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The Storyteller

In: Showing my WorkTips

As I continued reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work, I was struck by his suggestion to document all of your work in progress, even if you don’t share it, just to get better insight into yourself. While I definitely have begun to pay more attention to my process as I articulate it here, I hadn’t thought to take more screenshots so I’m going to give that a go. It also made me think about my current work project. I’m currently working on a face-to-face project, a manual creation process, which is not normally the type of stuff I talk about. But this one was a bit different for a lot of reasons, actually, but importantly because I’m in the process of translating some scenario based information I worked on with the SMEs into stories. And then that got be me thinking, one of the important skills I have to continue to develop as a designer is crafting stories.

A while back, must be above 6 years now, I came across a great movie named Ink, which I still think of often due to it’s striking visuals and (I think) unique story. In that film, there’s a legendary character called the Storyteller. This person is incredibly powerful; she’s brave, she’s empathetic, she can lead you to the truth. People say that she can even change the past. For instructional designers, as much as we talk about data, and as much information as data can reveal, like writers and designers of other various types, we reach the most people and have the biggest impact when we can craft the story that leads to the revelation.

I’ve read about the importance of story often enough and I’m sure you have, too. It’s almost reached buzzword status in many communities; but, unlike other buzzwords, story does have incredible meaning. This was just the first time that I had the revelation of its importance in in the manual creation process, which is normally much more formal and much less… creative. I even struggled with the decision on whether or not to try and make these into stories or to just present the information as we had it: in a table. I opted for story because it just seemed to make the most sense. While I’m sure participants could get the same information with the table, I’m equally sure they wouldn’t have the same experience. Telling the story of the scenario allows them to make the picture in their heads, fill in the details, and engage with the scenario as though it was their own situation. That design decision, the decision to tell a story when a bunch of facts and figures and sentences would do, is part of becoming a better instructional designer; it’s part of becoming my best. It also coincided with the discovery of a really practical method of assessment for instruction designs. The Success Case method. I read about it in an old post on Tom Gram’s blog and I really like the point he made about evidence versus proof:

All [organization leaders] really need is some good evidence, some examples of where things are going well and where they aren’t. They are happy to trade statistical significance for authentic verification from real employees. […] Success Case Method results are documented and presented as “stories.” We have learned the power of stories for sharing knowledge in recent years. Why not use the same approach to share our evaluation results instead of the dry and weighty tombs of analysis we often produce.

– Tom Gram

For all the talk about big data and data gathering, to really communicate, we have to translate the data into stories that people can understand. Do you see yourself as a storyteller? What kind of stories do you tell in your instructional designs?