Engage Through Story

I sometimes find that my own perceived strengths in certain contexts can also be my weaknesses in others. For example, when I’m teaching, I think that one of my strong traits is patience. However, outside that arena, I can be extremely impatient. Educational reform, for example – Why hasn’t it already happened?

For me, the same contradiction applies to giving presentations. Years ago, when I sang in a chorus, I enjoyed getting a solo, and it didn’t matter what the size of the audience was, it wasn’t something I feared. I currently have no problem getting in front of my students when I need to present something to them. Still, public speaking in front of adults has always intimidated me. Whether it be for a parent curriculum night or presenting something I’ve learned to other faculty members, it is not something I have a lot of confidence in. I have learned, though, that one can only get better at something by practicing, and one learns from their errors. So, when asked to give a presentation today about using and integrating technology in the classroom, I said, “Yes,” but was rather intimidated by the idea. After all – what do I know? I’m still learning about it myself. But like my own fears in the areas mentioned above, I know that using technology can be something a lot of teachers find intimidating themselves. With that knowledge, my goal was to hopefully demonstrate some of the possibilities with the tools that we have, so that they can be used to engage kids in meaningful ways – as well as make some of my audience feel like they had the capacity to get outside their comfort zone, take risks, and in the process – learn.

I think I watch too many expert presenters – whether at conferences, or through TED talks and my expectations for presentations has risen. A few good examples of who I was lucky enough to hear in person last year include John Medina, Sir Ken Robinson, Michael Sandel, and Carol Dweck. Watching these presenters is a good way to learn, but you still need to do it for yourself in order to get the practice.

Over the break, I read a great book called Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. I have to say that this book influenced me a lot on how I went about putting my presentation together. Here are just a few things I learned from the book: Tell a story with your audience as the protagonist. Define the journey and where you want to take them acknowledging the risk and resistance. Make the reward worth it. Value brevity and understand there is always room to improve. Use evocative visuals.

And so, for my presentation, one of my first slides was an image of the spaceship USS Enterprise, and I started by stating Star Trek’s Mission: To boldly go where no one has gone before. Followed by a Maslow quote: “We are not in a position in which we have nothing to work with. We already have capacities, talents, directions, missions, and callings.” I then went straight to an image of the USS Lincoln with the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner, letting my audience know that we can avoid this if we focused on our own mission. What flashed up next on the screen was my school’s Mission Statement. It’s something that hopefully made a connection with everyone that was in the room. Only then, did I state my objectives for the hour to come and continue with my presentation. Opening that way is not something I would have normally done had I not read the book or seen great speakers, but it was a great learning experience for me and upon reflection, worth taking the risk. I’m hoping I influenced my colleages just enough so that they will also take some risks in trying to use some of that technology.

Below is the author of the book mentioned above giving a quick summary of why it’s important to engage through story.