Ever looked at your to-do list and felt like you’re hitting a wall? You’re not alone. Sometimes a new perspective — and change of scenery — helps.

At the StoryConnect Conference in the Great Smoky Mountains March 8-10, rural telco and electric utility communicators will swap stories, share inspiration and connect with peers. The unique conference is designed to help communicators discover and refine corporate storytelling skills. 

Never been? Here are three ways the conference supports your storytelling skills and strengthens your peer network, too.


1. Focus on Storytelling

Storytelling — defining a tone and strategy to connect your brand with consumers — lies at the center of the conference content. Speakers come both from within the broadband and electric industry and from other brands (last year a session by REI was a crowd favorite). Story-centered sessions for StoryConnect 2023 include:

  • Your story — and how people feel about your brand — starts with staff. Meridian Cooperative Chief Marketing Officer Lindsay Tyson shares how her co-op refreshed its story, using staff as brand developers and ambassadors. Eager to learn more? Lindsay shared rebranding tips last year on “The StoryConnect Podcast.”
  • A storytelling picture is worth a thousand generic shots. Retired editor and long time Tennessee photojournalist Robin Conover shares the role of photography in storytelling.
  • Why should a consumer care about your story? Brand Storyteller Megan McKoy-Noe kicks off the conference by challenging communicators to lead with why. Instead of starting a story with your co-op’s name or what your utility does, stop and consider why a reader cares. We’ll share examples and work together to refocus stories to engage more audiences.
  • You may not cover true crime in your community, but you can learn about the power of connecting to people who want to share their story. Meet Kenzie Durbin, co-host of the “Crimeaholics” podcast. The true crime podcast, with more than 2 million episode downloads, gives a voice to the voiceless. “People are desperate for someone to listen to their stories. That’s when it became a passion for us,” she told a TV news station.


2. Polish Writing and Photography Skills

The power and reach of most stories relies on two tools: words and pictures. Based on a model used successfully for decades in our West Coast-based workshops, we’re adding a hands-on writing and photography track to StoryConnect. The track is geared specifically for communicators responsible for writing and photography in their broadband or utility magazine, but is open to everyone.

Attendees can pick and choose sessions from the track. Photography sessions include picture assignments and an early morning photo walk with photographer Robin Conover. Writers will dig into headline writing, ledes, writing for the web and story strategy. Attendees can also book on-on-one reviews with editors, and work on writing and photography assignments together.

An early morning photo walk at last fall’s StoryConnect workshop helped attendees gain practical application of ideas learned in photography sessions.

3. Build Your Network

While we’d like to think our story-focused speakers are a big draw for attendees, we know they’re not the only reason folks come. By joining 70+ telco and electric utility communicators from across the country, you (and the real-world ideas you share) are the stars of StoryConnect. Several conference staples put your story center stage.

  • Idea Exchange: Nine communicators and marketers take the stage, each sharing a powerful storytelling tactic in five minutes. Have an idea you’d like to share? Tell us!
  • Say What? Grab a deck of cards and get ready for a memorable icebreaker! We ask everyone questions (examples: “After seeing my budget proposal, my manager said … ” or “When I look at my to-do list Monday morning, I say …”). Pick a card that best answers the question, then share it with your table. Imagine a kinder, gentler version of Cards Against Humanity. It’s pure silly networking fun, and a great way to get to know your fellow attendees. Yes, you can take the cards home!
  • Professional Headshots: Last year we debuted free professional headshots for attendees, and it’s back by popular demand! While we often talk about strengthening our co-op story, don’t forget to build a professional network and update your image to strengthen your personal brand story, too.

Learning doesn’t stop with conference sessions. Several unique add-on adventures and after-hours networking events offer the chance to meet new people and reconnect with longtime friends.

  • On our first night, rise above the Great Smoky Mountains at Anakeesta, an outdoor adventure theme park. Ride a ski lift to the elevated welcome reception for beautiful views, whimsical adventures and dinner with your peers. While there, share a bird’s-eye view of the mountains with conference attendees at the Anakeesta Treetop Skywalk and feel the rush of the Rail Runner mountain coaster.
  • Pass the jar, please! Join your peers our second night for a moonshine tasting in downtown Gatlilnburg. We’ll sip and share stories while learning a bit of local moonshine history.
  • Tour Great Smoky Mountain National Park! Several folks asked if we’d arrange tours before the conference to make it easy to explore the nearby national park with friends. We found two great options for you on March 7 and March 8.

    • Inspiration Point: Get to Gatlinburg a day early for a 5-mile hike on March 7, led by Smoky Mountain Guides. The moderately difficult trail climbs the lower half of Mount Leconte through scenic mountains to visit Alum Cave Bluffs and Inspiration Point. A van leaves our hotel at 2 p.m. and returns by sunset. ($55 fee, paid during registration).
    • Waterfalls: Before diving into storytelling tactics, join a networking nature walk to several Appalachian waterfalls. A 4-mile easy nature walk, led by Smoky Mountain Guides, highlights local history and several quiet waterfalls in the area. A van leaves the hotel at 8 a.m. on March 8, returning by lunchtime. ($55 fee, paid during registration).

Develop Your Story at StoryConnect

Whew! The final agenda will be published in February. As you can see, we’re getting pretty excited about heading to the Great Smoky Mountains this spring. We hope you’re ready to head to the mountains, too.

Since co-op membership always offers benefits, Pioneer members receive a $50 registration discount (learn how to join our co-op). Our room block rate at the Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg closes Jan. 24. Register for the conference, book your room, and read speaker bios at StoryConnect.com.

Register for StoryConnect