Nicola L. Whitley, MS, CCPH, president of the National Public Health Information Coalition, welcomes attendees to the 2014 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media in Atlanta. Photo by APHA

Paul Smith is not a public health expert. But he knows how to tell a story, and that’s why he was chosen to speak at the Eighth National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media, this week in Atlanta.

For the hundreds of public health communicators and innovators in attendance — who all work to influence public opinion and behavior in some capacity — storytelling can be just as important as research.

“A story is simply fact plus emotion,” said Smith, a trainer and author. “Why tell a story? Well, stories inspire. Slides don’t.”

The three-day conference was convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Public Health Information Coalition with the theme, “What’s your Story?” Many faces of the health and business sector — with exhibitors including Google, IBM and Porter Novelli as well as APHA — are on hand for different reasons, but improving health through communication is a universal one.

It’s done effectively by telling a powerful narrative, according to CDC Associate Director for Communications Katherine Lyon Daniel. Her story during the conference’s opening remarks gave a human element to public health practice; in the thick of the MERS emergency earlier this year, Lyon Daniel’s father passed away.

She went to work on MERS communication strategy hours later, she said, “in part for myself, for my dad who would want me to help others, and in part because this is a condition that can cause a lot of harm.”

“When said right, our stories can save lives,” Lyon Daniel added. “As health communicators, we have to believe it. If we believe our stories, we say them more thoroughly and with more conviction.”

Note: APHA is one of 27 exhibitors at the conference. Stop by booth 119 to hear our story.