Tag Archives: storytelling

Story differentiates your body of work

In today’s world of work, which is characterized by abundance, instability, and ingenuity, professionals have to find ways to differentiate themselves from the many others out there who possess the same or similar skills. How does one rise to the top of a mountain of great communicators, strong work ethics, and innovative, effective, responsible workers (these words all come from LinkedIn’s top ten most overused buzzwords of 2013)?

In oder to differentiate yourself and maximize your competitive advantage, you have to tell your story. Pamela Slim, author of Body of Work: Finding the thread that ties your story together, uses story herself to illustrate the resonance an engaging story can have. She tells the story of her father and John Legend among others, and shares her advice via stories of her own experiences as a career coach.  What story does is place your body of work:”…everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created” (Source) into a unique context.

Slim’s book is a great starting point for discovering how to tell your story, but you can also draw much inspiration from the remarkable examples of professional stories on Slideshare.net. One such story is Matt Henshaw’s “How to Rock the Perfect LinkedIn Profile”:

Henshaw’s deck is of course a beautiful example of clean, minimalist design. It’s also one of the best examples of a professional story I’ve seen since David Crandall’s “Anti-Resume Manifesto.” Henshaw tells the story of being “this close” to achieving his dream–being a professional musician–losing a major record contract, redefining himself as a college graduate and computer science sustainability research assistant (phew!), finding his way back to his passion, and articulating a successful plan to pursue this passion as career.

It’s so difficult to tell our own stories at times, especially through a visual medium. Finding the right way to begin a story that for us has very fuzzy beginnings can stop most of us from sharing that story with others (no one tells you to think about how working at a local grocery store is the start of you becoming a teacher 20 years later). Matt’s deck is both inspirational and useful. It shows us that a story can compel viewers, contextualize “failure”, and that careful attention to every version of your story on the web can make a difference. If you want to maximize your competitive advantage, create a body of work and then tell your story.



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Slideshare of the Day: The Joy of Data-Driven Storytelling


This month, I am working on the first reboot/design and content revision for the online iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation. The focus this time around is on creating a class that is more universally applicable to the degree programs we serve while also giving students further practice with persuasion and helping them articulate who they are as professionals. One of the big focus points of this reboot will be the simplification of our approach to visual design as well as the reinforcement that one way to gain competitive advantage in saturated work markets is to communicate ideas in a visually engaging way. Today, a student shared with me a Slideshare deck that is sure to become a part of how we teach visual design in future Professional Communication and Presentation courses. “The Joy of Data Driven Storytelling,” presented by COO of Guide Leslie Bradshaw and designed by Beutler Ink and Carrie Dobrin is not only a lovely example of evocative visual communication but makes the case that in order to cut through the dense information available on the web, all communicators must find ways to put data, whether qualitative or quantitative, into a visual framework that is also story-driven. It’s inspiring to see business folks making the case for design and conceptual thinking. Check out the deck below!

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Slideshare of the Day: Storytelling


Yesterday, Alex Rister shared one of decks we now use in the online iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation, and today I’d like to pass that knowledge along. “Storytelling: Using the Most Powerful Information Delivery Tool” lays down a few basic principles and ideas about this very sticky method of communication. Storytelling is a cornerstone of the human experience. What a statistic cannot communicate alone, a story can bring to life. The deck begins by explaining the difference between report, whose purpose is to inform, and story, whose purpose is to entertain. A presentation happily lives in the middle of these two and can really help bridge the divide between informing and entertaining. But, it’s the use of story IN the presentation (and not just the slapping of a story in at the beginning or end of a speech) that really makes it so powerful.

As Nancy Duarte discusses below and Alex reiterates in the deck, we should work to layer story into an informative or persuasive speech as one layers a cake (a little info, a little story, repeat).

The deck goes on to explain what makes an effective story (conflict, characters, details, clear theme) as well as comparing story structure to presentation structure. In terms of design, Alex follows the SIMPLE method by keeping her theme unified (one typeface, Ostrich Sans, used in two weights; two contrasting colors used for emphasis, a repeated use of shape), focusing on one idea per slide, and applying the picture superiority effect consistently.



Do you incorporate story into your presentations? What types of stories do you find resonate with your audiences? Do personal stories work best?

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Deck of the Day: Toastmasters International, Visual Storytelling

I’ve been working on a new series of decks related to writing and the application of the concepts I’ve learned to the art of composition, and I’ve also been working on grades for my online students all in the lovely Pacific Northwest. This is by far my favorite part of the country, and I love being here and gaining inspiration from the world around me. As I graded, I ran across this excellent deck by Gleb Maitsev of Toastmasters International. I’ve flirted with the idea of Toastmasters; I’ve never attended a meeting and I think this is partly because of my own misconceptions about the place, which are driven by my fears about public speaking. Maitsev has definitely intrigued me with this deck:

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Narratives: Why do we tell stories?

I have been working as a teacher and instructional designer for 10 years, and in speaking to a fellow teacher today, I realized that one of the reasons I love teaching so much is because I love creating learning content. I’ve been working on this latest deck for quite a while, I’ll contextualize it with some lessons I use to teach narrative writing and speaking in a classroom. I’ll be revising this and tying it to speech, as storytelling is an integral part of a great presentation.  That segment will feature the lovely work with storytelling done by Nancy Duarte in Resonate, the new textbook for my class, Professional Communication and Presentation. If you are a leader, follower, teacher, student, professional, parent, communicator–which we all are, you must read this book. This time, I’ll focus on narrative writing.

I created this deck to go along with this content. Another behemoth…

What is Narrative Writing?

Think about the conversations you have with your friends, the timelines you see on your Facebook page, the songs your favorite artists write about their lives, the stories your parents and grandparents told you. These are all narratives, personal stories that share a lesson or reflect on an experience with the reader. Some writers create essays that are entirely narratives, but narrative structures are also a great way to organize different kinds of writing and can be an important part of a persuasive message.  So, why do we tell so many stories?

7 Reasons Narratives are Useful and Powerful (Source):

They are real

They are interesting

They are human

They are easy to tell

They are memorable

They move people

They are universal

How to use stories and narrative writing.

  • Make your narrative relevant to the experience and interests of your audience. A narrative should have a point to it that your readers can easily grasp and readily identify with.
  • Every great narrative has both a series of events and a moment of reflection.
  • A good narrative puts information in perspective. It doesn’t replace information.
  • A good story paints a picture. It helps your listeners “see” what you’re saying.  Great stories make abstract ideas concrete.
  • Make something happen in the story. It should happen in a specific time and place. Make the characters in your story sympathetic and real.

Before you create your own narrative essay, we will practice via a few activities to sharpen your narration and storytelling muscles:

It’s all in the Details

Great narratives and stories appeal to our five senses, using concrete language to place the reader within the writer’s experience. Details and specifics engage readers by bringing an experience to life, allowing the reader to become a part of the story. Still not convinced details matter? Does the following sound familiar?

A farm boy with big dreams runs across two robots and an old man. Together they set off on an adventure with a captain and his first mate to save a princess and destroy an evil fortress. After some adventures and challenges, the boy and his companions rescue the princess and save the day.

The preceding is the plot of George Lucas’ Star Wars. Would the story have had as much impact without those details? Without concrete language, the story falls flat and leaves the reader wanting more. These details are often used to create a fuller picture of the narrative’s important themes, places, and people.

So, how do you create a story that’s more than just a series of events? Think about what makes Star Wars exciting, the dynamic between the characters, the beautiful scenery, the plot twists, and challenging situations. All of these create an impacting story. So, use reasons, examples, names, numbers, and senses to help you bring your narrative to life.

Narrative writing also follows certain conventions in terms of structure. There are varied perspectives on what makes a strong narrative structure, from Freytag’s Triangle:

(Source: Paul Gorman)

to Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle

(Source: Nancy Duarte, Duarte Design)

To Ira Glass, This American Story writer and personality. Check out his building blocks of a great story here:

My friend and colleague Jaclyn Sullivan shares this gem from Kurt Vonnegut, who discusses here the shape of stories. Watch Vonnegut make sense of the age old boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl story.

In class, we study and practice this by working on a few activities, including a mini-discussion (my sneaky way of making students take an active role in their learning journeys) and a mini-saga flash story assignment. See them here.

What do you think makes a story great? What narratives–true stories about our experiences–have you read that impacted you?

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