TITLE: All About Stories AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 16, 2007 3:53 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Telling Stories, by Garmash I find it interesting that part of what I learned again from Schneier's psych of risk paper leads to stories. But biases in how we think, such as availability and framing, make the stories we tell important -- if we want them to reach our audience as intended. Then again, perhaps my direction in this series follows from a bias in my own mind: I had been intending to blog about a confluence of stories about stories for a few weeks. First, I was sitting in on lectures by untenured and adjunct faculty this semester, doing year-end evaluations. In the middle of one lecture, it occurred to me: The story matters. A good lecture is a cross product of story and facts (or data, or knowledge). What if a lecture is only good as a story? It is like empty calories from sugar. We feel good for a while, but pretty soon we feel an emptiness. Nothing of value remains. What if a lecture is only good for its facts? I see this often, and probably do this all too often. Good slides, but no story to make the audience care. The result is no interest. We may gain something, but we don't enjoy it much. And Schneier tells us that we might not even gain that much -- without a story that makes the information available to us, we may well forget it. Soon after that, I ran across Ira Glass: Tips on storytelling at Presentation Zen. Glass says that the basic building blocks of a good story are the anecdote itself, which raises an implicit question, and moments of reflection. which let the user soak in the meaning. Soon after that, I was at Iowa State's HCI forum and saw a research poster on the role of narrative in games and other virtual realities. It referred to the Narrative Paradigm of Walter Fisher (unexpected Iowa connection!), which holds that "All meaningful communication is a form of storytelling." And: "People experience and comprehend their lives as a series of ongoing narratives." (emphasis added) Then, a couple of weeks later, I read the Schneier paper. So maybe I was predisposed to make connections to stories. Our audiences -- software developers, students, business people -- are all engaged in their own ongoing narratives. How do we connect what we are teaching with one of their narratives? When we communicate Big Ideas, we might even strive to create a new thread for them, a new ongoing narrative that will define parts of their lives. I know that OOP, functional programming, and agile techniques do that for developers and students. The stories we tell help them move in that direction. Some faculty seem to make connections, or create new threads. Some "just" lecture. Others do something more interactive. These are the faculty whom students want to take for class. Others don't seem to make the connections. The good news for them -- for me -- is that one can learn how to tell stories better. The first step is simply to be aware that I am telling a story, and so to seek the hook that will make an idea memorable, worthwhile, and valuable. A lot of the motivation lies with the audience, but I have to hold up my end of the bargain. Not just any story will do. People want a story that helps them do something. I usually know when my story isn't hitting the mark; if not before telling it, then after. The remedy usually lies in one of two directions: finding a story that is about my audience and not (just) me, or making my story real by living it first. Real problems and real solutions mean more than an concocted stories about abstract ideas of what might be. -----