A story about not telling a story

Don’t give a lecture, tell a story. This simple method shows how.

A story about not telling a story
Photo by Daniel Cheung / Unsplash

My two little boys needed to brush their teeth and they didn’t want to do it. To be precise, the big one didn’t want to do it, and the little one copies exactly whatever his brother does. And I get it—toothbrushing isn’t the kind of chore you do once a decade, or once a lifetime. You have to brush your teeth all the time, and it takes time, and you have to put down your toys and books and video games to go do it. So: my strategy to get ‘em to brush their teeth was to hassle, harangue and hound, and my sweetie would too. All that effort was only to get them to start brushing, not necessarily to keep brushing, or to finish.

One night I’d had it and I introduced the boys to the Dental Dino. We worked together to devise a fearsome, leathery creature who crawls the streets by night. The Dental Dino is attracted to the smell of unbrushed human teeth. Also, the Dental Dino—this goes without saying—is hungry.

Thereafter things ran a little more smoothly. Invoking the Dental Dino was all it took to get the boys to hop to it and reapply their daily olfactory barricade against that prehistoric reptile. They’ll chase one another around in imitation of the Dental Dino and remind themselves to brush their teeth. Sometimes after dinner they’ll approach me in terrifying Dental Dino form, claws and roars and all—which I appreciate, we all have to do our part to keep our own teeth clean.

They’re in on the joke, and maybe that’s part of it. A second-grader doesn’t get to be in on enough jokes. But one way or the other—for a monster that doesn’t exist—the Dental Dino does a lot of work in our home.

Moral of the story: don’t give a lecture, tell a story.

SOAR & call: storytelling on the fly

At a conference, I learned a simple method for storytelling from Jennifer Haury of All Angles Consulting. Jennifer’s method is called SOAR and it works like this:

  • (S) Describe the situation,
  • (O) Note the obstacles encountered,
  • (A) Share actions taken…
  • (R) …and close with the results.

She also suggested following your story with a call to action, which I jotted down as the “SOAR & call” method.

Picture again, for a moment, the Dental Dino. Give it wings, give it a piercing cry, and let it forever embody this method.

Putting it into action

I recently noticed that while presenting, I tend to start with theory, give an example, and then lead into practice. I’m going to SOAR & call my way to flipping the first two around, so we’ll start with a brief story, theory-blast just enough to dig in, and then spend time in practice.