Learn how to better tell your pack’s story in the October 2014 CubCast

cubcast-logoThe photos you take of your Cub Scouts have special powers.

Yes, the best ones get a few-dozen likes when you share them on Facebook or Instagram.

But it goes even deeper. I’m talking about the power of great photos to recruit new boys into your pack. Like any good power, though, it must be harnessed. As the philosopher Uncle Ben one said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Do the responsible thing and listen to the October 2014 CubCast, the podcast for adult leaders of Cub Scouts.

Hosts Mark and Janet Griffin interview Peter Simon, team lead for multimedia at BSA headquarters in Texas.

Peter leads the Boy Scouts of America’s storytelling initiative, which he describes as a “way for volunteers to share the Scouting experience using their cameras.” The idea is to capture a heartwarming story “and then share it with their network of friends, and neighbors, and colleagues” to help recruit and retain boys.

Producing a great story is a five-step process, Peter says:

  1. Identify your subjects.
  2. Think about your process. “You have to figure out: I’m going to go to Cub Scout Day Camp, and I know they’re going to shoot BB guns and I don’t just want to show a kid shooting a BB gun, maybe I know a couple of boys, maybe it’s my own son I know that this is going to be the first time he’s going to shoot a BB gun. So, how do I have to capture that in a way that shows it’s a unique experience for him, one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life?”
  3. Prepare. “You think, OK, where am I going to be to take this shot? Do I want to be to the side of him? I can’t get in front of him, obviously, you don’t want him to shoot you. You have to think through exactly how you’re going to capture that, and then, acquire, which is you take a series of shots.”
  4. Edit your photos. “The wonderful thing about the digital universe is, you can shoot a hundred pictures and there’s no film to develop. All you do is go through and delete 89 of them and you’ve got 11 good ones left that you can kind of pick the heroes out of, and then you refine that. You develop some skills and you can make that picture look a little better, a little warmer, a little more inviting.”
  5. Share! This is the final and most important step.

For more ideas on how parents and adult volunteers can better capture and share the Scouting experience, listen to the October 2014 CubCast.

Or you can read it. As with last month’s CubCast, this one includes a transcript. So hearing-impaired Scouters or those who would rather read than listen can enjoy the lessons, too. 


October 2014 CubCast transcript


Music Full then Under

MARK:            I hear the music so it must be time for the October CubCast.  We’re so glad you’ve clicked the download button to join us.

JANET:           The topic for this episode is visual storytelling workshops.  I actually attended one of these workshops at Philmont and it was so inspiring.

MARK:            Think about it. You’ve heard the saying, “Every picture tells a story,” and parents take lots of pictures of their Cub Scouts doing really fun things like Space Derbies, or day camp, or roasting hotdogs.  So how can they use these pictures to tell the scouting story?

JANET:           We’re about to find out just as soon as the music fades.

Music Fades

JANET:           Peter Simon has been in the broadcast business for over 30 years.  He currently serves at the Team Lead for the Multimedia Team at the BSA National Service Center in Irving, Texas.  As someone who has taken your storytelling workshop, it is my pleasure to say welcome to CubCast, Peter.

PETER:          Thank you, Janet.  It’s a pleasure to be here.

JANET:           What is the storytelling initiative?

PETER:          It’s a way for volunteers to share the scouting experience using their cameras and the idea is if they can capture the scouting experience in a way that tells a little heartwarming story and then share it with their network of friends, and neighbors, and colleagues, it’s a way to help with recruiting, retention, and sometimes fundraising.

MARK:            So why storytelling?

PETER:          Stories are at the heart of the human experience and I think all of us today have become sort of against traditional marketing.  If you get a brochure, or you see a TV commercial, you’re like, “yeah, yeah, yeah, somebody’s trying to sell me something”.  But, Mark, for example, if you’re going to buy a lawnmower and you open up the newspaper and you say, “Ah, brand X is on sale this weekend; Peter uses brand Y,” and you mention this, I say, “I’ve been using brand Y forever – it’s great and here’s why. I’m a trusted source for you,” as opposed to the newspaper with its ad, which is just telling you information.  So the idea is if we can get volunteers sharing these stories outside of the scouting sphere with the general public using social media that we have an opportunity to create an army of storytellers that are expressing what a great experience scouting is.

MARK:            It’s all about relationships.

PETER:          Absolutely.

JANET:           What’s in it for leaders and their councils?

PETER:          Volunteers are the ones who listen to this podcast and if you’re out there listening, pick up your camera!  It’s a way to help with their marketing efforts.  They’re the people who know the program the best, they’re the ones who are around the kids when things are happening and able to capture these moments.  If you can recruit a bunch of people to do this, you’ve got this wonderful free-flowing images and sounds of things that are going on out there.

MARK:            You mentioned volunteers, but what about parents?

PETER:          Absolutely parents!  Any parent that’s interested in sharing and they have maybe some inclination toward photography or maybe they’ve got some video skills, absolutely.  Pick up the camera and let’s go.

JANET:           You mentioned skills that people might have; we may only have a particular skillset.  What was valuable to me was to come into that workshop and to find out that whatever little skills I had were enough to get me started and that I could then soak up everything else I need to put it together and really learn to tell a story.

PETER:          This is a constant learning process. This doesn’t come naturally to us. We take family pictures and we share those with our friends or our extended family, but capturing a story in a couple of pictures or shooting a little short video in a way that’s compelling and meaningful is not easy.  It takes a lot of practice and it takes being at the right place at the right time and it takes preparation.  So, it’s not just pick up your phone or your camera and wander out there and start scatter shooting.  There’s a lot to it in terms of that little Cub Scout shoots a bow and an arrow for the first time and can you capture that moment and express it and share it via social media in a way that other people look at it and go, “wow, I wish my son was doing that!”

MARK:            I remember last summer I was on Facebook. You did a storytelling workshop at the Philmont Training Center – beautiful photographs that detail the story of what scouting really is.

PETER:          We’re very blessed to have an amazing volunteer faculty.  We’ve got Dr. Jim Brown, who’s a retired photojournalism professor from the University of Indiana, Randy Pylon, who teaches multimedia at Elon University.  We just picked up a guy named Robbie Rogers who’s the Director of Photography at Baylor University; wonderful, dedicated volunteers who have years of experience in how to capture that decisive moment, on how to actually prepare and get that moment that’s going to convince somebody that what they’re seeing is worthy of following up on because that’s a trick. I can show you one picture and you go “meh.”  I show you another picture, and as a parent, you might say, “My goodness I wish my son was involved in that.”

MARK:            Everybody thinks they know what we do, but photographs can tell a story what we really do.

PETER:          We have an opportunity to take the land by storm if we can get enough people going and enough people practice that and enough people sharing.  That’s the key.  What we’re trying to advocate for now is yes put it on your Facebook page, but really the ideal thing would be is if you’d pick out two or three Cub Scout age parents who have boys not in the program and e-mail them your “story,” assuming they’re friends or colleagues, and say, “Hey, look what we did this weekend, and by the way, we’re having a meeting Thursday night.  Would like to come?”  That’s a hard place to get to, but that’s kind of the long-term goal.

 MARK:           When they first put the cell tower at Philmont a couple of years ago, people said, “Well, they’re going to start putting pictures on Facebook, and I said, “Great. I can’t think of anything better than a scout putting an album of his Philmont trek, while he’s at Philmont, online, while his friends are sitting in a basement playing Nintendo.”  That tells the story. Those are great.

JANET:           So can you tell us how the storytelling production process works?

PETER:          Without getting too granular about it, it’s really five steps. You have to identify your subject.  You have to figure out: I’m going to go to Cub Scout Day Camp, and I know they’re going to shoot BB guns and I don’t just want to show a kid shooting a BB gun, maybe I know a couple of boys, maybe it’s my own son I know that this is going to be the first time he’s going to shoot a BB gun.  So, how do I have to capture that in a way that shows it’s a unique experience for him, one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life?  So you think through that process, and then you prepare.  You think, okay, where am I going to be to take this shot?  Do I want to be to the side of him? I can’t get in front of him, obviously, (chuckles) you don’t want him to shoot you.  You have to think through exactly how you’re going to capture that, and then, acquire, which is you take a series of shots.

And the wonderful thing about the digital universe is, you can shoot a hundred pictures and there’s no film to develop.  All you do is go through and delete 89 of them (laughs) and you’ve got 11 good ones left that you can kind of pick the heroes out of, and then you refine that.  You develop some skills and you can make that picture look a little better, a little warmer, a little more inviting.  The final and vital step is you got to share it. You got to share it and hopefully you make and ask when you do that, not every time.  But, if you can reach out to people and say, come join us that would be really helpful.

MARK:            Not everyone can go to the Summit, or to Sea Base, or Philmont, or the Northern Tier, so how can someone get started in visual storytelling?

PETER:          That’s a great question, Mark.  Unfortunately because we don’t have the resources to do workshops for every council, you have to be something of a self-starter.  What I would recommend, and I would focus pretty much on photography to start with is go on Google and learn some very basic things about composition, lighting, those sorts of things.

Another thought might be to check your local community colleges and see what kind of curriculums they have regarding photography or video production or multimedia. There’s often classes you can take that probably are not going to cost that much and some people learn much better in a classroom environment hands on than they do poking around online.

Once you have that, if you’re not proficient in social media, become so.  If you don’t have a Facebook page, you need one.  If you don’t do Twitter, you probably ought to have an account.  People of a certain age (laughs), have a little more trouble learning those things, but if we’re going to keep up and get people in here, we have to constantly be learning these new tools and this new technology and then become proficient with them.  So, again, learn the basics online in terms of photography and then become well-versed in social media.  Put those two things together, and I like to put little captions with the pictures when they go out.  Sometimes a little line can help sell the experience as well.

And I’d add one other thing to that:  don’t beat yourself up about what your stuff looks like!  I always say apply what you call the Mack Sennett test.  He was the guy that put out the Keystone Cops, and before he would let a movie go out, he would sit in the theater by himself, and if the movie did not make him laugh, it did not get released.  Now that’s a very powerful way to look at a photograph and say, “Does this photograph move me? Does it make me laugh? Does it choke me up? Does it make me feel warm inside?”  And if it doesn’t, it’s probably not going to do that for other people.  Now that said, if you got a pretty good picture, that’s better than no picture, and sharing is better than not sharing.  So the idea is you’re going to get better as you go, but don’t beat yourself up too much about your early efforts.

MARK:            Practice, practice, practice. You also told us at one of the workshops is take advantage of the moment.  Don’t  sit there and frame it and worry about it, until you have a perfect composition in framing because now there’s software where you can edit it and fix it, so don’t lose the moment.

PETER:          That is a great point.  The moment is more important than the perfect shot. If you can capture it in focus, that’s really all you need (laughter) and wide enough that you’ve got it, you can go in there and doctor it all kinds of ways once you get it back to your house.

MARK:            Just tell the story.

JANET:           What is the status of the initiative today and what do you see in the future?

PETER:          We’ve been doing this for about three years.  One of the guys on our staff had this idea if we could just teach volunteers to take a little bit better pictures – that would help scouting for all the reasons we’ve talked about.  We’ve done a couple of regional workshops and then we’ve done the Philmont workshop every August, and so far, the results have been mixed.  I have to be candid. What happens is people leave with a lot of enthusiasm and all fired up, and then life intrudes. So we haven’t seen a lot of the stories coming out.  But we’ve tweaked the curriculum quite a bit to make it easier for people to do it, to, as Mark mentioned, the decisive moment.  In one to two to three photographs, can you capture an experience?  The boy with the bow pulled back, the bull’s eye with the arrow in the center of it, and then his facial expression.  There’s three pictures and that tells you exactly what’s happened.  So if you can do that, then that gets us a long way down the road of trying to tell the story.

So moving forward, the real goal is for local councils to form their own storytelling committees.  What we found was people go back by themselves to their local council and they’re alone.  They don’t have any support; it’s all on them to make this get done.  So the idea is to have a committee, and we’ve got a little suggested structure, its four or five people.  You’ve got a chairman, and then you’ve got somebody hopefully who maybe is a very good amateur photographer, and then somebody who knows everybody in terms of what’s going on in the program so they can identify stories, and you work as a team to pull these things together.  So that’s kind of the future casting is we hope that we can convince councils to do that.  So that’s the long-term goal; local councils with storytelling committees.

MARK:            So where can our Cubcast audience find more information on storytelling?

PETER:          I’m glad you asked, Mark.  We have hired a gentleman who is our full-time consultant on this project.  He’s a long-time scouter; his name is David Burke and he’s been tasked with this process of helping councils form committees and he can be reached at davidburke, b-u-r-k-e, @, storiesandmore.net.  That’s davidburke@storiesandmore.net, and, he can help consult with you in terms of how to form these storytelling committees.  We do have a website.  It’s just www.scouting.org/storytelling. The goal for 2015 is to add a bunch of online resources for both learning and training,

JANET:           Is there anything else about storytelling that we haven’t talked about that you think should be shared with our listeners?

PETER:          I would plug next year’s Philmont Training Center Workshop.  If you’ve never been to Philmont, you’ve always wanted to go, we’re either going to be the first or second week of June.  It hasn’t been determined yet. Come on out and have some fun.  It’s God’s green earth out there and you spend a lot of time in the field.  It’s on the Philmont Training Center website, if you’re looking to get involved.

MARK:             That’s great. It was a great experience

JANET:           I can second that.

PETER:          Just look anywhere on the web, it’s all about pictures and videos.  It’s the old cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words and in the case of scouting, it’s probably worth 10,000 words.

MARK:            And anywhere scouting happens, there’s photo opportunities.  It strikes me as a little funny that we’re using an audio only a medium to talk about visual storytelling, (Peter laughs) but, Peter, you really helped bring it to life.  Thanks so much for coming on the show.

PETER:          My pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

JANET:           After this short break, we’ll be back with Reminders and Tips.

(On-Line Training Commercial)

JANET:           Now it’s time for our magnificent monthly reminders.

MARK:            Let’s start with council and district round tables.  To locate round table sites and times, check with your unit commissioner, your local scouting professional, or the council service center website or Cub Scout calendar.

JANET:           There’s really no better way to help deliver a quality program than to experience the idea sharing that goes on at these meetings. You can listen to the January 2012 CubCast to hear an in depth discussion of round tables.

MARK:            Now here’s a question you should be asking yourself.  Are all your committee positions filled?  Just to review, you should have a committee chair, pack trainer, secretary-treasurer, advancement chair, outdoor chair, membership chair, and a finance fundraising chair.

JANET:           For those smaller packs whose committee members have been wearing more than one hat, this is a great time to recruit new parents to help fill in all these important positions.  The responsibilities for each role are outlined in the Cub Scout Leader Book.

MARK:            The committee chair is responsible for filling all the slots.  But leaders can help out by remaining on the lookout for good candidates at their work, church or neighborhood.  Make sure all new leaders complete Leader Specific Training and Youth Protection Training.


MARK:            So that’s it for the October Cubcast.  Thanks to Peter Simon for joining us.

JANET:           And thank you for listening.  Hope you’re back next month to investigate new and fun activities for your dens and packs.

MARK:           Are there other topics we should be discussing?  Don’t be shy – just send an email to Cubcast@scouting.org.  or tweet to @Cubcast. So with that – I’m Mark Griffin …

JANET:           And I’m Janet Griffin….what’s your story?




1 Comment

  1. I took the Visual Storytelling Workshop at Philmont Training Center two summers ago. It was fantastic!

    I am a pretty good still photographer and have dabbled in video, digital editing, and posting on-line. But this course showed me a new way of thinking. Imagine the power of telling a compelling story in just two or three pictures. We worked on that.

    We also assembled stills and video clips and audio clips to create 60 second videos. It took some work, and our results were “mixed”, but it was clear what the potential could be. I am “of a certain age” so struggle with the on-line posting aspect, but I’m sure others would find that more natural.

    Perhaps my biggest challenge is how to take pictures while helping to deliver the program. It’s hard to facilitate STEM activities AND photograph Scouts enjoying those activities.

    I hope BSA can push this training down to regional or council levels so more of us can learn this and improve how we tell the Scouting story.

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