and we're going to live forever. Being a human is actually arriving at the understanding that that's not going to be. Story is there to remind us that it's just OK."  — Ken Burns


Michael Platania

For me, the best speeches are stories. Listing facts and figures and statistics bore me. I recently saw a woman talk about physics in a way that was amazing, dynamic and compelling, all because she told a good story.


The ordinary into extraordinary. The extraordinary only possible beginning with the ordinary. That is the story.

Thank you for sharing, Garr.

Catherine Cerullli

This wonderful film reminds me of the "truth" of this favorite quote: "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." (Muriel Rukeyser)

Thank you for all you do Garr to inspire us to be storytellers!

As usual, unusual ideas) Thank for sharing, I'll read it.

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When a racist in 1942 was confronted with Robinson's playing baseball for Brooklyn, they were forced to either give up baseball, switch loyalty to another team, or to embrace an African-American playing for their favorite team. Such is the power of story.

Fred E. Miller

Nancy Duarte says, "Personal Stories are the emotional glue that connect your audience to your message."

I, and I'm sure Ken Burns and Garr Reynolds agree.


Very inspired video. Really learn something powerful today.

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Wonderful story, Thank you for sharing,i learned much

Nasser Ismail

" All story is manipulation", that is a very powerful statement. The real masters of storytelling do it without the audience realizing. Great video, thanks for sharing.


I also have passion in producing historical documentary, Mr. Burns gives me the 'reason' why. My mom also died of cancer when I was 17. "It is close to home..."


The back was the video which is deep and beneficial.

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