I have an article sitting on my hard drive that I wrote, some time ago, about telling stories to teach. I wrote about 2/3 of it, but never published it.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a good friend, who was trying to get a point across to me about this blog. Three times, he tried to make the point. I felt quite thick - here he was, spending a good chunk of time explaining what was obviously the same concept to me over and over again. Clearly it was something important, yet somehow I wasn't quite getting it.
Finally, I understood - my articles were a little too dry, I had boiled them down to the raw facts, and thereby, I had made them less effective. I needed to make it "softer", more human, to get the points across. That was the point he was making (and it is a very good one). After all this, I finally remembered the unfinished article, and pulled this quote out from it:
People's attention is a precious commodity, so it is easy to try to spare it by condensing our points too much. Yet, by removing the storied aspects of our messages, we can easily make them forgettable and ultimately ineffective.
There is something ironic (and sad) about having someone spend an hour telling you something you not only once knew, but even wrote an article about.
I wonder how many other good points I've forgotten. It's hard enough to learn new life lessons, and to make it that much harder, our brains are constantly recycling, dumping, forgetting old wisdoms that were once familiar. Perhaps we would all be geniuses and wise men if we stopped forgetting so much of the good stuff that we learn. Or perhaps we would all go mad.
Regardless, here's an excellent article by Mark Suster that begins with a story, and ends with some really practical points about how to tell these teaching stories. I'll let you read the article for yourself, but in case you need to whet your appetite, here is an overview of the advice:
- Have a thesis from which to build the story.
- Have supporting evidence.
- Use analogies.
- Keep it human.
- Reinforce the storyline at the end.
I'll add a key point to this, drawn from more traditional storytelling:
- Have a dramatic arc.
Good fiction stories follow some kind of dramatic arc. Drama is the conflict that makes the story move forward. Teaching stories are no different. Your protagonist (whether yourself or someone else) needs to encounter a problem, face a difficulty in solving it, and finally resolving it in some kind of way that teaches something to the listener or reader. Drama (not to be confused with melodrama) helps connect to the audience on an emotional level. People empathise with the conflict that the protagonists is facing. If you want your stories to stick, don't forget the dramatic arc.
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