The Storytelling Reception

How a buzzy, creative city uses theater to spread the word about its evolution.

Johannesburg is having a moment.

In December, GQ magazine called the city “the cool capital of the Southern Hemisphere.” And earlier last year, the  Global Financial Centres Index ranked Johannesburg the Number 1 city in Africa and the 33rd most economically powerful metropolis in the world, based on business environment, financial sector development, infrastructure, human capital, and other factors.

When Joburg Tourism welcomed local and international journalists, including Convene, to the city for Meetings Africa, held Feb. 23-24, they could have conveyed those messages by showing us a Powerpoint presentation  or with a fact-laden speech by a local official.

Instead, they hired local actors to personify various aspects of the city: the townships where the fight against apartheid began, vibrant arts districts, an influential design scene, and the flowering of businesses headed by young entrepreneurs. 

The actors mingled with guests at a reception, and then, with spotlights suddenly shining on them in the midst of the party, spoke up, eloquently, about what bound them to the city. Their performances culminated with the four actors taking the stage together.  (You can see part of the presentation, and the mesmerized audience, in the video clip above.)

It was artistic and engaging, but also was an effective way to make the messages about what makes the city special stick with those in the audience. Emotion “is one of the ways you lock in learning,” says Roger Haskett, an actor and founder of the meetings and events company Engagment Unlimited. “If you can build in an emotional arc to an event, an experience, a meeting, or a conference,” Haskett told us for a story about theater and meetings, “who’s not going to talk about that conference?”



Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.