Memorable Stories

This month, Teacher’s Count highlighted memories and great stories of our profession. Research has shown that telling stories is a powerful technique of impacting our students’ learning and lives.  The following post lists six key elements to craft memorable stories.

The following will give a brief overview of the five elements of memorable stories. The sixth element is SS– to remember the acronym for Success. As teachers we want to use stories to assist our children with gaining knowledge and putting ideas into appropriate and useful actions.  But first you need people to be able to remember your stories.  Why do some ideas stay with us and some ideas are forgotten as soon as they were mentioned? Why do we remember the story about a tragedy, but can’t remember our school’s mission statement if our lives depended on it. The book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath was used as a reference.

Their list is:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. StorieS

Simple

Listen to Einstein.  Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.  Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

The easiest way to make stories simpler is by leaving out things that are not needed. Does a detail add context or flavor to a story? Or is it just confusing people? Is there something you can leave out, read the following memoirs:

Best intentions, mixed results, still trying.

Recovering perfectionist.  Still not good enough.

High school zero. Now, son’s hero.

Unexpected

We work in patterns and everything that is predictable is almost instantly forgotten, hardly even noticed. Have you ever had that experience when driving to work/school that you arrived and had absolutely no recollection of how you got there? That is exactly what happens to your audience when you tell a predictable story. A story that the Heath brothers pointed out was from Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. It is about an experiment at a baby daycare where they measured what happened after they introduced late pickup fees. They of course expected the amount of late pickups to decrease dramatically, but in fact the exact opposite occurred. People could now “buy off” their guilt with just a simple fee.

Concrete

As an exercise in how not to write a concrete story, take a look at this health facilities mission statement.

Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.

How about, let’s help all people live healthy lives and then list how to do that. You need to be fairly concrete. What do we need to do to help more people lead healthy lives?  One way to make your story more concrete is by telling the story of an example instead of a more abstract idea. Explain to your audience how to break up huge projects into bite-sized chunks.

Credible

Either the story, or you personally, need to be credible and ideally both. There are 2 ways of doing that. By making sure your facts line up or by making the story about you. Take for example the daycare example that was used earlier. It is very credible. Not only was it a published scientific research project, it was mentioned by a respectable business book author. It was also personal, because it was a memory from the storyteller.  A story was remembered even after reading the book a year ago. A story based around another story.

Emotional

Stories are a way to get your audience to experience emotions. It needs to be personal, about real people with real emotions. Unfortunately, This is why gossip works. Gossip is always about real people and their real emotions,( but not necessarily the truth). That’s why we remember it. Think about today’s media reporting. A disaster will hit a network and they will tell you how big the tragedy is and what help is needed.  They will tell the story of a particular person, usually a child, and their hardships. They will go to great lengths to make this person “real” to you. They tell you their name, where they are born, if they have any siblings etc. They know that this type of story will inspire people to take action.  Media uses not only statistics, but emotions.

So next time you are working on a story, go over this checklist to see how you can make it more memorable. By making the story more memorable you make it easier for other people to retell your story. And with enough people telling your story, you and your students can change the world.

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