Normally I would spend a March Saturday in Lakeland scouting my team and buying more Tigers’ apparel than a respectable adult my age should. But this Saturday, as the students left town for Spring Break, I went with Kelly to see our friend Robin Cowie who has started a story-telling group in Orlando. You can learn more about the Orlando Story Club by clicking here.
Attending an event like this was a new experience for me. I went in the hope of learning something that would improve my communication skills. If you want to be a leader and motivate people, good story-telling skills are a must. I also hoped the event would help Kelly’s tales. In her short but adventurous life, the woman has amassed a million of them, more frankly than seems possible. We spend lots of time together on the road. The better her stories, the better my road experience.
It was a fun evening. Ten people told five minute stories of adventure, the night’s theme. Three judges from the audience scored their efforts. Prizes were given for win, place and show. The stories varied widely in their details and scope from a trip through the South American jungle to a trip through three stalls at a roadside bathroom. The winners were all well practiced and had developed the ability to pull you in through detailed description, convey the emotion of the situation and then surprise you with the ending. Good “facts” alone were not enough. Style and imagery played roles equal to substance. The audience was enthralled. The emcee, part magician, part comic but always entertaining with his quick wit, stole the show.
One of the best things about getting out of your comfort zone and interacting with people different from you is that you more clearly see the costs of your own choices. As scholars we are trained to doggedly pursue the facts and to stamp everything else out of the account of our quest for the truth. We then pass these same qualities down to our students, demanding logic and data stripped of emotion and sometimes even experience in the narratives that report our work. Story-telling is seen as anathema to science. But I fear that in this process we are sacrificing too much: detaching knowledge from intuition and the emotions of the quest. In passing these values on to our students we leave too many unable to tell their own story in compelling ways that will land them jobs, build commitment to causes and lead others.
I am not advocating a retreat from the scientific method, but a parallel effort to promote better story-telling skills in our students as well as in how we convey our work. I thought Amit Joshi did a great job of story-telling in the Q&A part of his Citrus Club talk on Friday. Getting faculty off script sometimes helps. If you missed him in action, it was your loss. As for students, our co-curricular experiences are one place to develop these skills. For students entering my failure competition, realize that I am asking you to tell a chapter of your story. It is not so much about a linear description of the facts as it is about evoking a visceral response in the reader. You want them to feel like they are in the middle of your life, experience the failure you did at a gut-level and connect them with a surprising lesson you have learned. That combination will win the failure competition, just like it did Saturday’s Orlando Story Club event.
Off to four days with Kelly in Texas….