Text The Mob lets you do cool things like set up polls and message boards for instant feedback, so if you're doing something like giving a conference presentation, people can text their questions to the board or vote on something. Or imagine you're having a talent show people and letting the audience vote on the best performer on stage. Nice.
I've been absorbing little bits on storytelling over the years to learn to communicate design more effectively. I was taking a comic book class and started reading Manga comics as part of this pursuit, which you might have read about here. And while that helps me in terms of finding new ways of visualizing the effectiveness of documents, it doesn't help with communicating messages face to face or with spoken words.
Tina pointed to this entry in Presentation Zen featuring Ira Glass giving Tips on Storytelling. Fans of Glass' public radio show, This American Life (now also a TV show) know how the experience of hearing a story can be as immersive and engaging as anything you can watch or read. Audio, in many ways, may be even more immersive than TV. Like literature, it demands that a good deal of the experience is stitched together or imagined in the mind rather than having everything explicitly depicted with visuals. Adam Curry often calls the experience "The Cinema of the Mind," referring to some of the immersive aural experiences in walking tour podcasts. But what we as designers can take away from Glass' interview in the video below is the pattern or recipe for telling the story.
Here's the recipe with bits paraphrased from Presentation Zen:
1. Find the anecdote or sequence of actions or events that tell a story rather than provide disjointed "facts".
2. Raise questions. Provide the "bait" with the implication that you will be answering them.
3. Insert moments of reflection at points during the story—a good way to do this is by reflecting on key points between anecdotes.
That's not all there is to it, obviously. He riffs a little on the problem of finding the right or most interesting stories. Sometimes the anecdote can be wonderful, but there may be no reason to care. Experience, and the ability to be ruthless, choose the right stories, and abandon the crap makes the difference here.
The crap, in Glass' case might be a boring story, or even an interesting one perhaps that just doesn't have any importance. But when it comes to telling the stories for our projects we don't have the option of abandoning the story because it seems boring on the surface. For example, communicating design concepts viewed from the standpoint of our personas might not seem very exciting on the surface. So the question becomes, how do we make it interesting. How do we communicate the story so that the rest of the team is interested enough to mentally engage with the characters and hold them in memory long enough to use them as a motivating factor in design.
Deciding to use storytelling as the vehicle is the first step in engaging the team, I would think. The analogy I would make here is that the document delivered rich with facts and data is akin to that high school essay that Glass speaks of, where a presentation or set of documents that immerse the team in the experience of the characters is more like the engaging and well told story.
The obvious next step is figuring out how you are going to use the pattern above to make telling the story, or communicating the experience effective and engaging. I'm not prescribing a formula for that because I'm always learning how to do it better myself. I've done some things in documents that use storytelling a bit, but the real deal for me is approaching each delivery as a pitch or presentation and taking the time to work on the delivery. While Glass' recipe above is general enough to be universal, the delivery is often very different depending on the story being told, but it's worth it every time to invest some time in tailoring it to fit.
My friend Dave pointed me to the Frontline interview with Frank Lutz to find out how he uses persuasion to sell both products and politicians. A fascinating interview that discusses the architecting of the Republican strategy for persuading Americans. This excerpt cuts to the heart of this strategy that uses language to persuade:
What matters most in politics is personality. It's not issues; it's not image. ... My job as a pollster is to understand what really matters. Those levers of importance -- sometimes they're called levers; sometimes they're called triggers. What causes people to buy a product? What causes someone to pull a lever and get them to vote? I need to know the specifics of that. And in politics, more often than not, it's about the personality and the character of the individual rather than where they stand, and that's exactly the opposite of what your viewers will think.
There's a very scary and depressing message here. Americans vote by emotion. Facts and the intelligence of the candidate don't appear to matter by and large to the majority of people. Their gut feeling matters. And this is why someone like Lutz is so effective at selling politicians. He can study the language these politicians use and help them be selective about chosing words to appeal to people's emotions. If you're looking for an interesting anecdote that seems to support this idea, check out Ira Glass' Swing Set show on "This American Life" where a Republican talks about why he will vote for Bush because he thinks he has integrity even though he dislikes Bush's policies.
There's a lesson here for Dems. Bill Clinton was a great communicator and you got the sense that he was passionate and had stood behind his convictions. But the biggest selling point is his charisma. It came naturally to him. We didn't have that with Kerry. Republicans scored big when they began using Lutz. He's absolutely right that Democrats have become angry and that's working against them. Take Michael Moore and Howard Dean for instance. You get the sense that they're just brimming with anger. The delivery is angry. There's no getting around it and when it comes to persuading the unconverted, it works against them. Some people think we'll need a more conservative, Southern candidate in 2008. It can't be distilled to those factors. If you believe Lutz, you need to have someone with personality who can communicate. Plus there's just that X factor that people like Clinton and Reagan seemed to have.
Politics as usual. What does any of this have to do with the issues? Nothing. In America, we're all just consumers in the eyes of politicians. And sadly, that's what works to win presidencies.