The Value of Storytelling in a Powerpoint World

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One of the big questions in the evolving information age, at least in my humble opinion,  is whether or not new technologies enhance authentic human communication.

Tonight, I attended a lecture hosted by the Palmer School @ LIU C.W. Post, entitled “Storytelling & Social Media.”  Dr. Nahum Gershon, Principal Scientist at the MITRE Institute, discussed the efficacy of conveying information through engaging narratives.  In addition to his background is in Chemistry and other sciences, Dr. Gershon is a social media enthusiast who considers himself an “information broker” on Twitter.

Imagine the opening scenes of Casablanca.  The camera pans  from map of Europe southward to Casablanca.  We look out over a loud Moroccan marketplace, filled carts, fabrics, and cafes.  There are people from all walks of life waiting….waiting…waiting…

Dr. Gershon uses this cinematic example to illustrate how a story with an arc of action can be more effective than a series of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide.  Just like how children are more willing to obey an implicit piece of advice found in a fairytale than an explicit injunction from a parent, so too will adults follow instruction/SOPs more willingly and remember more details if they can wrap their heads around real-life narrative examples.  Additionally, the rhythm and flow of a story helps the information to be more engaging and will be more likely to stick in the memory of audience members.

All too often, companies and teachers plunk their subordinates in front of a PowerPoint presentation with thick text.  As many teachers will know, this technique doesn’t promote strong comprehension or recall of the information, since the audience is expected to listen, read, and sometimes even write simultaneously.  That’s not to say the PowerPoint doesn’t have positive applications, such as displaying photos, graphs, maps, graphic organizers, and vital bullet points.

If I may throw in my two cents, people learn new information in different ways, and providing multiple approaches to understanding a concept will allow more people to sink their teeth into what they need to take in.  Not all humans comprehend at their best by hearing a narrative.  Some people are visual learners and need to see well-organized data in front of them in order to understand.  However, I do concede that the narrative (both oral & written) can be helpful to most people.  It will give visual, kinesthetic, or musical learners are given a big picture to tie details together.

Storytelling, though, looks different in different media.  A spoken monologue may appear as an anecdote, offering memories of relevant instances.  A twitter back-and-forth will act as a conversation, with the quick and subtle cues present in a person-to-person exchange.

Dr. Gershon agrees that each medium has its own pros and cons, and should be explored for their unique strengths and weaknesses.  Twitter doesn’t support an extensive profile or friending format, and Facebook users still are wrestling with a love-hate relationship with the ubiquitous mini-feed.  I suggest telling a story in a new way: take a widget for a ride, and see if you like where it takes you.  After all, even I am tweeting these days, if only for my future career as a library/information professional.

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3 responses to “The Value of Storytelling in a Powerpoint World

  1. Nice article Christine! You’re right about people depending on powerpoint too often. I listened to a podcast a while back that talks about Steve Job’s key note presentations and why they’re so effective. (http://www.cnet.com/8301-17920_1-10365676-84.html) The gist of it is that he used more pictures than words and that he attaches his products to overarching ideas. For instance, he doesn’t sell ipods. He sells music!

    But, I wouldn’t attach twitter and facebook to presentations. It really is a new form of communication all to itself. And, on reason why twitter is useful is that it has the promise of not taking up a lot of time. And by that logic, people get sucked into spending more 5 minute youtube videos than actual full tv episodes. 🙂

    God bless.

    • I’m watching the beginning of the commentary online now. I haven’t been a “mac fan” since high school, and even then I was a follower in name only. I had no idea that Steve Jobs was so well-respected for his product launch pizazz. Of course, I know the mac launches are a big deal, but I figured that was simply because people drool over pretty technology. A laptop pulled from a manila envelope? Zoo-wee mama!

  2. Thank you for the insights. That’s true…Steve Jobs makes you think about all the music you want, and nestles in the assumption that the iPod is the way to get it.

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