Using the Firehose: Alan Levine Blasts #ECI831 on Storymaking and Storytelling

Photo credit CC: Alan Levine https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/15521342917/

Alan Levine @cogdog (did an amazing job tonight of reminding me of the interest and importance in storytelling. Alan provided a wonderful overview of storytelling, while referencing so many of my favourite authors (Kurt Vonnegut), and films (JAWS!).

There were a few things that I took away. The first was how important it is to have a blog title that stands out. Alan shared that he won’t start his blog post until he had thought up a clever and interesting title. I have always tried to make my title a little crooked so that it may allude to the content I am speaking about, and at the same time is visual in that it hopefully conjures up a visual in one’s mind… sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t and honestly I have no idea if this is actually transferring over to anyone other than my own imagination, but I enjoy playing with the titles, so there you go.

In terms of content, Alan shared with us two videos, both for different tablets, but done in different ways. The first ad, which was not suprisingly for a Windows based tablet was completely focused on the merit of the product selling itself. The video just follows around some average dude using his tablet in a bunch of different ways.

The second video (embedded above) was for another tablet, and rather than sell the product based solely on it’s innovations, it rather tells a story, and sells it’s product through our emotional attatchment to an underdog preparing for a speech he is anxious to deliver. The story, using the classic Freytag triangle as it’s outline is much more compelling as we identify much more with the boy, and particularly the story of underdog overcoming adversity and finding girl (all with the use of the tablet, of course 😉 ).

These examples reminded me a lot about a recent podcast I listened to by radio show This American Life. The episode was entitled “It’s Not The Product, It’s The Person”, and it pertains exactly to this same issue. Most individuals with a great product believe that said product can sell itself, based on it’s merits, but in reality, we the customer are interested in the humanity behind the product. Ira Glass, host of This American Life, does a much better job of summing this up than I (click on photo, listen to prologue):

Ten-year-old entrepreneur Asia Newson, photographed by Doug Coombe.
*(Apologies, I fought hard to imbed the soundfile in the blog, but I was stymied at every turn. When I figure this out, I’ll fix this)

Isn’t that girl ambitious!? Imagine trying to channel that energy in the classroom??!! Classes would be electric!

Another part of Alan’s presentation that stuck with me was that he mentioned that ‘story is in the telling.’ This resonated with me, as a similar piece of advice was shared to me by Bonnie, a storyteller I met while up at a Ness Creek First Nations Awareness Conference. She was a master storyteller, and combined with a guitar, was unstoppable. She had shared that she had been working in a classroom, and was retelling a story to students that she had picked up from an actual novel. Normally she would prepare by reading the story ahead of time, and then, being aware of the main blot points of the chapter, weave her own interpretation. The problem arose when she got sick, and didn’t have the time to prepare in this fashion, and was forced to read the book verbatim to the class. She shared that all the students were so concerned that the style had changed, and even though she was reading from a published author’s story (and I think it was Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’) they preferred her interpretation more because it carried far more weight when she brought it to life in her own special way.

Another point I wanted to think more about after the lecture was when he spoke about the idea of performing – the sense of expectation, the panic, the thought of who is my audience, and who am I speaking to? Until he mentioned it, I hadn’t even considered this as a point to touch on in any storytelling workshop. Of course there’s anxiety! And especially what Alan referred to as the sense of expectation, the feeling that we need to perform in such a way that earns others’ respect, or at the very least doesn’t embarrass the performer because they are so off the point.

Teaching every day puts you in front of an audience that can quickly turn on you :). It’s an opportunity to be a public speaker, and to think on your feet. It’s funny how adept I am at this, and yet speaking in front of an adult audience is always so much more nerve wracking. I recently sold a pitch to my Principal about getting the school to fund part of the grant I was writing, and even though I had the ideas down solid, and have known my principal for 3 years now, part of me was still questioning my ability in selling the pitch. This is a helpful reminder to myself when asking students to present their own work, or even read aloud in class. It’s a skill that deserves an opportunity to practice, but without students knowing that anxiety is par for the course, and that experienced speakers get anxious too, could help in overcoming those fears, and even possibly learning it as a means to excite you to do a better job.

Alan shared some great storytelling activities which I’ll share in point form below:

1. pechaflickr.net – Created by Alan, riffing off the presentation style of Pechakucha,  participants only have a select amount of time per slide to tell a story inspired by randomly generated flickr photos and a tag name theme. I was one of the three who participated tonight, and I’ll tell you firsthand how fun it was, especially when working off the momentum started by the others!

Photo credit: University of Alaska Fairbanks iTeachU http://iteachu.uaf.edu/2014/08/12/pechaflickr/

2. Flickr:Creative Commons to find great photos that will work as either stories in themselves (where all the details are present in the photograph to tell the story), or as a storystarter.

3. The Story Spine: One of Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling, this is an excellent framework for getting an entire story built with just a few additions to the following:

Once upon a time there was ___.
Every day, ___.
One day ___.
Because of that, ___.
Because of that, ___.
Until finally ___.

There’s an app for this, but really, do you need one?

4. Five Card Flickr – another game created by Alan, this time inspired by Five Card Nancy , where 5 random images are shared that must be decided upon in what order they run, and how they come together to create a story.

5. DS106.us – A collective Alan helped create out of the University of Mary Washington. Every day there’s new published material, just a prompt, people can do in 20 minutes, like flexing your writing muscles.

Great presentations always take forever to review. Thanks Alan for all the ideas!

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7 thoughts on “Using the Firehose: Alan Levine Blasts #ECI831 on Storymaking and Storytelling

  1. As my mom used to say “I am blown away” by what you’ve blogged here, more than just a summary. Thanks for the appreciation and connections you made to your own practice. And thanks for participating in pechaflickr you sounded like a natural.

    You’ve got the title thing going!

    1. Thanks alot Alan! Hope you don’t mind that I snagged your CC photo for my title screen! It fit in with the firehose related title. Will be using your sites in my class!

  2. I liked how you summarized all of the activities that Alan talked about this evening. I have never heard of any of these until tonight. However, I have done some things similar to these activities like in the classroom. I place an image on my smart board and students need to create dialog between the two characters in the picture. It is amazing what an image can do to start the story telling. I wish I knew about some of these activities sooner! Great blog by the way. Have you used any of these in the classroom?

    1. I haven’t yet, but I’m looking forward to using them soon. I’m also beginning to wonder how I will be motivating myself after xmas when this class is over, and I don’t have the external pressure to keep blogging, etc. I think signing up for that course Alan spoke about might be one way to keep producing. Thanks for the comment!

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