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Stories can a great aid in teaching and imparting specific information. That’s because, researchers say, our brains become more active when we are told a story.

Tell them a tale

March 10, 2017
How to improve your toolbox talks and presentations.

One way to improve any organization is to look at other businesses and industries and adopt policies, practices and strategies that have helped them be successful.

While perusing a recent issue of Aircraft Maintenance Technology Magazine, I came across an article that I found most interesting, and which has applicability to the our industry. The article was Storytelling Tips: How to Improve Your Hangar Talk and War Stories, written by Dr. Bill Johnson, chief scientific and technical advisor, human factors in aviation maintenance, for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Aircraft Maintenance Technology, like Fleet Maintenance, is a part of publishing and communications company SouthComm.

What grabbed my attention was his observation that aviators and aircraft maintenance personnel like to tell stories. So do fleet maintenance professionals, I thought to myself, so on I read.

The gist of the article is that storytelling can be a great aid in teaching and imparting specific information. Johnson provided a number of tips for effectively telling stories to get a particular message or point across.

When preparing to make a presentation, he recommended becoming introspective about your storytelling delivery and content and asking yourself questions like:

- Will my stories keep the listeners’ interest?

- Do I use the words and gestures to help the listener visualize the story?

- Does the story have a take-away message?

- Would someone choose to retell my story?

- Does the story have value to the listening audience?

Ways to Improve

“Perhaps the very best way to improve and master your storytelling technique is to recall the best stories that you have heard or read,” wrote Johnson. “Try and recall the reasons why you remember the story. Can you integrate that style into your existing or new story?”

Another way to become a better storyteller is to pay careful attention to famous and professional speakers. This can be “like a college course in storytelling.”

Make use of the Internet to view great speeches, he added, as well as the “powerful” Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Talks that cover almost all topics – from science to business to global issues. Plus, there are numerous books on speaking.

Tips

While there are many storytelling techniques, “you must decide what works for you and your audience,” advised Johnson, and he provided this advice:

1. Your enthusiasm is critical. “If you are not enthused about your story, then don’t expect the listeners to be,” he says. “Your enthusiasm is transmitted from the moment you are seen by the listener. Your physical demeanor, before you open your mouth, is critical.”

2. Start strong. It is generally agreed that a speaker wins or loses the audience in the first minute, and “you are unlikely to recover.”

3. Stories should be true. False stories are lies. Saying it’s fictional may help.

4. Stories can be embellished. However, he noted, this “is a slippery slope to a falsehood if not careful. In 2015, prominent newsman Brian Williams was admonished for embellishing a story about a helicopter event while covering the war in Iraq. He never fully recovered his professional reputation.”

5. Make the story a journey. “Be sure you know what you are trying to achieve,” Johnson says. “Your tale should have an obvious beginning, middle and end. Usually, the story builds to an end that evokes emotion and learning. If you cannot achieve that, then consider another story.”

6. Paint a picture. Provide enough detail for the listener to imagine the scene and the characters, Johnson instructed. “When you describe a person or a place, try and touch on as many of the five senses as possible. For example: The floor of the hangar was a bright sparkling white epoxy; so new you could smell it.”

7. Use props. It is good to use props when possible, as they can help to tell a story.

8. End strong. “The ending should provide a solution to any of the challenges that you may have introduced to make the story interesting,” he says. “Try to limit the number of takeaway messages. Keep it simple so that listeners will remember them. If the story has a moral, be sure that the story tells it.”

9. Practice, practice and then practice some more. “You know your story,” he says. “That’s why you are telling it. But, rehearsal is important. You may be able to decide when to change tone or volume. You can practice your gestures and adjust your body language in front of a mirror or a video camera. Once you rehearse enough, your actions and words become automatic. Rehearsal also helps get your timing right.”

Main Point

The next time you want to get some salient points or information across – be it to a small group or to a large audience, uses stories. Stories give meaning to facts and raw data.

The reason being: our brains are evolutionarily hardwired to think in story terms.

About the Author

David A. Kolman | Contributor - Fleet Maintenance

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