TITLE: All About Stories
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 16, 2007 3:53 PM
I find it interesting that part of what I learned again
Schneier's psych of risk paper
leads to stories. But biases in how we think, such as
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,
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
and saw a research poster on the role of narrative in games
and other virtual realities. It referred to the
(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
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.